Leading up to today — Acne Positivity Day — I’ve been reflecting on my acne journey and how having a different mindset contributed to a healthier, happier self-image that goes beyond the surface. (You know, in addition to using Sunday Riley U.F.O. Ultra-Clarifying Acne Treatment Face Oil regularly, of course.)
Growing up, I had clear skin — a direct result of following an expensive, extensive, and very trendy (at the time) skincare system that seemed to put my skin in a calmer, smoother state than most at that age. An absolute godsend for any teen. As a 14-year-old high school student who felt insecure about pretty much everything else in my life at the time, getting unsolicited compliments about my clear complexion almost made up for that awkward time.
But then, I got to senior year. College acceptance and rejection letters were being sent out, relationships were inching their expiration date — anxiety was at an all-time high, and I couldn’t hide it. My usual skincare regimen couldn’t compete with life’s many stressors.
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More Acne, More Problems
It’s no surprise that with a new era — college! — came another set of anything-but-ideal skin issues. The clusters of whiteheads and blackheads that graduated to full-time mainstays on my cheeks, nose, and forehead in high school turned cystic, leaving behind visible scars and dark spots in their wake. So, I did what any frustrated human with access to a mirror would do: I examined, picked, and scratched the affected areas, ignoring the fact that it would exacerbate the problem rather than remedy it. I’d do this every night in my bedroom; unsurprisingly, the morning-after outcome was never what I hoped for. Yet another cycle and another stressor.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment my attitude and actions took a turn for the better. But I do vividly remember when I hit my lowest moment. I was about ready to leave for work when I stopped in front of the bathroom mirror, standing directly under the bright fluorescent lights. I immediately began to cry. All I could see were the new blemishes I didn’t catch during my earlier mirror session. I felt self-conscious my entire shift, wondering if the thick concealer I applied was successful and — if it wasn’t doing its job — what people thought of the newly formed red bumps on my forehead.
Choosing Acne Neutrality
It took years before my attitude began to change. Not because my skin suddenly reverted to its junior high days but because I discovered body neutrality.
According to writer Anne Poirier, who coined the phrase, body neutrality “becomes a resting place from the constant chaotic chatter and criticism of your mind. A space where you can find peace and take some pressure off yourself.”
This is favored by many over simply being positive. Why? An always-positive attitude puts a lot of pressure on yourself to constantly see your physical being in the best possible light. While it’s a nice sentiment, this toxic positivity can lead to more bad days than good ones. Body neutrality, on the other hand, is much more realistic. Taking a body-neutral stance places less importance on how the physical body looks and instead shifts the focus on its functionality and feeling. So, I started practicing it by admiring the number of push-ups I’d successfully done during HIIT workouts and thanking my legs under my breath after every morning walk. Then the thought surfaced, “Why not do the same for my skin?”
A Clear Mind
Things are different now. Whenever I spot a pimple now, I shrug, treat it, and carry on with my day. I’m not as stressed about my skin as I once was, and because of this new mindset — paired with a skincare routine I love — my complexion started losing its once omnipresent congestion.
Will I ever have all-around clear skin? Probably not. I still get the occasional blemish, with medium-sized flare-ups popping up from time to time. But I see things differently now. Whenever I catch a glimpse of my face during my daily skincare regimen, I make it a point to smile at the reflection staring back at me. She’s come a long way from that girl who broke down before work all those years ago.
While I look forward to my daily skincare routine, I no longer examine or internally criticize my face for 10 minutes every morning and night because 1.) I don’t have the time or patience anymore — a side effect of turning 30 — and 2.) I know I’m doing everything right, from washing my hands before cleansing my face and using the right products for my skin type to simply refusing to give any energy to the intrusive thoughts that once dominated my days. It’s all neutral now.
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