As a teenager, I had a hard time making eye contact with others — mostly because I was self-conscious about my face, which always seemed to be breaking out.
Unlike some of my friends, I didn’t have severe acne, but my blemishes certainly kept me hiding behind my waist-length hair, which I wore loose so that it would cover at least some of the problem. I tried creams, mud masks and several dubious home remedies, but nothing seemed to erase those dreaded marks. By my sophomore year in high school, I’d developed a habit of keeping my head down, or simply buried in a book. I didn’t want to look too long at anyone, fearing that people would reject me because of my appearance.
Some four decades after my skin struggles, I was rather pleased to discover that a number of social media influencers have actually embraced their acne. By posting unretouched, close-up photos, they hope to promote “skin positivity” and destigmatize not only acne but rosacea, psoriasis and other conditions that make our flesh “flawed.”
The movement has gained momentum: in 2018, fashion model Kendall Jenner walked the red carpet at the Golden Globes with her head held high despite an acne breakout, advising her social media followers to “never let that (stuff) stop you.”
On the one hand, I applauded Jenner’s refusal to feel “less than” because of her apparent imperfections. On the other, though, I knew all too well how fragile such defiance can be. I once walked high school hallways, not red carpets, with a similar strut, determined to not let others’ disapproval sting. Occasionally I even succeeded — for a few moments, hours or days. But inevitably a sideways glance or a snicker would deflate me, and I’d be battling insecurity once again. Ultimately, I needed something more than concealer and cockiness to conquer my awkwardness.
In Christ, we find an acceptance that no blemish, physical or spiritual, can threaten. During his earthly ministry, Jesus looked into many faces: some eaten away by leprosy, others streaked with tears, still others twisted by hatred, despair or indifference. He loved them all, and he looks into and loves them still.
Lined by age and worry, scarred by addiction, disfigured by cruelty or disease — we can turn to the Lord in any condition, at any moment, and know that he gazes on us with compassion. With St. Augustine we can say, “I hide not my wounds; Thou art the Physician.”
Beauty in Christ is soul, not skin, deep: it rejoices in the many colors of human flesh, while seeing the image and likeness of God in all. The Lord suffered his own features to be “marred …. beyond that of mortals” (Is 52:14) in order to save us; the divine “makeover” is far more profound than that offered by cosmetics, plastic surgery and Instagram filters.
In his radical love, Christ even gives his “flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51), declaring, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (Jn 6:54).
So wondrous a gift is indeed the ultimate “skin positivity,” lifting our heads that we might “look to him and be radiant” (Ps 34:6).
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