Bullies are everywhere. They roam the school playground. They sit across the room at the office. Or they shout names at you in the high-school locker room. A bully may even be a significant other, parent or once-trusted friend. Acne sufferers know these situations all too well.
But for me it was a little different. Not only did I live with bullies at school I also had a bully in my head.
Growing up with acne affected the way I looked at myself, and the way I thought the world perceived me. Every time I went out in public, whether it was to the mall, to school, out with my family, I always felt looked at and judged because of my acne. It was like an endless loop of negative thoughts swirling in my head. “Ugly” … “Unworthy” … “Stupid.”
There were also bullies in the hallways. One kid made it a point to kick my backpack every day (often kicking my actual back) when we passed each other. Another gave me the nickname “contagious” when she saw my acne-ridden back while changing in the locker room. “Pizza face” was another name I endured. There was a day a classmate even threw a greasy pepperoni slice at me during lunch hour.
These actions hurt immensely and the cruel words stuck to me like gum in my hair. But the bully in my head made things even worse.
The mirror in the bathroom became my enemy. I began to distance myself from friends and family. When I wasn’t in school, I would hide in my room until I fell asleep.
When you’re sharing emotional real estate with a roommate like this, it’s difficult to get much accomplished. But eventually I found the strength to let the bully go.
The first step was acknowledging that the voice wasn’t me. By creating that degree of separation, I was able to start tackling this as a problem, instead of attacking myself.
I began talking to the bully in my head, trying to understand where she was coming from. When she said something negative, I analyzed it. Was she belittling me about my skin because of Photoshopped images in magazines? Was it because other kids had fewer pimples?
The second step was being kind to her. Yes, kind. Every time the bully would tell me I was a waste of space, I would remind her I had the ability to make my father laugh when he had a challenging day at the office. When she’d tell me I was a walking “contagious” disease because of my acne, I would remind her that I have gorgeous, sparkling eyes.
Slowly, my confidence started to build, and I was able to leave my house to visit the drugstore and purchase makeup. When I started practicing with foundation and concealer, it was another confidence boost. “Look bully, we didn’t sit around helpless today,” I’d say. “This makeup stuff isn’t actually that difficult!”
Makeup acted as a mask and a shield. I was able to face the world and start participating in normal life. Even things as simple as hiking with my mom or going to the mall with friends meant I was taking huge steps in conquering the bully in my head.
When it came to my acne, I actively worked to find a skincare regimen that would help clear up my skin and ways to cover the acne while I treated it. I began studying skincare in order to better understand my breakouts. I wanted to understand others who suffer from acne.
It took hard work – and a bit of counseling – but eventually I built up enough confidence to show my raw, acne-ridden skin in a bare-all video on the Internet. And I began doing things I never thought were possible – modeling clothes, doing photo shoots and advertising products. Soon that voice in my head became quieter and quieter.
Bullies are inevitable. But you do have the option and power to define success on your own terms.
Do you have your own story about bullying? If you have other ideas for how to get rid of that bully in your head please tweet me @sincerealycass11 or leave me a comment on @CassandraBankson Instagram – we can use all the tools we can get!