A Skin Thing


“Beauty: it’s the nicest thing, and it makes you crazy. To strive for it, and to preserve it, or create something in its absence, is the X factor in human existence that inspires a lot of the crazy things we do. I wonder if the dolphins swimming around think other dolphins are more beautiful than one another. I kind of don’t think they do, so I’m curious how that happens.

I didn’t really think about beauty until I was in elementary school. And then, it was the nice ladies at the drugstore saying nice things to my mom when we’d go shopping for whatever, and I’d be like, ‘Okay, everything is fine.’ But starting around fourteen, I had really bad acne, and that really messes with your head. I used all this terrible, crappy makeup to cover it up. I had it on all the time, and thought that if I wasn’t wearing all these pounds of makeup that no one would ever... My reality had shifted: I wasn’t pretty, because I had this thing, and if anyone saw it, they would know that the reality was I was gross. So I wore all this foundation and stuff—at that age, you’re learning how to do eye shadow and shit like that—and I wouldn’t let anyone see me without it.

When I say I had acne it’s not like I had pimples and it’s this entire world I created in my head—it was pretty bad. I went on three or four different prescriptions for years, which I wish I could go back and talk to myself about because some of them were really terrible prescriptions that I should not have been on for years. I would also tell myself to eat better, ‘cause I’m pretty sure that was a big factor. But you know how when you look in the mirror sometimes, you don’t look at the whole picture, you just see the one thing that you hate or that you’re worried about in that period in your life? Skin has been like that for me.

The acne eventually went away, but I still sort of felt that I had to wear all this makeup all the time to cover up acne scars. Because when you wear makeup every day, it just gets etched into your head that people will be disappointed if they see your actual face. I went through high school and college basically wearing makeup a bunch: different types of foundation and concealer, and shifting the amount of eye makeup or lipstick I’d put on.

And then at some point, I just decided to stop. It wasn’t like I was using good stuff, and eventually I was using so little that it wasn’t even noticeable, or it looked bad, I don’t know—I never got good at applying it, really. I was at a wedding last year, and I had forgotten to bring my foundation. So I frantically emailed Jane [Marie], the co-editor of Hairpin, who’s really good at makeup. I was like, ‘Jane! Oh my God, what do I do?’ We were miles from town or any drugstores. There was literally nothing to do. She said, ‘Don’t freak out. You’re fine. Your skin is great—just don’t wear it and the world will still keep turning.’ Which is what happened; I didn’t wear any foundation, and everything was fine. The guy I was with was not recoiling, and I was like, ‘Oh, it worked. Okay, my face is fine. People can see my face.’ So I just stopped wearing makeup altogether. I still wear fun makeup, like eyeliner, but wearing it because you feel like you have to hide something is a lot different than trying to be your prettiest. It was really liberating. It’s much easier, too. You never think about stupid things like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to a pool party, but what if they make me go in the water and all my makeup comes off?’”

—Edith Zimmerman, as told to ITG

Zimmerman is a Brooklyn-based writer and co-editor of the women’s website The Hairpin.

Photographed by Emily Weiss in New York on July 5th 2012.  

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  • Literarywitch

    Really refreshing to read a woman's honest, unflinching account of how she struggled with her problem skin and its effect on her self-image. So often women turn to beauty not to enhance, but to hide something that they're ashamed of. It's so great to see this common perspective acknowledged here on this luxury beauty blog.

  • http://mabelmatilda.blogspot.com/ alexandria

    less is more definitely, she looks great!


  • ck

    i'd love to hear what she used or did to help it finally go away

  • Mary

    This is such a wonderful article. I had a similar phase in my life. At one point on the way to school I freaked because I had left my mascara at home. To the horror of my mum I refused to go to school. It was later that day I realised how dependant I had become on make up to make me feel "myself". I endured some bullying in my early teens regarding my looks and used make up as a shield. Seven years later, I now feel at ease with make up. I wear it when I want to and I don't wear it when I don't. And I never wear too much, it suffocates me!

