Chloe Barcelou, New Hampshire Portrait by Lori Pedrick

Chloe Barcelou, New Hampshire
Portrait by Lori Pedrick

True Beauty

I feel fortunate to be female, as if the form were an outfit I had happily chosen and I’m now wearing it thankfully. My body is tough, it’s strong, it’s healthy. It takes me where I want to go, gathering scars along the way that I don’t mind, that I’m even proud of, because they remind me where I come from, what struggles I have faced and how overcoming them has made me stronger and humbler and more appreciative. This is me, and I’m happy to be me, to play my role. I am, in other words, comfortable in my skin.

      It’s not always been this way, however. I was about 20 years old when I started getting cystic acne. For the most part, I had always been comfortable with the way I looked, and though I had my fair share of self-esteem demons, I generally felt confident. What self-esteem I did have became suddenly fractured as this disease overtook my face. I felt like my beauty had been shrouded, that acne had deformed and obscured my features as if I were wearing a mask. Painful, deep-rooted blemishes, lasting for months sometimes, had taken over my face. I was completely ashamed and embarrassed. I felt I could read everyone’s judging minds. I felt sickly and alone in my suffering. I tried every diet, every cream, facial treatment, soap, pill. Nothing helped.

      For months, while on a bout of Accutane, I hid myself entirely from the world. I rarely went out, or exposed myself to people. I always wore hats, and I avoided everyone who knew me. At first, the acne was so bad I couldn’t even wear makeup, but after my six-month treatment of Accutane ended, my skin was becoming less dry and flaky, allowing me the savior of coverage.

      I’ve always loved the transformative power of makeup. However, I was so insecure about my skin that I began to use makeup as a crutch for my confidence; I wouldn’t feel beautiful at all unless I had concealed my scars. If I couldn’t wear makeup, I would stay away from the mirror, and turn away from myself. I hated the acne and what I felt it had taken from me, and I absolutely hated the way I looked. I stopped modeling, which was heartbreaking for me. I always wanted to be a model, but I certainly wouldn’t have allowed a makeup artist to see my true face and I refused to put myself in a position where people could judge my appearance. I felt my acne was holding me back from accomplishing my dreams–I feared that it would claim my youth, and that I would age never having experienced what I had always wanted as a girl: to be a young and beautiful woman.

      This was a frustrating and isolating time for me. The time was not a loss, however. In fact, the anguish forced me to do what we artists do when troubled; I created. I delved deeply into my passions, reaching inward to express my burdened spirit through my imaginings. I became extremely focused on my work, so much so that eventually I literally didn’t have time to hate my skin anymore. I was healing through my art, letting it take me on the path I am on today, the path that has shaped me (or I it), a path honest and expressive, to the point where I am free enough to write this, to share my vulnerability and weakness openly.

      I sometimes recall the beginning, and think “I am so far from that place…” Not just because my acne is finally beginning to clear up (I still experience breakouts, and I have plenty of scars to show for them), but because, in the end, I feel I have been fortunate to have experienced this personal struggle. It caused a perspective change within me. I had been humiliated, and so I learned humility. I had been in pain, and learned empathy. I had felt helpless; I grew stronger. I would never have called myself vain, but having gone through this, I feel my heart has grown and my ego has shrunk. I am slower to judge and quicker to consider, and to be kind. I know others have had, are having, or will have my same experience or worse. I know that others carry with them troubles of which I know nothing.

      Life is so much more magnificent than any one of us–certainly grander than our beauty and how we perceive our looks. If I allow myself to see my life from this perspective, I become completely free of any self-conscious thought, because I realize I’m part of so much more–a bigger picture–a grander story. I remember there have been many past generations of strong and powerful women who have sacrificed and led the way so that future generations of woman can be seen and heard; knowing and understanding all of this is power to me. Power to my voice, and inspiration to use it.

      Today, I proudly go barefaced. I still enjoy wearing makeup, but I no longer use it as the foundation of my self-confidence. As I look back, I remember the girl who cried in shame and self-pity repeatedly, and I want to comfort her. I want to comfort all the acne sufferers and tell them they are not defined by their skin—something as simple as their pores—and just because they have acne, it does not mean they are not beautiful. I would encourage them to love their true being, to nurture their spirits and passions and remind them that “this too, shall pass.” — Chloe Barcelou