llustration: Gwenda Kaczor
It’s not often that zits are regarded with flattering adjectives like charming or adorable — especially among those adorned with blemished skin themselves.
The frustration, anger, and anxiety that persistent acne can cause makes it hard to think of acne as anything but an annoyance. But from an outside perspective, the criticism isn’t nearly as harsh — and the perceptions of others may actually be positive.
Many have come to accept acne as an endearing quality of themselves or their loved ones, a characteristic that can be adored just as much as a head of curls or a button nose. Some even find pimples pleasing, a unique look that differentiates someone from the crowd.
Last month, truename_b4, a Reddit user whose teen acne persisted into adulthood, said, "I eventually discovered that plenty of people are not turned off by acne and that you can have relationships. Most acquaintances simply don't care if you don't have perfect skin." He continued:
I never stopped having acne, but I definitely stopped [caring]. Not by some epiphany, but by a gradual accumulation of confidence, maturity, and kindness and love from others. And fatigue — you can get tired of anything, even worrying.
Actually I think [acne is] cute/edgy sometimes, a good look for punks and misfits especially, and now that I'm 29 it can make me feel younger. I looked at a zit in the mirror yesterday and thought, 'That's a classic!' and laughed.
And he's not alone. In 2011, a Japanese survey found that 59 percent considered acne “cute" (kawaii) on people in their 20s and 30s, and five percent declared their affection for acne on a person of any age.
If you're finding yourself wanting to truly embrace acne, you can even give a squeeze to the plush-toy version of the bacteria that causes breakouts.
While that may be taking it a little far, it is possible to re-frame your negative feelings about acne, recognizing that others may perceive it less harshly as you do — and they might even see it as a feature.
Dr. Steven Feldman, a dermatology professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and his colleagues conducted 16 studies between 2001 and 2010 to examine the associations between acne and quality of life, self- esteem, personality, mood, and psychological disorders.
In general, acne was found to negatively impact self-esteem, but happiness can be found for those who truly accept that self-love is not skin-deep.
“It's an individual-by-individual thing," says Feldman. "Some people have acne and it truly doesn't bother them because they're not as concerned about how they're perceived by other people.”
Before you can expect others to swoon over your complexion, you have to get sweet on yourself. Anxiety and self-doubt is never sexy — confidence is key and small tweaks to your own perceptions about appearance can have a huge impact.
Psychologist Tim Wilson of the University of Virginia recommends you edit your life story and remove the self-defeating insults, like “I’m ugly” or “no one finds me attractive because of my zits.”
Try a writing exercise to reflect on the qualities that make you the likable, lovable human you are: “I have stunning blue eyes. I am a dedicated listener. I am great at making people laugh.” The idea is that if you start believing in these aspects, they’ll continually become more true and recognizable, inside and out.
Not everyone will become a fan of your zits, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be fond of you. And while you still can’t expect everyone to like you, but it’s not fair to assume they won't just because of your complexion.