On power, obsession, and hyperpigmentation.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!!
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.
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!
Damn it Jessica, you cut to my soul's core every week. When I met you in NYC a few weeks ago, I also remember reading your essay, where you said (and I'm paraphrasing), "I am so glad I'm no longer feeling those xyznegativefeelingsaboutmyself," and I thought to myself, "Well, I've got some work to do before I feel as confident as Jessica!"
But seeing your vulnerability, your personal reflection, your highs and lows, the fact that you champion a warrior's mindset toward beauty and patriarchy yet have your own insecurities that surface from time to time - reminds me that the pursuit for calm among the noise is just that - a pursuit, a path, and the more we clutch and cling to perfectionist tendencies, the harder it is for us to really feel okay.
And honestly, the glamorous girlies in NYC don't make that path any easier ;)
LOTS OF LOVE MY GIRL <3
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.
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.
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.
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
Wow. Sometimes that’s the only right response to your writing ! The connections you make are spot on. Thank you.
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!
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?)
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.
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.