Trigger Warning: Images of blood, acne and scars.

What was supposed to be my sweet 17th year of living — just like how ABBA’s Dancing Queen said it would be — turned out to be a painful determinant that affected my self-esteem. Why? Because my body’s way of welcoming adulthood was by causing a total upheaval of my hormonal system, resulting in severe cystic acne all over my face and body. I wondered why on earth was this happening to me?

Severe Acne That Scarred Me

I had nodulocystic acne, a severe form of acne that generally affects the face and other body parts. These nodules were very firm cystic lumps, and even dermatologists would need more than one session to successfully drain one of these bad boys.

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When the acne was the most severe. / Image credit: Chesryn Tania

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Blood from only one nodule. / Image credit: Chesryn Tania

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How my skin looked on a good day. / Image credit: Chesryn Tania

After a while, It was clear that this condition wasn’t just a random breakout, and it was here to stay. At first, I was devastated and would never go down to even take the mail without makeup. The acne made me feel less-than, and it showed whenever group photos were being taken.

Severe Acne Made Dating More Difficult

The severe acne made dating that much more complicated. I obsessed over the possibility of my crushes or my dates seeing my real skin. What if they thought I was catfishing them? What if they didn’t find me beautiful anymore?

This anxiety followed me even on dates. I would frequent the restroom to touch up my makeup. If they wanted to take selfies for the ‘gram, I would ensure we used my phone. Aafter photoshopping my skin through around three beauty apps, I’d send it to them as the ‘original’.

The worst part was that I have had relationships end because of the acne.

Others could easily meet up with their significant other’s friends. However, I chose to avoid it. I didn’t want them thinking, “Oh, he’s stuck with someone who looks like that.” Thoughts like this made me sit out from any social events. He then assumed I didn’t want to put in the effort to be in his life more, and it led to our relationship’s demise.

I struggled to get back to dating because of how those relationships ended. My anxiety would spike whenever I was about to have a first date because my skin in photos looked perfectly airbrushed. It was easy to cover-up my acne with makeup, but there was nothing I could do to placate the overthinking.

Image credit: Peter DeVito

Going Beyond Skin Deep

In movies, the protagonist would go through something life-changing that would suddenly flip their lives 180 degrees for the better.

But that was not the case for me. I didn’t wake up and jump into a sea of self-love. For me, it happened painfully slowly, a day at a time, and still continues till today. So, here are four things I practised that allowed me to go beyond skin deep:

I Practised Manifestation

Manifestation is speaking things into existence. Sounds crazy?

Believe me, I thought it was incredibly dubious at first too. However, it allowed me to see myself in a positive light. I then told myself one to five things that I wanted to see in my life like, “I’m going to love how I look more before university starts.” The more specific the better. Most importantly, practice saying it to yourself every day.

Manifestation kicks in when you ultimately convince yourself to trust the process. You’re probably thinking what is this CRAZY girl talking about? But it worked for me!

Manifesting is just about believing that you already have something and letting it come to you, so speak in the present and using active words. As you do this, put in your end of the work too!

I Stopped Seeking Validation From Other People

ESPECIALLY from my love interests. Some learn how to love themselves more when their partners show unbiased affection towards them. However, when that love dissipates because of a breakup, they struggle as they lose that source of validation.

Trust me, it wasn’t easy for me either. It only hit me when I saw my godmother, even at 50 years old, still place her self-esteem in someone else’s hands. I thought to myself, do I REALLY want to be in my 50’s and still not happy?

So, how did I finally let go of the need for other people’s approval? I stopped waiting for someone to give me compliments, I just gave myself some! It sounds vain but it really isn’t. It’s simply flaunting what you’ve got! Next, I reviewed if I did anything to please others, like ensuring my outfit was snatched. I made a list of it, then worked on dressing for myself and not for others!

I Confided In People With Similar Experiences

May it be those I knew in real life or strangers from YouTube. This was important because throughout my adolescence, I didn’t have the right support group I needed.

Millions of people suffer from acne and it IS a medical condition. So why was I feeling so isolated in my problems?

I began to realise that the problem wasn’t me — it was the fact that I barely ever saw anyone with severe acne on mainstream media! But that didn’t mean we didn’t exist or weren’t worthy of being seen. The sooner I realised this, the easier it was for me to disengage from all forms of self-hatred.

I Learnt How To Identify Any Dating Red Flags

There was a time when I couldn’t recognise red flags. A common one I learnt is when they thought that flawless skin was the only “acceptable” skin texture. Another one is when they constantly nitpicked whenever you had a new pimple or scar.

Thinking back, I had assumed his constant ‘advice’ on how to improve my skin condition was just him looking out for me. But I could never put together why I still felt hurt by it.

Then I realised that his advice always had a negative tone to it, like when he said to me, “You’ll become prettier when the scars darken.” So case in point, I learnt two important things: one, never give out unsolicited advice, and two, there’s always a nice way to word your suggestion.

If you’re struggling to date because of your acne, my advice is to never settle just because you want to be in love. Red flags are important to gauge if that person is toxic to you, as you don’t want to have a major setback on your mental health!

Loving Yourself Is A Journey

Loving yourself even in your most natural form is something everyone struggles with. Self-love and acceptance isn’t just a one-time checkout. You will have to make several trips to keep loving yourself, for there will always be days when you don’t feel that great.

It’s easy to say, but don’t let anyone take away your self-esteem and worth in exchange for their own pride and ego. Your feelings are valid and your experiences are real. This is your body, your skin, and no one else can love it better than yourself.

If your journey takes a backseat, remember to not get competitive on your progress, as we are all living in our own timezones!