Feeling self-conscious about acne is not a matter of vanity – it is a matter of feeling comfortable in your own skin, which is a very real, very difficult challenge. This is especially difficult when the majority of media and society is telling us that perfect skin is not just attainable, but expected. As such, acne can take a serious toll on our emotional well-being. We know that firsthand.
We spoke to Azra Alic, LCSW, a therapist who specializes in Social Anxiety Disorder and Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors, such as skin picking. She walked us through some of the steps that she takes with her clients who battle acne-induced social anxiety. Have you ever been at a social gathering and felt like you couldn’t actually BE yourself because your acne was affecting your confidence? In this post, Azra gave us some tools to overcome those moments.
Q: How have you seen acne affect one’s emotional wellbeing?
A: Acne can really impact people’s self-esteem, and can even lead to depression. I’ve worked with people who feel so self-conscious that they don’t want to be around other people. They might avoid spending time with friends or avoid dating.
They might also avoid certain outdoor activities so they don’t have to wear clothing that reveals body acne, or avoid exercise or other activities where they might sweat their makeup off. This can lead to people feeling like acne prevents them from fully enjoying their life.
Q: Why do we feel like people are staring at our acne? Do other people notice our acne as much as we do?
A: Nope! People usually think more about themselves than they do about other people. Sometimes I have my client do what’s called a behavioral experiment to help them test out their theories. I’ll have them walk around a public area without wearing makeup and try to see how many people “stare” at them. Sometimes I’ll record them while they’re walking around a public area and we’ll watch the video together to see if anyone gave them a weird look. People are usually surprised to find that their worst fears didn’t come true. I’d recommend this experiment for anyone out there who deals with social anxiety and acne.
Q: What are some unhealthy, common methods people tend to use to try and hide their acne from their peers and social circles?
A: I’ve worked with people who spend excessive time getting ready and camouflaging their acne before going out in public. They won’t go out in public without excessive preparation. They can never be spontaneous. They spend a lot of money on make-up and skincare products. Depending on the location of the acne, people may take great care to style their hair to conceal acne or acne scars. People might avoid certain clothing or activities because they don’t want to expose their acne or acne scars.
Q: How do you help your clients overcome anxiety around acne in social settings?
A: I help people focus on the social experience, rather than focusing on their appearance. For example, I’ll encourage them to try really hard to focus on the conversation they’re having. Be present! By practicing mindfulness in this way, people can learn to be fully in the moment without paying as much attention to their negative thoughts about their skin.
Q: While body image issues are often such a huge topic in our current media, why do you think we don’t hear as much about anxiety and insecurities around acne or other skin issues?
A: Hmm that is a good question. I would guess that it’s because most of the advertising and product development in our culture is still based on prevention and elimination of skin imperfections, rather than on accepting skin variations and skin flare-ups.
While “plus size models” are more common now, I think we have yet to see an editorial spread in which a model has a pimple (not to mention a pore!).
Also, I think there is just still an overarching belief in popular media about “if you look good, you’ll feel good” and that gets reinforced over and over again in so many ways, whether it’s related to weight, skin, hair type, etc. But trying to find confidence solely through “looking good” is a never-ending battle.
Q: How do we get ourselves to see more than our skin flaws when we look in the mirror?
A: It can be helpful to step away from the mirror a bit and take in the whole body, rather than getting up close to the mirror and focusing only on the body parts we are most self-conscious about.
Also, focusing on what is going to happen that day and why it’s important, rather than focusing on how the person feels about themselves. For example, the thought “I’m going out with my friends tonight because these friendships are important to me” can start to negate the negative thought of “I have a big pimple and everyone is going to see”.
Q: Do you have a good mantra to pass along to help those struggling with acne accept their skin?
A: Hmm I don’t have a go-to mantra because I usually have clients come up with their own, but often it’s along the lines of… “my skin problem is probably not as noticeable as I think it is, and even if people notice, what is so bad about that? Can I handle whatever happens?”
Deep down, most people are afraid of being rejected for their perceived flaws but usually, that fear is unfounded.
Q: Do you think that, through sharing personal struggles about these topics either with our peers, online, or via social media, we can begin to foster a more skin-accepting community and discussion?
A: Yes! Talking about insecurities and being vulnerable with others plays a big role in reducing feelings of shame and isolation. So often, people think that they are the only ones who are struggling with negative self-image when statistics tell us otherwise.
I do think it’s important to caution people about the “misery loves company” mentality and make sure that people are not just complaining to one another or placating or reassuring each other, but rather that the messages being exchanged are empowering.
Thank you, Azra, for the advice!
So what are our steps to feeling better about our “imperfections”?
1) Look people in the eye when you’re having a conversation with them.
2) Be present.
3) Remember that you are always your own worst critic.
4) And, finally, remind yourself that your breakouts do not impact your self worth.
Let us know your tips to overcoming acne anxiety at firstname.lastname@example.org.