By Ariel Levy
One morning when I was in seventh grade, my mother asked me if I thought I
needed to stay home from school. I wasn’t sick, and it wasn’t a snow day. But I
did have a pimple the size of a softball on the tip of my nose. My mom may be
the least vain woman in America. She never wears makeup, never colors her hair,
and the only time I’ve ever seen her in heels (little ones) was at my wedding.
When she had breast cancer, she got a double mastectomy and had to convince the
doctors she didn’t want implants. (They insisted that living without breasts
would be too traumatic for her, but they didn’t know my mom.) So when the least
vain woman in America suggests you look too ridiculous for public viewing, you
know you’ve got a problem. I stayed home for two days.
I got some doozies in my teens. I’ve never had those vast, lavalike swaths
of acne you see in the “before” pictures; mine was more of the single
shining-star variety — one angry, tenacious monster at any given time. It was
humiliating to walk down the halls of Mamaroneck High School with an enormous
pimple on my cheek or my chin or my forehead, but at least I had the
consolation of knowing I wasn’t the only one. Besides, in my teens, I was
insecure about so many things. Zits were just a drop in the bucket.
To my mother’s horror, I turned out as vain as they come. I spend more on my
clothes than she would probably spend on furniture, and I own enough shoes to
start a small boutique. But it’s sort of preposterous walking out of the house
in some expensive outfit with a fabulous bag when I have a honking red zit on
my chin. As my peers are starting to talk about Botox and their first gray
hairs, I am still afflicted with acne, the plague of a teenager. I would
describe myself as a confident person, but when I’m interviewing someone
important for my job, or going to an elegant restaurant, or giving a speech, or
doing any of the other things that I feel lucky and proud I get to do in my
adult life, having a major zit is an unwelcome reminder of my awkward
adolescent self. And if I had a sense of humor about acne when I was going
through puberty, I’ve since lost it. Will I be 80 years old with white hair, a
Chanel suit, and pimples?