The sun was out and so was school. I anxiously put on my pink one-piece swimsuit that featured yellow ruffles on the hips. True ‘90s fashion, fit for a 5-year-old. My mama called out from downstairs asking if I was ready. I scurried down the stairs in anticipation of one of my favorite hot weather activities; running through the sprinklers on the front lawn.
I leaped and giggled, tumbling back and forth through the water having the time of my life. I glided through once more and ran much closer towards the sidewalk and street than I normally would. Little did I know, my overstep would prove to be the beginning of my seemingly never-ending skin woes.
Right next to the sidewalk were two huge mounds full of ants, and yep, you guessed it. I landed right in the middle of them. There seemed to be thousands of them running up my legs, and you would have sworn I had honey all over me the way I was getting eaten up. I jumped around, flailing my arms and screaming for help. My parents rushed to me, and my dad used a water hose to remove the tiny aggressors. My legs and thighs were covered with hundreds of bites.
The healing process afterward wasn’t pretty. My mom rubbed me down with alcohol and used Calamine lotion when it first happened. I wasn’t supposed to scratch, but they itched like hell. Seeing as I am a woman of color, when the spots were all healed, I was left with a lot of unsightly, dark hyper-pigmented spots. Sometimes kids would say unkind things about it. I remember one boy calling me a Dalmatian. Others would just ask how it happened. I hated those spots on my legs. My mom would use cocoa butter, which faded the spots a bit over time, but they were still visible.
By the time I reached high school, I noticed some spots that seemed to sprout up overnight that covered the skin on my upper shoulders and back. After visiting a dermatologist, I found out that it was a combination of acne and keratosis pilaris, which is a condition that causes you to develop patches of rough-feeling bumps. I became very self-conscious about it for quite some time. I received a plethora of prescription creams from dermatologists during my teenage years. Some of the treatments helped a little; however, most were entirely too harsh for my sensitive skin.
I spent years trying to hide the bumps and hyperpigmentation, and would only pick clothing that allowed me to do just that. But then came my senior prom. I thought I would be forced to wear a dress that had a covered back, and cap sleeves, but I tried on a fuschia halter— which I loved at the time— and became a bit stressed about what I was going to do about my skin.
My mom, her friend, and the ladies in the dress shop tried to reassure me that I looked great, that no one would be concerned about my back and shoulders, and that there were plenty of other girls that had the same type of spots. Their attempts to put my insecurities to bed were futile because I wasn’t trying to hear any parts of that. I opted for some Dermablend to cover it for that night.
Prom night came. My date and I rode with a friend of mine in her car. Everything went fine, until the next day. I was horrified to learn that my makeup had gotten all over the backseat of her car. Talk about embarrassing! However, in that moment something clicked for me. I should have not bothered with the body makeup in the first place like my mom and many others had advised.
Enough was enough. I would see others wear whatever they desired, and I longed to do the same without worrying about covering it up. I didn’t want to be held hostage in my own body, and decided to embrace my scars while simultaneously finding solutions to deal with it.
In coming to that realization, and learning how to gradually fade my dark marks with various natural remedies—from potato juice to diluted lemon essential oil— I then became much more comfortable in my own skin. I wouldn’t shy away from that cute halter-top or that tie-dye tube dress, and I would wear it with confidence, flaws and all. We all have to realize that no one is perfect. Everyone is dealing with some sort of insecurities, but we don’t have to be held captive by those insecurities. Everyone should be on a continual journey of self-improvement.
Liberating myself, not only increased my self-esteem, but also allowed me to find a passion for researching and discovering natural skincare remedies. That fateful day through the sprinklers wasn’t the beginning of a lifelong punishment, but the start of self-discovery, growth, knowledge, and building up thick skin. (Pun very much intended.)