By Rose Cox
Control is important to me. I have it in every area of my life: at work, at uni, the clothes I wear … it’s all measured, all considered. My skin does not allow me the same control. It’s angry, passionate and erratic.
Without the red, my skin is an off-white colour. Makeup tells me to call it “bone”, “porcelain”, “light”. My skin is none of those things. It is not strong like a bone, it is not smooth like porcelain and it does not glow like a light. In fact, its whiteness makes all the red glow, like little neon pockmarks.
For as long as I have been a woman, my skin has looked more like a weathered rock than a smooth stone. Specked with sores and scars, uneven and undulating, I am forced to wear my stress. Every assignment, every test brings with a series of deep wounds on my cheeks, and, for good measure, a bloody chin.
I cover it.
Every morning, an hour before I leave my room, I smear thick, pale paint all over it. It sinks into my pores and worsens the situation but I need some control over what I look like.
I am writing this almost immediately after hopping out of the shower. My feet are still wet and they are making little puddles on the carpet around me. I still have vaguely flesh coloured cream under my fingernails. I still have streaks of black under my eyes. My skin is still red and raw.
But for the first time, in a long while, I think, “That’s okay.”
When I first moved to university, I tried to starve the demon out. After hearing the chorus of “experts” tell me to change my diet and lather on more creams, I figured “Why not?” Finally, I had financial independence and a little more time, so what was the harm?
The harm was that as I tirelessly endeavoured to become the smooth shiny girls in my class, I forgot about things that were more important. I forgot that whilst a tin of tuna a day is good for your skin, only eating a tin of tuna a day is disastrous for your body. I forgot that whilst exfoliating is good for your skin, it burns, and your scars deepen.
My body withered, my skin worsened and I was ill.
My partner was as passionate about the cause as I was, persistently begging me to cake more product on before we’d leave the house. It got worse. It began with makeup being necessary to leave the house with him, to makeup being necessary for us to fuck, to laugh, to operate as two people who cared for each other. Without it, I was a deformity to him, a shadow of the pretty, dolled up girl that he wanted.
I’d wait til he slept beside me before tiptoeing off and freeing my skin of its mask.
When we ate together, if I craved something sweet, I’d be reprimanded. If I wanted something meaty, I’d be reprimanded. If I wanted some bread, I’d be reprimanded. If I wanted something of substance, I’d be reprimanded.
“Don’t you want to be beautiful?” he asked me.
Of course I did, who doesn’t? I would bow my head and comply, but inside I was being rubbed raw. He left me for another woman, a shinier, cleaner, updated model. He left me the way people update their phones, or profile pictures.
He left me for better. I was left as angry and as passionate and as erratic as my skin. I pushed myself to the academic extreme, focusing on every minute detail of every assignment. If I was stressed, I was going to fucking feel it, no matter how much everyone else could see that on my cheeks. Once uni stopped, I hurled myself into work. Doing 40-50-hour weeks in a kitchen, sweating out of every single pore.
And boy, did I eat. I ate for joy, and it tasted so good. As I sit and write this now, I am eating a Tim Tam. One of many that has been consumed today as a valiant motivator for a Public Law assignment. Time will tell if they are working, and goodness knows I will be wearing this tomorrow, but hell be damned if that stops me from feeling strong and powerful.
The scars on my face are not a spectacle. This is not some Guy Debord level of entertainment for the masses to participate in. We soak up product; we biblically adhere to YouTube teachings, for what? My skin shows that I am alive. It shows that I sweat when I am hard at work. It shows that I stress when I want to study to my limits. It shows that I have lived and I wouldn’t change that and I couldn’t change that.
If anyone thinks this makes me less of a beautiful person, that is their loss. I feel no remorse.