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A Skin Thing

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“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. _