  • http://fashionforteens.wordpress.com/ liz

    I can definitely relate to this-I'm a teenager and have breakouts. They're not severe but I do have them. I wear foundation, concealer, and powder every day and this past weekend, I was visiting a friend on the shore. We were getting ready to go to the beach and I was freaking out about my skin and how to make my foundation last through the salt, sun, sand, and seawater and my friend said, "You're wearing foundation to the beach?" I said my skin was bad and she said, "So what? Mine is too and I don't wear foundation." Off we went, wearing bikinis and not a slick of makeup.

  • oscarina

    I had the regular pimples as a teen, but got a bad case of painful adult acne in my late 20s. I ended up on Roaccutane for a couple of years, -- following a suggestion by a friend who had gone through the same thing -- and it was pretty scary (makes your skin really thin out into the most fragile thing ever, and it turns out it even has long term side effects that I get to wonder about twenty years later). It was even scary going off it, eventually, because the slightest pimple made me afraid it was starting all over again. I still get a little acne from time to time. I have no idea why, maybe it's just in my genes -- nobody in my family is pimple free at all times, though we all have pretty good skin when it's not flaring up. I just learned from seeing other people with a few pimples (particularly men), and realizing that I didn't find them repulsive, that I probably wasn't repulsive, either. At least not by my own standards.

    Also, yeah, I had been eating nothing but corn flakes, baguettes, pasta, and chocolate in my 20s, because I hadn't yet learned to cook. Add a lot of stress from being an illegal alien, and a series of terrible relationships, and it's really not surprising it all began to show on my face. Mine also "eventually went away," and I suppose I ought to credit going on an all-organic rotation diet, eating lots of veggies and fruits, cutting dairy except for goat milk and a little yogurt, weaning myself off sugar, and eventually starting to be happier (less stressed out). I tried going vegetarian, but it turned out I was better off with a tiny bit of meat in my life.

    Anyway, I try not to freak out over a pimple or two now, and just keep the redness under control, and not cover it up completely unless I think someone's going to have a camera and snap a pic of me with my new "friend" on my nose or chin.

  • http://Www.beauty-vixen.com/ Kate Curry

    Love it! In fact I had to tweet it! My feelings about my skin, and my looks in general, have softened a lot over the years. A age 47 I may not look as hot as I did in my twenties but I am much much more accepting of my looks, which feels better

  • Kimara

    Dear ITG
    I speculate that your story is of common resemblance to many others. I too, after so many years, bear the scars of acne -more so emotionally. There is something that changes within a women who goes through it. It is more a vanity thing that lingers deep in our perception of ourselves for years to come. I like to add that after being on various medications, fearing what they have done to my body, I only wish to have had a bit of the khowledge that I do know.

    And so it was that the tactic of hiding a behind an armoured veil of concealer and foundation, after many years, proved to do little for the timidness of showing my true skin. One day I realized that my skin was "dirty". Dirtier than it would appear with just the true scars and resistant acne I continued to have in my 20's. I stopped wearing make up that day-makeup in the sense of skin camouflauge. It was hard to be so out there, raw and real. But with time it paid off in many ways. Within weeks, my own skin became clear and vibrant. And as the old layer of skin shed so did my inner inhibitions. The acne began to heal itself. And I began to bloom from within. Sure I go back once in a while and use a foundation and concealer to give that picture perfect look to my skin. But now I use it only to enhance the beauty within rather than a wall to hide behind

  • Beauty Idealist

    Thank you JC, I am so thrilled to hear that! Emily and ITG really inspire a lot of beauty bloggers. Ever since I started working in beauty at our department store, I've been hoping to catch Emily during one of my shifts.

  • Annukka

    "the majority of men don't wear make up and yet have flawless skin. We never say that they could look better if only they put on tinted moisturizer and some blush, so why as women do we do this to ourselves and to each other?"

    I couldn't agree more!