• Mair Elliott

My skin, my rules

Can we all just agree one thing; we all have skin of various types, colours and imperfections? Why are we so ashamed of our skin, then?

Since teenage years I have had acne. The usual story; puberty hit, and my face became a landscape of pimples, spots and acne scars. I’m now 22 and the teenage acne has never cleared. I don’t remember the last time I didn’t have at least a small patch of breakout. I also have a habit of skin picking when anxious, which leaves red blotchy, scabby patches across my face. It’s a simple fact that my skin does not conform to the ‘ideal’ of smooth, pore-less, baby soft, bright skin – in fact it may well be the exact opposite of that sometimes. My acne is not as bad as other’s may have to deal with, but it was and still is something I’m very self-conscious about.

Up until about 6 months ago I used harsh chemicals and endless washing to try and fight the acne and blackheads littering my face. I wore a thick layer of make-up to try and hide my ‘shameful’ skin. I was uncomfortable, partly because of the shame I held about my skin, and because I didn’t actually like wearing make-up. The shame of my skin trumped my dislike of wearing make-up though. I would have given anything to have nice skin – even just for the worst of the spots to go away. The more I hated my skin the harsher I would treat it.

It wasn’t until I started this current round of talking therapy, I started to question whether this cycle was actually serving any purpose other than to make me increasingly frustrated and ashamed of my skin. The trigger to this being my therapist questioning why I wore so much make up when it clearly made me uncomfortable. Personally, I find make-up irritating, itchy and a sensory nightmare. I can feel it mixing with the natural oils from my skin and moving subtly. I can sense it clinging to my face in certain areas and clogging up my pores. Honestly, it often contributed to sensory overload. Yet, I still got up every morning to smother these chemicals over my cheeks to hide my ‘shameful’ skin.

I used face products which smelled so strong I could’ve mistaken them for spirits in attempt to burn away the acne. Every morning and evening I spent a good 20 minutes washing my face with and applying these products sold to me as ‘miracle’ cures for acne. A miracle never occurred. Instead, all I was doing was repeatedly attacking myself, trying to control something about myself through abuse and coercion.

This realisation is part of a larger process; accepting myself as I am. It took a lot for me to stop wearing so much make-up, and to put down the weapons in face product bottles. Now, I am happy to leave the house with a bare face, or only wear the make up I want to wear for my own enjoyment rather out of shame. I look after my skin by using nurturing products and care for it, rather than war against it. Don’t get me wrong it was not easy, this was never going to be an easy task. I still look in the mirror and get a spark of shame. However, in the last few months my relationship with my skin has changed drastically – I see my skin as it is, not perfect but wholly functional.

Before anyone gets offended by any comments I’ve made about make-up, I don’t have anything against wearing make-up for personal enjoyment, I do have an issue with wearing make-up out of pure shame. No one should feel ashamed of how they look. What kind of society do we have that drives people to hide how they look because they don’t conform to a superficial and unattainable ideal?

I don’t want to value myself by whether I conform or not, I want to value myself on my strengths be it physical features or other abilities. My skin, covered in pimples and spots, doesn’t make me less of a person. My decision to not wear make-up, doesn’t make me anything other than a woman not wearing make-up. Guess what?! I have an extra half hour in bed, and save a tonne of money now that I don’t wear so much make-up – two things I’d much rather than walking around with a dolled up face. After always being at war with myself and hating pretty much everything about myself it feels a bit counterintuitive to be looking after myself. But I’m done with accepting that I’m unacceptable as I am. I am going to love myself, flaws and all, without hiding or apologising. The journey I’ve taken with my skin is just the start.

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About Me

I am a young patient  activist, speaking openly about life with mental illness and autism. My activism includes public speaking, trying to affect change in mental health and/or autism services by contributing to relevant organisations, panels, committees and executive boards. I hope to break down misconceptions, stereotypes and stigma relating to mental illness and autism, and to create a future where mental health services are fit for purpose.

Want to hear me speak? Curious about my story? Think I could help you or your organisation to understand mental health and/or Autism?

Get in touch; Mair.elliott97@gmail.com


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