Even though my skincare updates have become scarce as of late, this does not mean I no longer pay mind to what goes on my face. I do. Dwelling on expensive potions earlier this spring felt absurd. It was well into summer when it dawned on us that the pandemic would stick around for some time still, and we were free to talk clothes and makeup again. Then late August my skin stopped playing ball, and suddenly my epidermis became the only thing that mattered.
“There are much bigger issues in the world to worry about” is annoying, because it is, at the same time, so true and untrue. Of course there are more important issues. I’m losing actual sleep for worrying about the US election in November. I fear the death of democracy and freedom of speech, global economic recession, the escalation of global warming, that we have only seen the tip of the iceberg of mass migration caused by said climate change. I no longer fear that robots will take over the world. I fear we have already become robots. Need I go on?
Pre-pandemic Sundays used to be spent entrenched in my bathroom, poring over skincare videos and perfecting complicated Asian facial massaging techniques in the name of well-deserved self-care. I’m sure this was always considered absurdly unattainable by some, and definitely unnecessary by many. As a loosely associated hangaround to the wider MeToo-movement, such women’s self-care was branded empowerment. I doubt it was, of course, but it was certainly marketed as such, and critiqued as well: “Women have come to see the pursuit of perfect skin through a rotating buffet of products as an empowering choice“, as was stated in a much-circulated Outline article (January 2018).
Such a claim is of course absolutely preposterous as well as gendered – what exactly are women supposed to spend their monies on, then? Stating that “like other human organs, skin has withstood millions of years of evolution without the aid of tinctures and balms“ is first of all correct, but begs an equally gendered car-related analogy: humans have withstood thousands of years of evolution without big, fat German cars to move from place A to B, but interestingly purchasing a fancy car is rarely the topic of a critical essay.
So I spent much of my pre-pandemic life in the pursuit of perfect skin because I was worth it. But towards the end of May 2020 I’d trimmed my skincare routines to the bare minimum, because honestly what was the point as the world was going to hell anyway. I had joked earlier how I have enough beauty products to survive a nuclear winter, and suddenly that joke was totally on me, because you say nuclear winter, I say global pandemic (yup, still not reached the bottom of the stash-drawer yet).
The thought of writing about fabulous, expensive newness that came in tiny jars seemed spectacularly tone deaf. The thought of thinking about my skin seemed selfish.
Until it manifested its ugly side. And, befitting with the global situation more broadly, I seemed to have absolutely no control over it. Was it hormonal? Rosacea? Maskne? Karma’s revenge for some minor stunt I’d pulled and forgotten about?
Whatever it was, it wasn’t shy about manifesting itself: pimples, pustules, enlarged pores oozing I don’t care to think about what. Swollen, tender skin that would flare into angry redness whatever I treated it with. I was suddenly riddled with the dilemma that “there are bigger issues to worry about” presented, because for me there wasn’t.
Bothering medical staff during pandemic merely because of my bad skin was not an option, so I did what any responsible adult would and googled the shit out of Internet. At the time I was luckily mainly surrounded by trees and had no obligation to meet people, because any exit from the apartment involved an exasperated half an hour of thorough spackling.
Why would my body freak out like this, when there were literally zero stress-inducing external elements in my life? I was staying in a place with the cleanest, purest air and water in the whole world. I did not have to go to work. I could spend my days doing whatever I pleased, which was mostly very little of anything.
Even during the most taxing periods of my working life, when I was literally blacking out from exhaustion, my skin had always been sheer perfection.
Because I’m a multitasker, I did not only worry about my skin, but also about the state of the world. I would divide my time between stressing about my rosacea and the fires in California or legislative bills curbing freedom of expression in Scotland.
Then I would usually conclude that I was an egoistic little shit for thinking about the skin on my cheekbones so much.
Unless I would conclude that I must surely be the only person in the world to have completely lost grasp of this world.
And then I came across a booklet How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division by Elif Shafak. It’s just out, which makes it another interesting pandemic read in addition to Zadie Smith’s Intimations. Alas, Shafak does not present a silver bullet out of lunacy in the 90 pages of her musings, and there’s a lot of stuff we already know (social media echo-chambers driving people mental; everybody shouting, nobody listening).
But as I read it I was comforted to learn that other, intelligent people stress about the current state of the madhouse, too. Everything starts with language, and the post-Cold War dictionary we used to consult in times of trouble is no longer valid. What is normal? What is democracy? What is freedom?
Not long ago we used to be able to collectively explain each word. Not anymore. Now we are universally aware that history can go backwards, that progress is neither guaranteed nor steady.
And then came the part I needed to read: Too much pessimism weighs the heart down, drains us from energy and motivation, is emotionally and physically debilitating. Perhaps in an era when everything is in constant flux, in order to be more sane, we need a blend of conscious optimism and creative pessimism; ‘the pessimism of the intellect, the optimism of the will’.
I did not exactly feel like being optimistic about my epidermal issues, at least not immediately, but maybe felt less guilty for dwelling in the correct dosage of psyllium husk, dietary supplements and other ointments to get things back into whack.
I can share with you that it took weeks this time, and reading a book surely cannot be held responsible alone! I photographed some staples that I kept using throughout the process: Oskia Liquid Mask (contains lactic acid and niacinamide), Evolve Hyaluronic Acid Serum, Bybi Bakuchiol Booster and Odacité Wild Carrot serum. I’m hoping to be able to go back to my usual retinoids soon.
We all inhabit a skin of some kind, and can only ever really care for our own – and importantly: ain’t nobody else gonna take care of yours. It’s actually a really bad analogy in the world politics -context, given that any kind of navel-gazing is about the worst thing we can do.
But maybe it’s micro enough to work when compared to the ungraspable macro-level. In my case it was maybe a lesson learned about life’s frivolities that sometimes spark joy, which on occasion can lead to conscious (or cautious) optimism.
2 thoughts on “Bad Skin, Conscious Optimism”
You write so well. It’s such a pleasure to read. Thank you so much for taking the time to keep publishing.
This is such a bizarre time. As like with probably most of your readers, I have no right to complain. I am a doctor and a mother of four. I can cope with a lot. And most days I do, but then there are days, where it’s all too much. I never used to worry too much about international and national politics, global warming, etc. This is my husband’s part, I’ve always been optimistic (and vegetarian, and bike rider…). Now I just want to hide in a cave (with a reading light and a kettle and a blanket).
Skincare and body care has a very soothing effect, it’s something I have control over.
Again, I have no right to complain, …. but, … very weird times
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Dear G, Thank you for your kind words! And mad respect for juggling your life as a doctor AND four kids… All the best to you and your family and thank you for reading!!