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8 Life Lessons I Learned From My Struggle With Acne

There's more to feeling happy in your skin than you think.


Art Credit: Nima Salimi

For the past year I've been battling severe acne. I am not 16, even though I play characters that age in TV and movies. I am currently recouping from my second medical grade chemical peel in attempt to remove deep acne scars and lingering breakouts so that I can get back to work.

I am a model. I am in the business of selling “not good enough." Honestly, most of the time I do not feel I myself am good enough for the very industries that I've worked in since I was 16. In my view, these false ideals of the perfect woman set every little girl up for impending failure and low self esteem, something I do not wish to pass on and find myself constantly struggling with as well.

I went on the pill when I was 18 for acne. I didn't want my bad skin to get in the way of my budding modeling and acting careers. But for years this simply covered up wounds that were more than skin deep. A small, yet persistent internal voice insisted I wasn't myself. I kept feeling like I wasn't in my own body. It took me 5 years to finally begin to listen to that voice and take action. I decided to go off the pill.

As Simone De Beauvoir says "I tore myself away from the comfort of certainties through my love of truth—and truth rewarded me." Healing my skin has been a personal journey full of growth and lifestyle changes, both in my overall philosophy and in my practical daily routine. I am now the healthiest I have ever been and feel more in my own skin than ever before. I feel compelled to share with you eight graceful lessons that I have learned about myself and the world along the way.

1. Imperfection is beautiful. It makes us human. You are good enough exactly as you are. It is much harder to say "I love and I accept myself exactly as I am" than to pick yourself apart and self-criticize . . . but it shouldn't be. Shaming and criticizing other women for their flaws only perpetuates the impossible ideal of the perfect woman. How can you live free of negative self-talk if you are holding others to unattainable standards?

2. The only guarantee in life is change. Everything is temporary, right down to our very cells. Just like the continual shedding of our skin, change is the motion of a healthy life. "Life's face is never the same though we may look at it for all eternity," wrote the Norwegian poet Kolbein Falkeid. Our desires to control, predict, and expect all stem from a fear of the unknown. Embrace change and it'll reward you. You may not have the power to stop it, but you always have a choice of how you react to it.

3. Hormonal birth control is not a liberator but a suppressor of women’s bodies. I believe the ability to give life makes us innately female. It shocks me how many young girls and women not only do not understand how the pill affects their body, but furthermore are extremely disconnected from their central power of femininity, their reproductive organs. Sexual wellness is a birthright, not a commodified privilege. I wish that all women may have the bravery to reconnect with their womb sans shame and in the name of empowerment. Knowledge is power. I'm not encouraging risky sexual behavior, but it is imperative that there be room for discussion and information without judgment. For more life-changing information, check out Holly Grigg-Spall's book Sweetening the Pill: How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control.

4. Your body wants to communicate with you. The gastrointestinal track is known as the brain of the body and It's up to you to listen. It turns out the breakouts on my cheeks were really signaling a larger issue with my digestion. By going on hormonal birth control without this knowledge, I was treating the symptoms rather than the cause. Our bodies communicate emotional pain as well, as Louise L. Hay discusses in her groundbreaking book You Can Heal Your Life. For me, it turns out the tension in my stomach was derived from childhood distress, which further contributed to my inability to digest and assimilate nutrients. After discontinuing the pill, I could finally once again listen in to my body and begin to heal.

5. You are what you eat. Food can heal you or it can destroy you. Hippocrates said "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." The biggest lifestyle change I made was eating a clean alkaline green diet. As a former coffee addict and cookie monster, I had to acknowledge that my favorite foods were actually working against me. These were also my go-tos in terms of self-medicating for emotional reasons. My depleted adrenal system craved these stimulants, which due to their acidic and inflammatory nature, created more havoc internally. For healing to occur, our bodies must be in an uninflamed, alkaline state. In time and continued practice, I have learned to love nourishing ancient superfoods and in return they continuously love, heal, and energize me.

6. Anxiety can be mastered. The main difference lies in your perspective. Stress causes breakouts, a terrible catch-22 I faced as I stressed about the pimples. Once again I was presented with a choice—how to react to stress. In a talk titled "How to make stress your friend" at TED Global 2013, Psychologist Kelly McGonigal presents that embracing the effects of stress actually allows for courageous acts. Conquering anxiety comes down to how you view your body's reaction to stress. My acting mentor Mr. William Alderson wisely reminded me of my choice when having a fight or flight response in intimidating audition rooms when he told me, "Fight for your right to be there." I cannot claim mastery over my anxiety, but with continued patience and perseverance I find myself choosing more peaceful, loving thoughts in the face of stress. Thoreau speaks of this practiced repetition:

"As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives."

7. There must be darkness in order for there to be light. One cannot exist without the other, and it takes courage to examine both. Beverly Leech touches on the matter in her guidebook, Actor Muscle, when she gently suggests that one's darkness and light must be in balance with one another, as both feed our artistry and well being. It took my body's outcry for me to accept that there was something deep within I was not acknowledging. "I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hate so stubbornly is because they sense once hate is gone they will be forced to deal with their own pain," James Baldwin brilliantly states in his novel The Fire Next Time. A good friend inspired me at the beginning of my journey with this eloquent analogy; an entire room can be filled with darkness, but no amount of darkness can cover up even the smallest flame of light.

8. Love heals. I was contentedly traveling solo through London when I remembered I was by myself. It was then that my intuition told me, "Love yourself and you're never alone." Healing is a process of replacing fear with love. Stop looking for what's wrong with you and start looking for what's right in your heart. As Lucille Ball once said "Love yourself first and everything else falls into line." And with this love, you are never alone.

( Photo by Nima Salimi )