When “skincare first, makeup second” doesn't cut it
I am one of the “lucky” few who didn’t have to deal with acne in their teenage years. A bar of soap or the occasional drugstore facial wash—which stripped my skin of its natural oils, leaving it as parched as the Sahara Desert—and the classic Pond’s Cold Cream (mother knows best!) were my idea of a routine. Actual, honest-to-goodness skincare would come later on as a 20-something corporate employee with a beauty blog as her passion project. This is where my obsession with “clear skin” began.
My foray to this endless black hole began with a quick search on the 10-Step Korean Skin Care Routine introduced by Soko Glam founder Charlotte Cho. I bought the K-Beauty cult classic, Banila Co. Clean It Zero, and bewitched I was; life was never the same. I became part of the Asian Beauty Community on Instagram where I regularly reviewed beauty products. Glossier’s catchy motto “Skincare first, makeup second” reverberated in the very core of my being until these same products which gave me an uplifted sense of self-confidence started becoming a source of shame.
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I realized that when something has so much hold on you—emotionally, mentally, spiritually—you (can) take away its power by bringing it to light. For half a year, my skin suffered from a relentless bout of acne. My face is now a distressing constellation of scars I’ve learned to embrace. It started with redness and bumps here and there until it became an onslaught of one breakout after the other. The cause was undetermined. I made my own assumptions: hormones, my mental health or a surplus of new products (I’ve ceased using) in my system.
Every day was such a battle. Simply looking at the mirror brought me to tears. Washing my face hurt because of all the wounds I acquired. I kept hearing callous comments about the state of my skin. “Gamit ka ng gamit ng skincare, hindi naman gumagana. (You keep using skincare when it doesn’t even work.”) “Anong nangyari diyan? (What happened?”) This took such a toll on my self-esteem that I wanted to remain hidden. I deactivated some of my social media accounts. I rejected invites from friends. Going out meant wearing a cap and a face mask or wearing the most full-coverage foundation I own. I stopped writing reviews because I didn't think any of my products were working. Nobody would believe anything I said; my skin looked dreadful.
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At 26, I didn’t realize I could care about something so skin-deep (literally). Having these troubles as a young adult was so foreign to me. Getting to this point made me realize how much I've relied on this beauty construct—“glass skin” ring a bell?—to control how I viewed my being. I also acknowledged the possibility that I may have (unconsciously) alienated people because of my beauty reviews, which was (then) centered on achieving “perfection.” Having the occasional acne, redness and bumps is a reality; we need to take away the shame that we've associated with it. I'm slowly learning how to and I pray you do, too.
Behind The Scars
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Behind The Scars is a campaign by 25-year-old fashion and portrait photographer, Sophie Mayanne, featuring unedited photos of a range of subjects—women, men and children—highlighting their scars. This began in April 2017 and has accumulated over 450 stories. Her personal project features post-partum bodies, marks of self-harm, burns from domestic abuse, post-surgery scars that saved lives and more. Her creative interpretation through imagery is supported by (written) stories—mostly heartbreaking, others poignant, some funny. This allows the viewer to go deeper than a photograph might allow. In an AirBrush and filter-saturated space, she questions our capacity to accept beauty in every form.
In her recently concluded TEDx Talk, she shared, “It wasn’t until I photographed other people that I realized it was the human connection that I sought through my lens. I could see the raw, honest, unedited image of who we really are—the natural, flawed beauty of creation beyond the words left unsaid. Everyone has scars, in some shape or form. Skin is always flawed and that’s what I find so fascinating about it.
There are so many images designed to please or shock but there was something missing. They were pictures, yes, but not people. It was on this basis that I launched my personal photographic project, Behind the Scars, to not only celebrate scars visually but the people behind them and their stories. I wanted to create an array of different images of people from all walks of life that people could look at and find common ground within them.”
Behind The Scars has created a safe community online which bore fruit genuine fellowship. She added, “Self-acceptance is a journey and not always an easy one. During the healing process, we need to find a way to connect new memories to our scars, both mentally and physically. Many of the people I photograph find that their images allowed them to disconnect their scars from pain and trauma, allowing them to be seen in a new way. As a photographer, I have a social responsibility—be it visual or vocal.”
Straying Away From Perfection
My scars are starting to heal—and I am, too. These unattainable beauty standards I set on myself were so unrealistic, yet I found myself conforming to it. I yielded too much power over these material things; who knew that letting them go would be so liberating? Getting to this point made me realize how much I've relied on products to validate my self-worth—as with all good things I’ve made into God things.
Lately, I've become less concerned about “perfection” and I allow myself to fall in love with makeup and skincare again without this foolish end goal. After all, this is such a crippling standard I wouldn't want to expect from myself or other people. My plea: Dear you, please don’t be a slave to your products.
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Art Alexandra Lara