“People who are most magnetically attractive are those whose energy is not split by focusing on trying to be a people pleaser, fit in, or satisfy the opinion of others. They simply transmit a clear broadcast of who they are to the universe.” – Maryam Hasnaa
An episode of HBO’s Veep sparked this article. I adore this show, and it brings me great comic relief in these crazy times. But this one episode… it really upset me. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who plays protagonist Selina Meyer, develops a giant zit on her cheek. The entire episode revolves around how this one zit hijacks the character’s day and keeps her from focusing on more important matters at hand. Her staff is frantically trying to find the miracle-cure so she can “show face” and get her work done. While the episode does not just focus on that “all-destroying” pimple, to me, the message was clear: if you have a zit, you should avoid being in the public eye, and you cannot do your job correctly.
Although I know that my acne is slim pickings in comparison to what some people have gone through, it has been the inescapable struggle of my 20s. I had the usual pubescent acne while growing up and then had a big flare-up in my freshman year of college. Following that, I spent several blissful years without acne. Once I moved into New York City and began working three jobs along with bustling for an acting career, acne made a triumphant comeback. This time, it was angry cystic acne, painfully plaguing my forehead, chin, and sometimes cheeks. I would sport—at one time—5 dime-size zits that not only hurt but glared red as hellfire and lingered on my face for what seemed like forever. I became riddled with shame, fear of rejection, and huge insecurities about how I couldn’t achieve any of my dreams in this world with this face. Like my friend Selina Meyer, I let acne affect my life and became strongly influenced by social pressure. I know now, as I knew then, that my reaction to all of this was a choice. My own fears have fueled the pain it has brought me. However, those fears are deeply rooted in reality.
Somewhere in the middle of the confusion of my early 20s, I went to yoga to “get in better shape.” And something wonderful happened; I felt this kind of magical space creeping into my mind.
I not only felt more connected with and grounded in my own body, but also began to see myself and my actions in a new light. Now here I am, nine years later: a passionate yogi and teacher. Yet, over the years, no matter what I do, I still struggle with adult acne. Seeing that episode of Veep only validated the fear I carry inside me that, because of acne, I cannot become what I want or do certain things. I’ve been asking myself over and over, how can yoga help get rid of my acne? What inner peace do I need to find to make these zits go away?! It wasn’t until recently that I realized I was asking the wrong questions. Though my search for clearer skin continues, the energy I spend punishing myself for having acne does not have to.
Acne is painful and difficult to hide. But we are all still taught that, for us to be easy, breezy, beautiful, we must hide it. If you’re lucky to come across acne in television, films, commercials, magazines, or whatever, you will find it to mostly stand as a sign of insecurity or inability to fit in. In Veep’s case, the ONE zit on the character’s face keeps her from being able to do her job—as the president of the United States, of all things—properly.
Of course, no one wants to have acne; and I’m not suggesting that we just accept it and move along. By all means, it should be treated and healed through medication or natural methods. Yet, here’s a revolutionary idea: what if those of us with acne did not have to be ashamed? What if we could just accept it? What if we were able to be actors, models, yoga teachers, politicians, CEOs without worry or fear of how our acne may take away our power? I am sure there are plenty of people out there who are successful and struggle with acne. I just don’t see or know them.
Countless ads show teenagers and adults alike not fitting in or succeeding because of how they feel about their skin until they magically experience true happiness once their acne is gone. Well, I call bull.
This is my shout out to all those people who have acne and carry shame or fear because of it. This is my call to all you all to help promote people who have acne with opportunities to show themselves without shame.
And, finally, to anyone struggling with acne: take a look at how much energy and effort we are spending hating ourselves over these small, but sometimes gigantic, things populating our skins. How much else could we be achieving, how much more love could we have for ourselves and others, if only we stopped judging who we are by the feel of our skins?
A certain meditation analogy has really stuck with me.
Imagine staring at a blue open sky. That blue sky is you, always open; the clearest blue you can imagine. The clouds in your sky represent your thoughts and feelings.
Sometimes they are light and fluffy and, other times, they are big stormy masses. The trick is to resist the urge to blow the clouds away from you or hold tightly to them. Can you let them float by without trying to control, judge, or manipulate them? Can you also remember that behind those clouds there is always… the blue sky? So when you get frustrated with your skin, see that frustration… feel it, even. But then let it float by, instead of holding onto it.
When I look at my life without the shame I carry because of these red bumps on my face, I’m a badass and lucky woman. The only thing that is keeping me (and perhaps you?) from being and feeling successful is this idea that acne doesn’t allow us to stand as a beautiful and strong woman fully. The moment I let those clouds float by, that blue sky bursts through with sunshine and opportunities. It is my mission to move forward and prove that we can be “all of the things” even with all of the zits. Are you with me?
Resources for Empowerment
Headspace is an app that makes meditation accessible. There are many misconceptions about meditation and how it can fit into our lives. Finding your way in is key to using meditation as a tool to feel more grounded in yourself. This app offers many different forms of meditation with excellent guidance, didactic cartoons explaining different concepts (including the blue sky metaphor), and you can use it on the go or at home. Sign up for the 10-day trial to check it out!
Justin Michael Williams Meditation Training
With this pay-what-you-can online meditation training, you will learn that meditation doesn’t have to be about clearing your mind of all thoughts, but rather a sacred place for you to let your mind run its course. Taking this training changed my relationship to meditation and to the way I treat my own thoughts and perceptions. What happens when we give ourselves space to just be?
Yoga and the Pursuit of Happiness, by Sam Chase
There are a lot of amazing yoga books out there, but this one is at the top of my list. Misconceptions about yoga, along with real-life issues with the “yoga culture” can turn people away from embracing the practice as a tool to live a happier and healthier life. Yoga and the Pursuit of Happiness is accessible, fun, and applicable to your everyday life. This book helped me peel back the layers of what a yoga practice can be and helped me see yoga more as a journey and daily process than an end goal.
For me, and in my teaching, yoga is about getting closer to oneself and one’s truth. And we arrive at our truth when we are connected to our bodies and minds in an honest, kind, and loving way. Journaling and allowing your thoughts and feelings space to exist in a more concrete way can help you work through, and with what you got going on. Over time, you become more of a support system to yourself.
Illustration by Valeria Ko
Edited by Anastasia Buterina and Ely Bakouche