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I got my first dark spot when I was twenty-nine, right after my mother died from suicide. It was on my right cheek and I thought it had to be cancerous. "No," the doctor said, "you're just getting older." After that, I began to regularly use chemical exfoliants (Dr. Brandt pads to be exact) because I didn't want hyperpigmentation. The catch? The chemical exfoliants accelerated my skin's hyperpigmentation! The real catch? We all fucking age. It's a natural process. I got brown spots early because of the years I spent working as a wildland firefighter. I wouldn't trade those years for "better" skin, and I also question the binary of good and bad skin that the beauty industry is obsessed with.

What I love about you and your writing is how well you weave your personal experiences with historical and cultural narratives. I struggle with dermatillomania and I can relate to your pulling-spree. I haven't been in a big city since I left Seattle, but throughout my life I've experienced this phenomenon where I'll get dressed at home and leave the house feeling great about myself, only to get to my destination and feel suddenly overwhelmed with a baseless shame and self-consciousness. This happens to me primarily in cities, where I feel people are constantly assessing one another based on appearance. I have always felt messy and unkempt in comparison to others and it took me FOREVER to realize that feeling stemmed from perfectionism, not reality. I hope you start feeling better soon, because you 100% deserve it all, and you are 100% amazing, and your amazingness has absolutely nothing to do with your appearance. I wish we could live in a world that was interested in who we are rather than what we look like.

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Thank you, Anastasia, and thank you for sharing that. Your writing about your own experience of beauty culture is always so so powerful. I wish we lived in that world too <3

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Oct 26, 2023Liked by Jessica DeFino

At a time when I should’ve spent the money on more enjoyable activities (i.e., travel), I bought a package of chemical peels at a med spa. The nurse, like myself, grew up near a sunny vacation destination, and she plainly pointed out that there was nothing wrong with either of us enjoying our youth in the sun by the water (and living with hyperpigmentation as a result). Clearly that has stuck with me—living life is better than reaching for perfection.

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Absolutely! Jessica, I so admire your honesty. Hair pulling runs in my family too. As we age and get more spotted we also lose our eyesight, which helps!

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I moved out of NYC a few years ago and every time I go back I feel wobbly and unworthy, instantly forgetting the life I've built in a place I love where I feel held and cared for by a solid community and where I can romp around in old sweaters and boots with unbrushed eyebrows (gasp!) and look just right. I suppose the degree of vulnerability I feel in NYC is in direct proportion to how deeply I've been indoctrinated. Your experience doesn't read like hypocrisy--it reads like an access point for the rest of us. It's a personal, specific illustration of the system's imposition on the individual.

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Thank you for sharing that <3 It definitely helps to know that other people have similar experiences while traveling and I love the framework of proportionality.

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Oct 26, 2023Liked by Jessica DeFino

I hope your face is healing and I and I know others so appreciate your work and affirm that is doesn’t make you a “hypocrite” or unqualified or any other bad/inadequate word, to do your work. You are a prophet and that’s not easy.

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Thank you <3 <3 <3

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I now have dark spots as well as freckles, which I’ve had all my life. I’m curious about laser, but I have heard it is expensive. And I really have managed to push back on all that thus far and don’t want to go there. For the cover of one of my earlier cookbooks-a good 15 years ago-the art director was so obsessed with my freckles he photoshopped each one off of my face. When my book was published, my family didn’t recognize me. Since then, I’ve embraced my spots. They’re me!

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Being photoshopped is such a mind-fucking experience, isn't it?? But you bring up some great points... right now, the industry is obsessed with eliminating "dark spots" AND ALSO obsessed with faking freckles w/ tattoos, self-tanner, etc. Makes no sense.

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Manipulation. Power. The ability to reinvent who you are? As if spots on your face or tattoos on your body say who you are at the core? What you hold dear?

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I did laser last year at 45 after years of freckles and a bit of melasma. It looked okay but after one summer they all came right back. As with many of these things, you have to choose the right laser or it will get worse, and you have to do it repeatedly to maintain it. It wasn’t particularly painful but the smell of my skin burning wasn’t something I’ll forget for awhile.

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Thanks for the heads-up!

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Thanks for your vulnerability in sharing about your trichotillomania episode. I think it's important for people to share that as much as they do the deeply important work of divesting from beauty culture (or just generally loving themselves more, or whatever), they're still humans that have thoughts "about my own face and body and how they weren’t good enough." That's because we've all been indoctrinated for so many years and these insidious thoughts don't just go away overnight.

"My obsession isn’t my undoing, but my reason to do." -- This will be ringing in my ears for a long time!!

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Thank you Mikala!!

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I ended up getting melasma across the top of my cheeks and foreheads after having my two beautiful baby girls. Immediately came the conversation amongst friends of 'when will you get rid of it?'. I don't want to. I don't want to because I will forever show the physical connection to my daughters on my face, and (on a purely aesthetic note) I thoroughly enjoy the colour it gives my face. It adds character.

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That Woodman book is phenomenal -- it unlocked so much for me. With her work, it's best not to get hung up on modern debates of masculine and feminine, just think of it as yin/yang energy. She's brilliant and it got me deeper into Jungian theory which has been a fascinating journey. I'm glad you discovered her!

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I cannot wait to finish it!!

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I joke that something really odd happens when I fly from my home in Seattle to Los Angeles. Somehow, when I get on the plane I look fine but en route the airplane somehow transforms me into some kind of troll by the time I arrive in LA. When I get off the plane and interact with that culture I experience life so differently.

