9:00 a.m. 40mg. Blue pill as always.
7:00 p.m. 40mg. Blue pill as always. Oh wait, damn it’s stuck in my throat. Give it a sec. Okay, it’s down.
I pop the cap back on the translucent orange pill bottle and take another swig of water. I’m honestly sick of looking at the bottle everyday, having to carry it around with me for breakfast and dinner. It’s only purpose serves as a reminder that it’s my responsibility to take each pill with a clear intent of clearing my horrible, ugly cystic acne. After all, across the bottle’s convex face is my name printed in big, bold, black letters. It’s no one else’s problem to deal with on a daily basis, only mine.
I sit in front of my desk, my wooden chair creaking with all of my melancholy and hopelessness. Mechanically, I reach for my plastic mirror in the shape and design of a cute brown bear. It’s the same mirror I’ve used since the fourth grade except for the fact that the nineteen-year-old who the mirror now reflects no longer bears the poreless, untouched beauty of my child self and the happiness I had once preserved.
Written plainly in this mirror is a monster. There is no simpler way to describe it. Ugly pimples, bumps, boils, warts—whatever is characteristic in folklore of horrid, ugly witches—is what I am looking at now. Across this textured face, I count all the bleeding and irritated spots, hooking onto them with my eyes and making sure that each and every unwanted citizen of a pimple on the once-clear expanse of my face is ingrained in my mind. Some may call this an act of mental masochism, but to me, it’s just my morning routine. Every spot is a reminder that I am unbeautiful and will forever be.
It also doesn’t help that I’m somewhere that won’t even accept me. Isolated in the rural town of Waterville, Maine and a freshman in college, I feel as though I am the only imperfect one. The students of this college are beautiful with no spots or blotches in sight. I don’t know what water they’re drinking but it definitely doesn’t seem like the same as mine, otherwise I think I would also have clear porcelain skin just as they do. Am I doing something wrong? How can I achieve beauty, a kind of perfection these other people seem to flaunt before my very eyes? I want to look beautiful, feel normal, and find peace in my skin.
The internet tries its best to soothe me, rescue me temporarily from my pastime of scouring my face incessantly in the mirror to hunt down the next parasite that lays in wait beneath my skin. I’ve already read the optimist’s story, the upbeat beauty influencer who swears by Curology or laser treatment. I’ve already seen numerous articles romanticizing acne as a beautiful symbol of my outrageously brave spirit or as stellar constellations on my face. But let’s call it what it is—these are just coping mechanisms around the fact that I feel unbeautiful, unworthy of anyone’s love, and in dire need of validation. While others are unscathed by this worthlessness, these constellations serve no consolation to my already broken heart.
9:00 a.m. 40mg. Blue pill as always.
7:00 p.m. 40mg. Blue pill as always. It went down easier than last night.
I started reading a new novel, one assigned in class by my English professor. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, at first glance, is wholly separate from the agonizing reality of my acne-ridden face. It’s an incredible science fiction novel set in 1990s England about a woman named Kathy H. who recounts memories of herself as a young girl. She’s brought up in a boarding school called Hailsham, where students are ignorant of their purpose: to eventually have their organs harvested for the greater benefit of society in donor recovery centers, and become “completed” (81)—a euphemism for death. Before becoming a donor, these clones extend their life for a short time as a carer for those donating, but must eventually resume their duty as a donor.
Clearly, the world of this novel is appalling, and I couldn’t begin to fathom its dystopian reality, but in this hopeless condition of mine, I am always seeking some sort of immediate comfort in knowing that I’m not alone. With each page I read, I can’t help but see my own condition in the novel’s young characters. I find that there lies a collective understanding between what they feel and what I feel: dejected and not feeling wholly regarded as a person. After all, there is something dystopic about being afflicted with acne—the feeling of being surveilled, the way it forces you to self-regulate. While people like donors whose faces are literally etched with “blotches” (6) immediately come to mind as physically comparable to me with my own blotches and scars, I also see myself in the characters who hide their powerful inner and outer beauty in order to conform to their society’s standards.
One particular character comes to mind. Chrissie is one of the girls Kathy meets at a secondary living establishment called the Cottages after leaving Hailsham. “Chrissie was a tall girl who was quite beautiful when she stood up to her full height, but she didn’t seem to realise this and spent her time crouching to be the same as the rest of us” (108). According to Kathy, Chrissie’s physical beauty isn’t like that of the others from Hailsham or the Cottages, but even Chrissie doesn’t acknowledge her own beauty and feels the need to be the same as the rest of the crowd.
