This content mentions body image, which some people may find triggering.
As part of our Mind Over Mirror campaign, Tyra opens up about her relationship with her skin and how this affects her mental health.
Feeling comfortable in my preteens
Teenagers sometimes have spots, and as a young teenager in school, this was something I experienced. It was never really a major concern for me since I recognised it was a part of puberty. So, a couple of spots here and there may have been different to my preteen spotless face, but it still was never drastic enough to worry me.
This all changed when I reached my later teenage years. As I continued to grow and my body continued to develop, I started to notice my skin increasingly change.
My skin became more textured. I can pinpoint the exact moment I ‘found out’ my skin had pores (seems dramatic but it truly was a revelation). I recall looking in the mirror and seeing what seemed like a few tiny holes on my nose. I’m pretty sure I thought I was developing some sort of illness - no joke. I remember googling ‘I have tiny holes on my face, what are they?’ to find out they were pores.
Awakening to self-consciousness about my skin
Realising that my skin wasn’t pore-less like the skin I saw in magazines, TV and media wasn’t the last thing my skin surprised me with. What would truly awaken my love-hate relationship with my skin was the day I woke up to look in the mirror and saw that I had acne. Again, I ignorantly didn’t know it was acne then. I just remember feeling completely different about what I was looking at in the mirror.
It wasn’t the same as my usual adolescent breakouts of one or two spots. This breakout was almost as if my skin had erupted with multiple boil-like spots that came through all at once. These spots were more colourful: a combination of pink, red and white. They also happened to be more painful, physically and emotionally.
For the first time ever, I remember making my way to school being overly worried about my appearance and specifically what was on my face.
The unwanted acne I had on my face introduced me to many other firsts:
- I received unwarranted comments about how to ‘save’ my skin
- I was increasingly unable to make eye contact with others
- I hated taking pictures with friends or family
- I never wanted to go out because I was too concerned about people looking at what was on my face
A major first for me was that this was the first time in my life I wanted to change myself.
Wanting to change the skin I was in
I desperately wanted to change the skin I was in. I would repeatedly ask my mum to take me to the doctor so I could be ‘treated’. Although she told me I was fine and continued to buy me different skincare products she swore would work. Until one day at the dinner table, I remember breaking down, crying, and saying how disgusting I thought I looked. Only then did I think my mum realised how much my acne was affecting me.
My first doctor’s consultation about my skin ended with a prescription for antibiotics. The antibiotics worked for the duration of the course, and I started to slowly feel better about myself during this time. But, a while after finishing the course, my acne started to come back. By this time, I was in my last year of Sixth Form (year 13).
Luckily, the little confidence I had managed to rebuild while taking antibiotics didn’t completely disappear as soon as my acne reappeared. I think this was partly because I had developed a skincare routine that helped me manage my breakouts. I also think it was partly because I had seen more people with acne.
At my new Sixth Form, I became close friends with someone who related to my skin struggles. She and I supported each other as we would aim to make each other feel good about ourselves. Not realising then that the way we spoke positively about one another should have also been the way we spoke about and viewed ourselves.
The eroding of my healthy body image – again
Unfortunately, leaving Sixth Form and starting different universities away from familiar faces was the catalyst to eroding whatever healthy body image I had previously maintained. This was the second major time in my life that I recall wanting to change the skin I was in.
So, in my second year of university, I found a skincare clinic in the city where I studied, which I thought would be the answer to all my skin ‘issues’. I justified the high amount of money they charged for cosmetic treatments as an investment and an opportunity to finally cure my acne. At the time, I didn’t even tell my family this was something I was doing. I didn’t realise how unhealthy my thoughts and perceptions of myself were. I just wanted to improve what I saw at the time as a flaw.
I paid for multiple sessions of facial acid peels. Yes, cosmetic-grade acid was applied to my face with the intent of clearing up my acne and fading the hyperpigmentation I had developed from previous breakouts. There was a recovery time required after each round of treatment. So, I spent days avoiding the sun, not going to lectures and even avoiding the library. This meant that I was inadvertently consumed with my appearance, hoping to achieve ‘perfect’ skin and build an ‘ideal’ body image.
Lo and behold, after a few months of treatment and most of the academic year, my acne remained uncured. Writing about my experience now has helped me to see how this experience likely affected my grades, as my lowest grades were in my second year. Upon reflection, I’ve also realised that I was hugely isolating myself from my friends and flatmates.
Sadly, an academic year of isolating myself in my room, obsessing over my skin and worrying about others seeing my face wasn’t enough to tire my chase for clear skin. I went on to pay for another course of treatments. I hoped that this would be the last hurdle to finally achieve what I thought I needed. It was not. Like clockwork, my acne would reappear a short while after treatment.
At this point in my journey with my skin, I began to realise that this wasn’t the solution for me. Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s no problem with having facial peels, but I was focused so much on the aesthetics of my body that I hadn’t even addressed other factors that were possibly causing me to break out. What about the stress or pressure I was putting myself through? What about the hormonal changes my body was dealing with as a young woman? What about simply learning to love my skin?
Finding acceptance over my skin
It took some time for me to get here, but I’m learning to be more accepting of my skin if I break out. It’s simply how my skin responds sometimes, and I shouldn’t feel ashamed. I have learned so much about myself throughout my journey in my own skin. I do my best to think and speak kindly of myself, as I would do for a friend. I know that I am not alone, and I can talk to a friend if my body image is affecting my life.
My favourite takeaway from this journey is that I was introduced to the world of skincare. I’ve learned to indulge in skincare as a form of self-care and not self-sabotage. I’m no longer obsessed with trying to achieve an unrealistic image of pore-less, one-tone, texture-free skin. My interest in skincare has motivated me to practice looking after myself even during the times I’ve felt unhappy in my skin.
Whatever our textures – skin, hair or any other part of our body – we can journey towards accepting ourselves instead of wanting to be something else.
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