Prelude: I'm as aggravated as any feminist by the undue focus on skin care in women's media. We do not need to be told how to wash our face. That said, perhaps one out of eighty tips in a women's magazine imparts useful information. I'm not condoning that everyone go out and read women's magazines. But if you read women's magazines for a living, as I do, you do eventually reap a small benefit in the form of skin care knowledge. And that, friends, is this post.
I wasn't held hostage by acne as a teenager. I had a bout when I was 17, and another at 21, both easily combatted by a trip to the dermatologist. Zits, sure, but as far as scarring acne -- the kind that makes you want to plead illness, and perhaps rightfully so -- it was thankfully rare. But like most people, I still had the garden variety skin care issues. Greasy skin, the occasional zit, dryness, etc.
Along with hormones calming down, though, in my thirties I developed an actual goddamn regimen, which means I now basically have clear skin. I tried every product out there (easy when you have access to beauty-sale goodies, despite the general horror of beauty sales themselves), and eventually wound up with something that means I do my thing in morning and night and don't fret about it for the other 23 hours and 55 minutes of the day.
[For anybody reading who is curious, that amounts to Juliet's Clean and Smooth Acne Skin Treatment & Scrub at night, a 2% salicylic acid lotion in the morning, a foundation with SPF, and that's it. (I have slightly oily skin with the occasional pimple, and highly recommend this combination for anyone with the same.)]
The specifics are beside the point, though. It's the same as all the other life-maintenance stuff you struggle with when you're younger. What kind of exercise you like; what alcohol makes you feel like crap the next morning; what sex positions make your fingers curl; etc. But there's something about figuring out skin care in particular that feels satisfying, a somewhat tangible reward for the hours we spent in front of the mirror as teenagers, cursing pimples, scrubbing our skin, wasting our money on products that never really worked.
For me, skin care was part of the beauty myth that I bought into, because having messy skin felt like my insides were on display for everyone to see. It cuts to the core of beauty-based shame, but it's harder to talk yourself out of it intellectually than it is to quit wearing eyeliner. It's a vulgar reminder of the basic inequalities that help form the beauty myth. (And let's not forget that the medical term for acne is acne vulgaris, "vulgaris" being Latin for "common. With acne, we are all common, but acne humor still retains its mean, cutting edge, unlike fart humor, where we really are all just vulgaris underneath our cultural niceties.) With clear skin, you feel like you're leveling out the playing field enough to the point where other supposed flaws can be talked around. I'll never be terrifically well-endowed, but I can look at my curvy legs and be pleased; I won't spend the hundreds of dollars it would take to whiten my coffee-stained teeth, but I can take satisfaction in knowing that my money is going toward pursuits that fulfill me more than a gleaming smile would. But facing the beauty myth with an inherent reminder of the ways our biology betrays us takes a fortitude I'm still developing.
Rather, that I would be developing if I weren't in my thirties and had figured this shit out. I'll still fight the beauty myth battle. Happily. Just not on that field.