At this moment, with this wretched appearance, I can’t remotely relate with Chrissie on a physical level. There’s no crouching and hiding of any beauty from me—rather, I’m just crouching and hiding in hopes that no one gawks at the pimple farm I’ve cultivated for the past year. Even so, a part of me resonates with what she’s going through. Maybe it’s not in regard to looks, but I feel like a part of my previously confident and determined inner self has been ripped away from me, leaving only my loss of confidence and utter lack of love for myself. Within our self-optimizing, capitalistic societies, Chrissie and I are both expected to abandon our inner selves and strive towards being the perfect product. I’ve been hiding and constantly hoping that I can be the same as the rest of the crowd, even if it means caking on the foundation and possibly making my acne worse.
Chrissie crouches and loses herself in the bland and homogenous mixture of her society to achieve some version of normalcy away from the truth that she will one day “complete.” She’s expected to adhere to this standard because she knows that in the long-run, she’s just a manufactured good waiting to be harvested, nowhere near a full-person and more like an object. I guess all Chrissie can do is hope to blend in, hold onto that small amount of normal so that she can assume her supposedly honorable position as a great donor. In trying to blend in, however, she is also blurring and burying the parts of herself that make her more than just a product, more than a clone.
Although the stakes aren’t nearly as high for me, like Chrissie, I also feel this inner need, this desire scratching away at my mind to appeal to what my society—or even more specifically—what my college perceives as their definition of beautiful and presentable. I want to be the perfect product. No, I don’t want to be the perfect product. I’m beginning to slowly understand that I’m made up of more than what is reflected in the mirror. Even so I need to start rebuilding the parts of myself that I am hiding behind shame and embarrassment. Those things I’ve lost, I’m seeking them once more. In a sort of “from the midst of darkness, comes the light” kind of scenario, maybe there’s more to me that makes me Kristy, that makes me human and not someone who should feel like half a person.
9:00 a.m. Blue pill as always.
7:00 p.m. Blue pill as always. I’m running out.
I’m staring at the cute brown bear mirror again but now it’s developed eyes and it’s looking at my pimples, pointing at them, laughing at them. I’ve been busy obsessing over something I can’t change instantly, trying to make my acne go away by persistently looking in the mirror an unhealthy amount. I guess I’m hoping that the longer I stare at my zits—and I mean really give them a good glare—the more likely everything will stop laughing at me. It would finally be quiet.
But it’s still very loud now. I’ve internalized my shame and now I feel like everyone who looks at me is disgusted. “Why is it so red and bumpy? Just wash your face.” Perhaps they’re afraid, afraid that my acne will suddenly grow legs, jump onto their faces, and infect them too. Maybe that’s why Madame, a Hailsham benefactor, “[shudders from]… the real dread that one of [the students] would accidentally brush against her” (30). Here, both Kathy and I realize for the first time that others aren’t as disgusted as they are afraid of the possibility that they might become like us.
As much as I want to give myself the pep talk that “it’s gonna get better” and to “just have faith,” I can’t shake the fact that I’m a realist with pessimist tendencies. Even Kathy knows the limits and consequences in hoping, and that doing so makes it worse. She mentions how one of the guardians at Hailsham, Miss Emily, said “how important it was not to be ashamed of our [students’] bodies” yet “when it came down to it, the guardians made it more or less impossible” (75). To not be ashamed of something—especially when it comes to the body and the face—feels impossible. We can only pretend not to be ashamed, but this is almost always accompanied by impending anxiety and fear of rejection, a fear of being ousted from the “normal” club. Here I am trying not to be ashamed, trying to own up to my shitty genetic make-up, and trying to reclaim my lost inner self, yet society requires I feel this excruciating and never-ending shame over my appearance.
Something’s wrong, though. As much as I can keep putting the blame on society, I don’t think it’s about that anymore. I’ve let an enemy even worse than my acne or society infect me: the permeability of my own mind and heart. By letting my defenses down, shame, fear, guilt, and ridicule freely seep under my skin, fortifying my anxiety and fears of rejection into one invincible being. Is it just me now, alone to deal with this monster of lost hope and hatred for myself? Maybe I’m too late to be saved. Maybe in some ways, even if I were to one day be acne-free, my mind and heart have already “completed.”
I break eye contact with my mirror and move over to my bed. I’m tired. My blue and white striped blanket slouches over the sides of the bed frame, inviting me into its warm embrace. The corners of my blanket reach out to me. I’m surrounded in its warmth, its safety. It won’t judge me. For now I’ll rest and maybe tomorrow I’ll try again.
9:00 a.m. Blue pill as always.
7:00 p.m. I need a refill.