In my last essay, I talked about how going on Accutane made me feel like a total failure. I'd spent hours upon hours upon hours carefully building out a skin-care routine that worked, but then I plateaued and knew I was never really going to have clear skin until I went on a hefty dose of vitamin A. I was consumed with the fact that it wouldn't work and that what seemed like an attainable goal would be out of reach for me, forever.
Well, I did it: I completed a grueling course of Accutane and lived to tell the tale. I made it through a round of messed up lab work that put my cholesterol at such an extreme high that my dermatologist called me daily for a week to make sure I hadn't dropped dead until I could go for another lab appointment. I made it through my skin peeling off in sheets and my lips always, always hurting. I made it through the countless pregnancy tests even though I assured every party involved that I could not possibly be more celibate (like the rest of the internet, I am saving myself for Keanu Reeves, thank you very much.)
I made it through the super-depressive thoughts on top of my regular-depressive thoughts. I made it through my dermatologist pity-laughing at my self-deprecating jokes. I made it through the unnecessarily wasteful pill packs with the pregnant woman crossed out, just to remind you for the 50 millionth time that you absolutely cannot get pregnant. (Hot tip: I would spend an hour or so every Sunday cutting all the pills out of the insanely difficult packaging and keep them in a stash jar that was more easily accessible throughout the week.)
Honestly, the whole process sucks. Badly. But in my experience, it was also worth it.
A Skin-Care Obsessive's Dilemma With Going on Accutane
The 17 Products That Have Been Saving My Life (Well, My Skin) While I'm on Accutane
On Wanting to Dress Like Your Style Icon When You Don't Look Like Them
I'm what most people would consider an Accutane "success story." My skin isn't 100% clear, but I'd say on a good day I'm at a solid 95%. I'm still on a hefty dose of spironalactone because hormones are a bitch, but it works, even if I spend a solid half of my day peeing (glamorous!) since it's a diuretic. My skin-care routine has gone from multiple prescriptions to a few exfoliating acids and some hyaluronic acid with maybe another serum depending on my mood. Makeup, for the first time in my life, actually feels fun and maybe I'll finally, actually teach myself how to apply eyeshadow.
I feel fortunate that Accutane helped clear up my skin. But the whole process has also made me think a lot about how much we all tend to equate our self worth with our appearance. Recent years have seen a growing movement for acne acceptance, and I appreciate the work that folks are doing to try and destigmatize zits, I really do. But when it came to my own face, I was never able to get over that mental hurdle. I never wanted to "reclaim" my acne or embrace it by covering it in glitter — I wanted it gone. As a cis, white person I know that I'm privileged to live in this body, but most days, the chemical imbalance in my brain ignores that fact, and it's still an uphill battle to feel at peace with what I look like.
For me, side effects and all, Accutane was the easiest way to change something about my appearance that I didn't like. It was that simple. The New York Times recently published a story on how the wellness industry is bullshit (which, true, but it's worth noting that that very position has been screamed from the rooftops for years by fat activists before the paper of record deemed it a worthy one) and this quote has stuck with me since I read it:
"I no longer define food as whole or clean or sinful or a cheat. It has no moral value. Neither should my weight, though I'm still trying to separate my worth from my appearance. They are two necklaces that have gotten tangled over the course of my 35 years, their thin metal chains tied up in thin metal knots. Eventually, I will pry them apart."
If I replace "clean food" with "clear skin" in that line of thinking, I find myself trapped in a loop of equating each unclogged pore with a drop of serotonin and increased self-worth. Clear skin, like clean food, has no moral value; I do not think I'm better than anyone else because I have fewer pimples. But each breakout that ceremoniously popped up right before an important event or new product that didn't work added a new strand to my own metaphorical necklace knot. Maybe one day I'll be able to fully untangle them, but until then, I'll settle for getting a few knots out and feeling marginally better about myself, as vain as it is. And at the end of the day, there are worse things a person can be than a little bit vain.
I previously wrote about how going on Accutane made me feel like a failure. I'm happy to say I no longer feel like one. Just one question: Will Glossier recruit me to be a rep automatically now, or is there an application process?
Homepage photo: Imaxtree