I’ve tried hard my entire life. Every team I was on, every class I was in and every test I took, I aimed for the greatest possible result. I prepared, I practiced and I played to win.
Then I reached high school. In high school, I completely eliminated any desire to succeed or improve. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever cared about anything less in my entire life than the crap they taught us in high school.
The anatomy of an ant. Who discovered New Brunswick. What happens when you combine hydrogen and bromine (am I saying that right)? And my personal favourite: a complete understanding of a device known as the graphing calculator.
My mom was forced to spend $87 on a pocket computer, just so I could create made-up graphs with made-up data about nothing. I am still confused every tax season and have no understanding of the housing market, but can fill out an x and y axis like it was my day job. If only there was such a day job that required this training.
I got 37 on my grade 12 Biology exam. Thirty. Seven.
In Home Ec., my kitchen group, consisting of me and all my friends, were nearly suspended for making a batch of chocolate-chip cookies shaped like male genitalia.
No wonder I woke up after graduation and the first thing that went through my head was: now what?
High school was four years of fun confusion. The only thing I ever thought about was talking to girls and who’s older brother could buy us beer on Friday.
Thankfully this John Bender Breakfast Club rant has a happy ending. Eventually, I figured everything out. I got back to caring about succeeding.
And looking back at it, I guess I actually was subliminally finding out who I was in high school. Just like you’re supposed to do. It just isn’t me to sit down in stationary silence and listen to some paint chip teach me about the three angles of a triangle. I’ll be in the cafeteria, chatting away, making friends, planning plans.
I never won a scholarship or an honour roll golden sticker. Instead, I found a skill you can’t teach. I found that my area of expertise in the classroom was the people in the classroom. And I’ll take that skill over any theory any day.
Little kids used to scrunch up their noses and ask me, “What are those things all over your face?” And even though I wanted to cry, I would simply explain to them how some of us have something called acne, and that it’s not our fault.
Then a little devil in my head would damn them to a pimple-filled future. Sorry.
Acne is one of the hardest things I’ve ever lived through. And unless you were a 17-year-old girl with severe acne, you will never be able to relate.
You likely had your own set of insecurities in high school, as everyone does. Maybe you were overweight, sweat too much, had bad breath, or wore braces for four years, but I believe acne is in a league all of its own. Of course, you grow up and realize there are bigger issues to battle than a zit-covered face, but pain is still pain, and back in high school, pimples were mine.
Like a rash, acne covered every inch of my adolescent face, no matter how much I cleansed, exfoliated, moisturized, or even medicated. I tried diets that didn’t work and clogged our drains with homemade remedies made out of oatmeal, yogurt, and honey. My parents spent their savings on serums and scrubs and my Google history was nothing but “how I cured my acne” stories.
In between classes, my friends and I used to stand in the hallway, holding onto binders and planning our next Harlem Shake video. I would look around at their flawless faces, wondering why they all wore foundation and concealer. They were covering up the very thing I wanted so badly to show off – a clear complexion. I remember making a vow to myself that I would never wear makeup if I didn’t have to. I promised, if this acne someday miraculously disappears and I have nothing left to cover up, I won’t. I will wear a beautiful bare face that my younger self wanted so badly.
“My mom says pizza and chocolate give people acne,” a hockey jock said to me in class one day.
That night, like many times before, I cried hot tears onto my mom’s shoulder, begging for her to make the hurting stop. Is that what people think when they look at me? They see a greasy person who just doesn’t shower enough? They see someone who gorges on junk food? They see an idiot? This was the one issue she never had the answer to, other than telling me I’m beautiful no matter what. Then I ate my fruit and veggie filled vegan dinner and did my five-step skin routine before crawling under my covers.
In an effort to make up for the flaws on my face, I worked harder in every other area of my life – the areas I could control. I excelled academically, graduated as class co-president, and became an impressive athlete. I skipped class to go sun tanning and spiked slurpees at hockey games with a wild group of friends, so no, high school wasn’t all acne and anguish.
The hard work paid off and eventually, I got sick of being sad over something as silly as this skin I was born with. You have to define what beauty means to you. To me, beauty was forgetting everyone’s judgments. Beauty was caring for others and cracking people up. Beauty was confidence and being comfortable with who I was.
Whenever I felt down, I would think of the impact I could have on a little kid with a scrunched up face. At first, they’ll see things all over my face, but then they might see the way I ignore it, or embrace it, and it inspires them too see people differently.
To face the world in a care-free way, regardless of boils and bumps that cover your cheeks and chin, is no small feat, but I believe it’s what I was meant to do.