And above all things, never think that you’re not good enough yourself. A man should never think that. My belief is that in life people will take you very much at your own reckoning. – Anthony Trollope
It seems people are much more fussed about my looks than I am. I’ve had acne on and off, for about four years. I never had it as a teenager, and I’ve come to appreciate my luck with that recently. If this is how you get treated when you have acne, then I’m relieved I didn’t have it at a younger, vulnerable period of my life. I mean, it’s only acne. Everyone has had a pimple or two at some point in their life. Even if they haven’t, I can’t fathom why having a few red bumps, sometimes maturing into little brown spots, on your face should be of such concern to somebody who’s not you. They’re painful, unpleasant, and I accept, unsightly. But, surely, they’re not that much of an aesthetic-cum-moralistic hurdle to cross for someone who’s not you, so much so that they avoid any and every topic of conversation to say, repeatedly, “Ew, what’s that on your face?!”
Really, I think this is a subject enough for a sociological dissertation. People, and their particular obsession with inflammation of skin. I have acne. I know, I’ve got mirrors in my house. They’re a bit of a bother for me, but I couldn’t have imagined they would be so central to the social perception towards me in the last four years of my life. Of course, people have always had issues. I was lanky-shamed as a child. I was born with a big head, big feet and a skinny body (already predicting the career of a comedian I should have) and was a tall child. And while puberty took care of my vertical elongation and filled me out to womanliness, two other things continued to plague me, for life: my hair and the colour of my skin.
With no intention of politicizing the second, here’s one particular incident: In school, there was this dastardly tradition of making students practise the marching drill for Independence Day. We had to practise going “left, right, left…” everyday, in the sun and sometimes rain, for hours. Now, I wasn’t a genius at this, nor did I complain about it too much like some children did. I mean, there are just some things you have to get on with, and I did feel proud and patriotic doing it on I-Day.
One day at practice, when I was ten years old, a couple of teachers pulled me out of the formation to admonish me. I was scared, guessing maybe I had gone left instead of right, or perhaps had not polished my shoes well enough. But no, it wasn’t anything like that. They scolded me for being in the sun so much, for how dark it has made me, and that I should ask my parents to buy me an assortment of skincare items because I looked objectionable. I went home, told my parents to do so, as if it was a school assignment, and they bought me this infamous tube of fairness cream, and a bottle of cleansing milk.
The days following this, when somehow everyone around me, including my neighbours, got to know of my predicament, resulted in further shame, as my skin-tone became a subject of common discussion. I went through the stages of shame, self-pity, vulnerability, and ultimately rage, disgust and defiance, and refused to use the skincare items. I didn’t have courage to confront my teachers, or have anybody standing up for me. But, I was proud of myself, for taking that stand at age ten on what I felt about the colour of my skin.
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with my hair, but that goes for anybody with curly hair. Some days it’s got personality, on other days you feel you and your hair are two different people. I’ve been so bothered with it myself, I haven’t got time to worry about what anyone else thinks. I’ve realised, maybe that’s what people want from me. I was putting up with acne for four years, but I finally went to a doctor last week, and am now on oral and topical medication. And it has been a real bother. Here’s a picture of me with my healing acne:
Yes, I had to choose the one with the creepy eyes. The image is undoctored (well, apart from the topical solution prescribed by my real doctor), unfiltered, and unmake-upped. I’ve never thought of myself as pretty or unpretty. I suppose, I’m one of those few people who can feel bad when people criticize their looks, but can’t be bothered to do anything about them. Because they can’t be that much bothered about them in the first place. I enjoy makeup and skincare. I see the odd, stunning woman and envy her. But, I’ve yet to go the extra mile and do something about it.
I’m surprised that this is the third time I’m sharing my mug with you. I didn’t even know I had a fat nose until selfies were invented. And I can’t know what you are thinking. Whether you agree with the fat nose assessment, or the socially-repellent acne assessment, or the fact that overall, this is neither a pretty, nor an ugly face. I mean, I had no say in the matter. I didn’t choose this body, this skin, this hair. This voice, this amount of adipose tissue, this acne. I am sensitive to it, but my reckoning is that this is just the way things are, and I have to live with it. But, my reckoning doesn’t seem to match with people’s reckoning of me, despite what Trollope says.
Or does it? Is the process cyclical, where they make me feel bad about myself, and I accept it, and they are affirmed in their assessment of me? Or, would they stop caring, if I didn’t care at all? Ha ha, surely not. I’d like to believe the best in people, but that one seems like an impossibility.
I was cleaning my flat the other day. Keeping my stacks of diaries in order, among other things. I only went over them peripherally. And I thought, if I could just zap the self-loathing out of them, they would turn into a very slim, singular volume. Or maybe a different book, of my life. All I can think about, is all the time, energy, life force, whatever you want to call it, wasted on things that are unchangeable, things other than, but including, my appearance. It would have been a happier, more productive life without them, I’m sure of it. But, this life is unchangeable too, as are the 28 years I’ve spent on this planet. My reckoning is, to continue to use the time I have left going after things that matter, things I can change, and leave people to their acne obsessions.
What have people criticized about you?