My skin is tan, which is a combination of brown and white. Some people see it as white and others as brown, which is not how colors work but is how race relations in America works (I would like to point out that you don’t look at purple and say it is red or blue depending on how you were socialized by your culture, it is just purple). My skin is the color of creamy hot chocolate. The color of honey on bread. The color of warm sand. Also the color of poop spread out over a sidewalk after someone has stepped in it, realized it, and then tried to get it off on the concrete. The worst color for furniture and the color of a lot of field scientists’ pants. My skin is sometimes dry, some parts are dry no matter what substance I rub into them. It is one of the biggest features of mine that defines what I look like, which I suppose is true for everyone.
My least favorite part of my skin is my face. I have had deep-rooted, ugly, painful, consistent/relentless acne on my face, back, neck, and chest in one form or another since I hit puberty, which was roughly 17 years ago. I have layers of scarring on my face from every stressful event of my life, and many non stressful ones too. I have facial scars that if they were people, they would be getting ready to graduate high school. I have been to many doctors and tried many things to fix this problem. Some of them were in cream form, some in clear goo form, some in pill form, some in food form. None could take the monster down. Please do not take this opportunity to recommend products and treatments to me or I will reach through the screen and strangle you. I have tried many solutions, and they all have failed me so far, and I am trying very hard and have done a lot of research over a lot of years - I probably know the suggestion you are about to make. Thank you for the sentiment, I know you mean well, but no thank you. This is and has been a long, hard, frustrating, and confusing process. It is not done yet, because I still wake up every morning with new red bullies on my face, pulling my pigtails and telling me I am ugly. Sometimes my face hurts so badly I can’t sleep. I hate makeup (foundation and cover up makeup, not the fun glittery colorful kind that serves as decoration, but the kind meant to inform people that they don’t look ready for other people to see them unless they look like a doll) but I do wear it almost every day out of necessity, or what I translate as necessity. In the last few years, I have developed a new fun thing where when I eat a certain type of food or alcohol or am a little hot or a little cold or feel any type of heightened emotion, the skin on my cheeks, ears, and neck gets blotchy and pink, and doesn’t go away for a while. This means I can no longer have secrets or wine, and I am very upset about both.
I think hidden mean and shameful thoughts about the people I know with beautiful clear skin, especially when they don’t have to try very hard to get it. “Your skin looks amazing!” I hear someone say. “Oh my gosh really? Thanks, I just started wearing sunscreen.” They say humbly and easily, and for a small fraction of a second, I hate them. Even though I actually love them dearly and I’m ashamed that for a second I hate them, I do sincerely hate them. It is a cheap and petty hate. I let silly and useless questions like “why me and not other people? Why am I a person that doesn’t have normal adult skin but other people do?” enter my head often and poison its image of its owner. It doesn’t help that the things I do for money and fulfillment require people to look at me and decide if I look right. We, as a collective culture, have decided adults with big red bumps don’t look right, and that often comes into play when I am asking someone behind a table if I can tell a story with my voice, body, and especially my face.
There was a boy in my life once, he may come up again but also he has already mattered more than he needs to over the course of my life, so he might not come up again, maybe only when absolutely necessary. Once, in college, he told me he looked across a room full of people at me, and I wasn’t wearing makeup and I looked ugly, and for some reason that made him feel good. This statement has been living rent free and uninvited in a corner of my heart, gorging itself on my self worth, fattening its little stupid body up with the thing I need most, for many years. I think about this statement probably 1 out of every 3 times I look in the mirror. Looking in the mirror is often physically painful for me. I can only see blotch or scab, or bump, or red and cannot see the warm sand or the creamy hot chocolate, or the little round nose, or the circular lips, or the chestnut eyes, or the wide smile, or the constellation of freckles. Or the intelligence or the kindness or the courage. When other people tell me I am beautiful or pretty I get mad at them because I think they are lying and I don’t like being lied to. I see when I look at my face only grotesque and gross and unlovable bumps, and I assume that is all others see, and it hurts me. And then I bury that hurt because there is no one else to give it to and the hurt comes back out of my pores and into my face again. Being cruel to myself is one of the ways in which I make this problem I have worse. It feels especially cruel that I am so mean to my skin when it is always experiencing discomfort and pain on its surface. It could clearly use a friend. But it is very hard not to be cruel to myself when that cruelty has been validated and encouraged by every magazine, book, movie, tv show, comment, commercial and two-dimensional image of another woman that I have ingested since I was born. I don’t remember ever consenting to this cruelty, but I did at some point. At some point I told other people and myself that it was okay to call me ugly and to treat my skin and my body as though it should be something besides what it is. And for that I feel complete and utter regret and remorse, because now it is really hard to tell the difference between what is true and what is cruel.
I am still looking for solutions to my problem. Even though it is normal and not bad or ugly AT ALL, it is maybe an indication that something about my body isn’t as healthy as it could be. And that’s all I care about, whether or not it is healthy. Well, it’s not all I care about, but I am trying not to care about the other stuff as much. I am working on evicting that little mother fucker eating at my self worth rent free in my heart, but he’s a stubborn asshole and sometimes I don’t have the energy to argue with him, so it’s taking a while.
My skin is tan and also purple (but it looks more blue in the Winter and more red in the Summer). It was given to me by a dreamer from the windy green hills of Ireland and a scholar from the warm tropical beaches of Cuba. My skin is the color of creamy hot chocolate. The color of honey on bread. The color of warm sand. Also the color of poop spread out over a sidewalk after someone has stepped in it, realized it, and then tried to get it off on the concrete. The worst color for furniture and the color of a lot of field scientists’ pants. My skin is sometimes dry, some parts are dry no matter what substance I rub into them. Some of my skin is smooth and some of it is bumpy. Sometimes it begs to be touched so intensely I can feel the little hairs on it reaching for other people, other times it recoils at the idea of anyone being within a six foot radius. It is the bag that holds all my stuff together. It’s what tears and sweat run down, it is what my hair comes out of. It has a couple of warts that I both hate because they annoy me and kind of like because they make me feel like a witch. My skin likes soft clothing and lotion and holding smooth shiny rocks and swimming in not-too-cold fresh water and bathing in hot water with lavender. It does not like tight bras and waistbands and being looked at with judgement. It loves and is loved by my partner. It tells me I'm warm or cold, but very rarely a perfect medium. It hugs me when I am alone and scared. It protects me from being hurt, and when I am hurt it heals me with magic scabs. It tells my story with scars. It holds the sun very well. Once, I had someone draw a permanent picture on my skin of the Mexican Bird of Paradise, a flower that grows in both Arizona and Cuba, but isn’t indigenous to either place, an idea I love. My skin has done a lot for me and I try to do a lot for it, but I have done a lot to apologize for too.
This is the first of many love letters I owe my skin:
I love you. I know it feels like I don’t and that might be true sometimes but know I am trying to. I can say with complete honesty - it’s not you with the problem. It’s me. It’s me and everyone else. But you, you are perfect exactly how you are. You are beautiful because you are mine. Thank you for being the bag that holds all my stuff.