Saturday, February 28, 2015

Face Time

Gym class, circa 1988.  There were huge blue mats on the floor. I don't remember why, but I remember the scene like it was yesterday. We were standing in line waiting our turn to do...well, something involving mats, I guess.

The boy in front of me, whose name I do remember but will not share so as not to publicly shame him 27 years later, turned around and stared at me with his eyes squinted in scrutiny. Then he said five words that have never left me.

"What's wrong with your face?"

It was a sentence I had wondered occasionally when I looked in the mirror. But after all, I was only in 4th grade. I didn't look in the mirror all that often yet. Just as now, fashion wasn't exactly my gift. I wore boys jeans and fought my mom when she suggested I wear something cute to church on Sundays. I got dressed in the morning, probably attempted to curl my bangs so they would stand straight up (because you have to fit in SOMEHOW) and then left for school.

But yes, there were times I had wondered- why is my face so red? Why doesn't my skin look like the other girls'? Why? It hadn't bothered me much, likely because I didn't really think about the fact that other people might notice it and, more brutally, judge it.

Until gym class.

After gym class, I assumed everyone noticed it and my lifelong struggle with my skin started. A struggle I think I have only ever admitted to my mom. And more recently, to my husband. Probably my college roommates had some kind of clue, too. We were kind of all into each other's business.

Of course, one's skin doesn't usually improve with age, so the self-conscious thoughts that began to fester when I was 9 began to increase when teenage acne joined the game. When sunburns and sweaty, red faces from sporting events, when scars from injuries entered the picture, it certainly didn't get better. I am ashamed to say it was on my mind way more than I am comfortable admitting.

"I'm a Christian," I would think, "I shouldn't care about this, I should be content, I should think about spiritual things, for goodness sake," was a mantra that I repeated over and over and over. For years. But no amount of repetition or prayer or wishing the thoughts away, no new skin regimen or vitamins did anything. It stayed on my mind.

The bottom line? I was embarrassed...ok, let's be honest, I AM embarrassed to leave the house without makeup on. Without something that covers over the dark spots and the scars and red skin that I've had since I was a child. I don't necessarily need all the other stuff- the mascara and lipstick and perfect hair- but sometimes, on my worst days, I even put foundation on to go to the gym. The gym, people. Where it's going to melt off my face anyway because, let's face it, I am not one of those women who daintily glistens when she works out. I sweat, people.

A few months ago a former colleague began selling a new skin regimen. I clicked on her pictures out of curiosity. Another promise, another failure, right? And really, I NEED to stop caring about this. I'm 36. I should get over it.

But hope began to simmer a little. What if this stuff really does work? What if those before and after pictures are authentic and unfiltered? What if I could stop hating my skin, stop being embarassed, stop thinking about it all the time? What if?

I sat on that thought for a number of months. Trying to talk myself out of caring. Again. Trying to pray for contentment. Again. Trying to look in the mirror less so I wouldn't notice my red, dry, old-looking skin.

At some point, though, in the midst of trying so hard not to care, so hard to redirect my thoughts, so hard to push away the guilt when I failed, something occurred to me.

What if it's alright to care about this?

What if it is not wrong to want this to change a little? That maybe part of the healing in this would be doing something to make it healthier and maybe it's not wrong to want it to look nicer, healed, the way it should look at my age. Maybe it wasn't nonspiritual of me to care. Maybe it was actually spiritual to want to be healed physically in a way that would contribute helpfully to my lifelong battle to truly see myself as God sees me.

So, I am taking a risk here. I am going to post my "before" shot - makeup free. It's awful. I look tired (which, let's be honest) I am. I look weathered and splotchy. I look worn and older than my years. Maybe all moms of toddlers look a little haggard, I don't know. I surely do.

January 2015 @ 36 Years Old
My hope is this, though. That in taking a risk and posting this, even if this regimen doesn't help, even if my skin doesn't change, being more open about this secret struggle will, like I have learned so painfully during the years of blogging, expose me in a way that helps move me towards healing.

Do I also really hope the skin regimen helps? Heck yeah.

But I also hope that saying the words out loud and giving this struggle a chance to change will begin to do a good work long before I would notice significant aesthetic results, anyway.


  1. Hi Carolyn,
    I don't always read your blog, but as I saw it on my facebook feed, I felt a pull from the Lord to click on it - and I'm so glad I did!
    I really want to honor your vulnerability and authenticity in this post - all of us feel like imposters, waiting for the moment others will notice our flaws and cast us out. It takes a lot of guts to be honest about those parts of ourselves we dislike, especially as women in a culture permeated with the "perfect" and airbrushed women of the media. Add to that our christian culture that says "look gorgeous, but don't try or care too much" and we're in all kinds of a shame storm. Thank your for opening up about your journey and sharing your voice, and I hope it inspires others to open up too.
    I also want to affirm your beauty! Perhaps this is awkward since we don't know each other well (I was on the RockBridge worship team maybe 3 years ago, in case you needed a memory boost :) ), but I think you look beautiful in this photo. I was surprised to see you call it awful - you look radiant and authentic!
    I've had my share of skin stuff, including the red, bumpy skin, which i get on my arms, and I hope you are successful in finding a treatment that works for you!!
    Keep being real!
    Ashley Holcomb

    1. Hey Ashley,

      Thanks so much for your response! I definitely knew who you were just from your name. I appreciate you honoring the vulnerability- this was a hard one for me to write. And it's just funny how so many people have looked at that picture and not even noticed all the flaws I see. There will be an interesting journey of balance for me in this, trying to see more of what others see(and less of my own critical, scarred view) and also leaning into wanting a healthier face and being ok with that. You said it great, having to figure out the appropriate view of beauty as a Christian in a culture with a very narrow and air-brushed (and white!) view of beauty. Thanks again for chiming in. Hope all is well!

  2. If it makes any difference, I always though you were so pretty. It never looked like you had makeup on, just naturally pretty.
    And, in my book, if you feel good about yourself, no matter how you get there, that's a good thing. If you have on pretty undies, no matter if no one os going to see them, you just feel good. At least that's the case for me!
    Good luck with the cream!

    1. Thanks so much, Bonnie! And to be honest, I DID have a lot of makeup on. Maybe I was good at choosing the right kind so it wasn't obvious. And I didn't wear a lot of eye makeup or lipstick, just foundation so maybe that makes it less obvious. But I love your point, that whether other people see it or not, like your undies, if it helps then it's worth it. Hope all is well with you and your beautiful family and thanks for your response!