I really appreciate how you critique beauty culture with such deep, intellectual analysis. It reminds me what an insidious and powerful force it is (the opposite of the supposed superficiality and fluff of women's media (magazine, etc)). I am grateful it's taken seriously as a threat to our well-being.. robbing us of our lives. Perfect tool of oppression.

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It's so so true!! And thank you for your kind words. I really appreciate it xx

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Oct 26, 2023Liked by Jessica DeFino

What a great example of how an idea (aka a muse) kind of hangs around asking you to write it. Also, since we are always in the bath of culture, it makes sense that you - or anyone who is otherwise aware of impossible beauty standards - regularly reacts and adjusts to fend them off.

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Right?? I couldn't believe it when I read that paragraph — I was like, ok so *this* is why I couldn't write it before.

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Wow. Thank you again for shining a light on this travesty. We can all relate to spending too much time scrutinizing our “dark spots” in front of a magnifying mirror. I for one, think magnifying mirrors should be banned. Like the burning bra era, they should all be smashed to the ground in an act of liberation.

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Oct 26, 2023Liked by Jessica DeFino

Isn’t Michelle Lee the one who spearheaded the “”””ban””””” on the phrase “anti-aging” at Allure? I knew at the time there was something disingenuous about it but this confirms that she never even believed in it

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Yesssss! I had a whole section on that in my first draft of this piece, but cut it because it wasn't super relevant. But I have a lot to say about that! She definitely spearheaded what I call the "sheep in wolf's clothing" critique style in the beauty industry, where it SEEMS as if there's a relevant and revelatory critique happening ("anti-aging is bad") but in ACTUALITY the critique is devoid of any real supportive ideology, and allows the original thing being critiqued to thrive (i.e., saying "anti-aging is bad" w/o putting the underlying ideology into practice allowed "pro-aging" to thrive and actually increased the value of the anti-aging sector by imbuing the same anti-aging products [anti-wrinkle creams, lasers for age spots, etc] with a false sense of positivity, now marketed as self-care, self-love, an empowering individual choice, etc). I think the same can be said for the anti-clean beauty movement, where it SEEMS to be taking on a fear-mongering sector of the beauty industry but in actuality, allows the much much bigger conventional sector of the industry — which has harmed and continues to harm countless customers, physically and psychologically — to grow. Ditto beauty culture critics who *do* tell the truth about how harmful beauty culture is, but then end their pieces on the "do what makes you happy!" note to avoid pushback lol. It's all so fuckinggggg empty

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Oct 26, 2023Liked by Jessica DeFino

Wow. Sometimes that’s the only right response to your writing ! The connections you make are spot on. Thank you.

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<3

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Another outstanding piece and yes having started out in entertainment as a teen model I know the beauty industry’s underbelly all too well. It’s such a pack of lies that we’ve not only been sold, but that we bought. I’m so grateful I’m (mostly) on the other side of it, embracing myself, dark spots and all. Absolutely love your writing!

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thank you abigail!

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I feel like we need to talk about micro blading! Jessica, can you do a piece (or maybe you have already done one!) on micro blading. Would love to hear your perspective. Why in the world every woman wants to have the exact same carbon copy brows is beyond me....again shades of creating AI versions of ourselves...😮‍💨

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Oct 26, 2023·edited Oct 26, 2023Liked by Jessica DeFino

Substack keeps recommending her newsletter in my feed and I wish they'd stop. (Maybe they're relying on inaccurate data about my subscribing to *your* newsletter and therefore think I should subscribe to *hers*, too?)

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Yeah it's interesting how everything in the vast and undefinable category of "beauty" gets lumped together lol

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Oh wow! I had the same recommendation yesterday. I’m pretty sure when I opened it it recommended like 18 “essentials” so I could order them during the Sephora sale. 🥴

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First of all, I am so sorry that you had the experience with anxiety and shame and ttm and then the compounded emotional hits afterwards. And I am very glad you have a competent therapist to help you navigate it.

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The timing on this was perfect, as at nearly 49, I still get cystic acne. I haaaaate it. A good friend died suddenly last week, and I had had a soda, and my first thought was OH NO, because I know that soda usually brings on a blemish on my chin. Sure enough, one started to develop. I quick got the Acnomel on it, which usually works, and it did. And then, the blemish got to the point where I could pop it. And I did. But I over did it. I squeeezed as hard as I could, because I could feel that it wasn’t yet empty. Now, I know that every single thing that I did was not an effective way to deal with this blemish, AND YET, here I was. At which point, I got out the 6 years out of date hemorrhoid gel to reduce the inflammation. And the next day I got the Hero Rescue Balm to put on the spot. And now, I will have what seems to me a GIGANTIC scab and red mark on my face for at least through my birthday next Wednesday, but what is in actuality a tiny red mark that does not in any way represent my worth or character or innately awesome personhood. But it FEELS like it does.

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I relate to this so much! I'm sorry to hear about your friend. It's powerful to note how grief and sadness and anxiety can drive us to over-fixate on the physical... it's like, we're making the physical issue WORSE but perhaps in doing that we distract from the emotional issue?

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I think that perspective has merit. I can “control” the uncontrollable on my skin. The rest? Notsomuch.

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Oct 26, 2023Liked by Jessica DeFino

You speak to my heart and soul!! Your words give voice to all the feelings that tumble around inside of me ❤️ so grateful you share with us!!

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This made my day <3

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