Hi! I’m Cathy, a 35-year-old single mom of two amazing kids, editor, journalist, and huge skincare fan. I also happen to have achondroplasia (a form of dwarfism). Below is a first-person voice essay about how and why I got into skincare and what this means for me as a Disabled woman but before I get into this, I just want to preface it with the warning that the beginning of my story is kinda sad. If you stick around though, I promise, it gets better.
I was incredibly shy as a child, afraid of everyone and everything. I’d feign sickness to excuse myself from events, and I’d say I couldn’t physically manage things even when I could. I used my size as an invisibility cloak, shrinking myself as much as possible into every corner and behind every shadow I could find.
I wore oversized clothing in drab colours. I went along with what all the other kids said and did, often without even voicing my agreement. I so badly didn’t want to be noticed or to stand out, I so badly didn’t want the other kids to realise again that I was different, because every time they did, I was painfully reminded that they didn’t like what they saw.
Growing up wasn’t easy. The height difference became much more contrasted. Whilst my body was busy maturing in the same way that it was for the other girls my age, I somehow wasn’t allowed to be part of the same conversations they indulged in, namely around boys they wanted to kiss, menstruation, hormonal changes and even make up. I wasn’t invited to sleepovers and parties or on dates. I was, unintentionally but consistently, infantilised by everyone around me. Both my peers and fully-grown adults still saw me as a child instead of a young woman; they couldn’t understand why I’d have the same teenage feelings and experiences. By this time I’d found my voice a bit, but I still felt, very much, invisible.
One of the ways I calmed my anxiety through adolescence was to pick constantly at my skin. Any slight imperfection, bump, graze, spot (zit), my nimble fingers would hack away at it until it bled. The wounds would begin to heal and I’d be itching to start the process all over again. It wasn’t purely an anxiety-calming method, but rather a deep frustration I felt with what everyone else saw when they looked at me. Baby, child, anomaly, freak show. Whatever they thought, whatever they gossiped about, all I knew was that I wasn’t one of them and at the time that, to me, felt like a failure on both our parts.
It will come as no surprise if you’ve read this far that I wasn’t into skincare or make up as a teenager. I’d occasionally dab a little sparkly lip gloss or an awful oily concealer on to cover up the acne scars, but I rejected the idea that I needed to look after my body, largely because I felt my body had always failed me. It hadn’t done what it was supposed to do, it was the reason I was rejected.
I’d avoid looking in the mirror to see the Disabled body that was mine because I was tired of owning it.
When I became an adult, and as I found genuine friends and then love, some of those feelings shifted and healed, but not all of them. I started experimenting more with bold colours in my clothing and bright eyeshadows, I felt able to express myself more fully than I had before. But I still neglected my skin, and I avoided the mirror at all costs.
It was only in lockdown 2020, at the ripe old age of 34, when I found myself stuck at home for weeks on end with nobody to see and nothing to do, and I felt I couldn’t hide any longer. I wasn’t unhappy by any stretch but there were demons I needed to address. I began therapy, which changed my life completely, and I also started having a skincare routine for the first time in my life.
I read up about how to have the perfect 7 step routine to transform your skin and I bought loads of products and I used them, every day, twice a day (and still haven’t forgotten a single step yet). I continued reading and exploring, even now, and find such enjoyment discovering new amazing brands or formulas I haven’t tried yet.
I have shared publicly about my skincare journey on my Instagram. I was initially incredibly nervous to do this because visibly Disabled people + the beauty industry is not, even in 2021, a favourable collocation, but I am both thankful and relieved to continue to receive a lot of public support. I felt it was important to share this aspect of my life because it’s hard, it’s such a challenge, especially when pushing against ongoing visceral exclusion of my body, to fight it, to say “no, I deserve to be seen here. I deserve to treat myself, to nourish this body.” Because this body is beautiful, and not just because it’s unusual, or for its scars, but because it just is.
When I was a teenager, we were all using 56k dial-up modems and teenchat rooms and there just wasn’t this kind of accessible influencer culture we have now. So I kinda think hey, if someone sees me sharing about my journey of self-love and can resonate with even a small part of it, then it’s worth it. Because when I was a teenager, I would’ve done anything to have had someone like me to let me know it was going to be alright. To let me know my body was important, incredible and would one day be loved, yes by others, but more importantly by myself.