In the seventh grade, I was the happiest that I have ever been. I glowed with positivity, and laughter dripped out of my mouth as though it were the fountain of youth itself. My nimble fingers scrambled up and down the neck of a violin and pressed shut the keys of a flute. I was the human embodiment of music itself, filled to the brim with excitement and emotions that I hadn’t yet learned to control. I was unrestrained, sensitive, but bold.
That summer, I looked back at my school year and my eyes beheld what I had never noticed before. My classmates were separated into social groups, and I was at the very bottom. I was the black music nerd with frizzy hair, glasses, and braces. I wore clunky brown sneakers and used a rainbow bandana as a headband. I saw the popular girls, watched their pin-straight hair flow onto their backs, spotted their Vera Bradley backpacks and Forever 21 outfits. It hit me quickly – my little bubble wasn’t all that existed. My mind was opened to social standards, and I was crushed by the fact that I did not meet them in the slightest.
I tried adapting, tried becoming more like them. I became insecure and changed my interests and clothing choices and hair so that they aligned with theirs. Thankfully, I got over that phase quickly, giving up on trying to be like everyone else. When I resisted conforming, my confidence should have surged back. I should have been filled with contentment and self-love. My life should have filled with positivity and spirit, friends, and good times. None of that happened.
It all started with you.
Every aspect of my life changed as soon as you decided to stroll onto my face, my back, my shoulders, and my chest. You first arrived as a minuscule bump in the center of my smooth brown forehead. You would go away, I figured. I’d make you. I determinedly searched the Internet for ways to make you dissolve into nonexistence.
I got a Q-tip and dipped it in hot chamomile tea and pressed it tightly against you, wincing at the burning sensation of the scorching liquid mingling with my skin. I went to bed hoping that the home remedy I had found on Google would send you scrambling for an escape from the dissolved herbs chasing you out of my pores.
I woke up the next morning to the horrifying discovery that you had multiplied.
Every day, I would wake to find you non-consensually reproducing anywhere you pleased. My skin was no longer mine. The baby-soft olive-colored wrap protecting my body was soon conquered by bloated bumps that decided they had the right to drive me mad and send me scrubbing myself with every medicated wash under the sun. You put me into a downward spiral, sending me digging too deep and too fast until I hit a rock that shattered into pieces.
I began to pick apart every flaw that I had. I began to compare the angles and dips and curves of my body to that of a Covergirl’s. I began feeling an itch tickling the back of my brain. At random moments, it would turn into a rash that made my fingers tingle. It eventually became irresistible to scratch no matter how much effort I put into keeping my hands at my sides, fiddling with the hem of my sweater or tapping against a table. I didn’t bother to put any ointment on it because it never worked on you, did it? My mind became a disorganized filing cabinet, each drawer labeled with a feature, and inside of them were notes of all the inadequacies that any given part of me had.
I don’t think that I would have ever hit that rock if it weren’t for you. It was a thick safe that I kept my insecurities in. They didn’t bother me before unless someone mentioned them. The safe would then crack open for a moment but slowly shut in time, and the comments were soon forgotten. You were the shovel that pried it open. You let them all loose and now they romp my mind like a god for as long as I live.
My smooth complexion has changed completely. My face has become covered in pimples that make themselves and their offspring more horrid and stubborn every day. Black spots that look like spilled pepper station themselves anywhere a patch of you was once mounted. My back and shoulders and neck are overtaken by lines of you playing follow the leader that destroy any stretch of untouched caramel that they can find. Some decide not to follow the crowd and settle on my chest, climbing up to cover my prominent collarbones and the skin stretched between them.
I am no longer complimented on the clarity of my skin. Instead, I am reminded that my forehead is “so oily, do you need a tissue to wipe it off?” And there is absolutely nothing that I love more than having someone say, “Ugh, my acne was so horrible last year. I hated it so much. It made me look so ugly. Oh my god, I never left the house without makeup. It was, like, as bad as yours, basically.” It’s even better when complete strangers recommend that I get Proactiv.
I look in the mirror now and see a walking game of connect-the-dots. I don’t want to be a page ripped out of an activity book, the page that everyone skips over because it looks too difficult to handle. The page that is crumpled and dog-eared and used as a placeholder, the page that nobody sees as worthy of filling out.
I no longer have faith in the rumors I hear from others that I am beautiful. The features that I once loved are now meaningless to me. I have counted every day of the past three years during which no cream or medication or facial mask has made you choke. I crave the unblemished skin that I was born with, not this field of scars and unborn acne bubbling beneath the surface of each pore on my body.
I want you to run away as quickly as you ran onto my body. I fear that even when you’re gone, my belief in myself will never fully return. You cracked open my safe and there is no repairman that will be able to fix it.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.