As a girl who has struggled with cystic jawline acne for years, I have collected a small pile of unwarranted advice on how to “fix” my face. Society’s expectations for how women should look, coupled with general misconceptions about acne, resulted in a rather painful personal experience for me. My acne journey made me question what it means for a woman to look “presentable” and how harmful “helpful” advice can be.
Not Always Your Period
Growing up, the general notion was that my acne must have something to do with estrogen and my period. Now, there is some basis behind this. During a woman’s menstrual cycle, testosterone levels initially increase, which in turn increases sebum (the oil on your skin) production. Sebum is a breeding ground for P. acnes bacteria, and the immune system responds by sending white blood cells that eventually die and become pus. Ultimately, a pimple is formed.
Testosterone, though, isn’t the cause of hormonal acne in all women. A different hormone, insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), can also be responsible. For all people, IGF-1 spikes during adolescence and young adulthood to aid in bodily growth, maintenance, and development. Besides this, IGF-1 also leads to sebum production, and sebum leads to acne. This is part of the reason why many people suddenly develop acne in their teenage years: because of increased IGF-1.
However, I was never told this. People only made some vague reference to “the hormones,” as if each of them had identical functions, and how to “fix” my hormones: not eat milk chocolate while on my period, drink more water, and so on. I only learned about testosterone and IGF-1’s impact on acne years into my acne journey through extensive online research. Additionally, cystic acne can be a symptom of hormonal conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), so it is best to discuss acne with a general practitioner and/or dermatologist if possible.
Ignoring the Problem
Society’s consensus is that acne is a purely cosmetic issue, but in reality, acne digs deep into one’s personal life and mental health. No one seemed to understand what I was experiencing as a result of my acne: it hurt to wash my face, I became obsessive over changing my pillowcase, and I was adamant about never reusing a face mask in fear that it was contaminated.
I was told to “just cover it up with makeup” but this was problematic for so many reasons. Firstly, it would only irritate and infect my broken skin. Furthermore, acne is not a purely cosmetic condition, therefore it is illogical to treat it solely through a cosmetic approach. It would be nonsensical to tell someone to put concealer over a paper cut, so why would we tell a woman to put it on her acne? Come to think of it, I’ve never heard anyone tell a man to put concealer over his acne. Then again, society deems it unacceptable for men to wear makeup in any capacity. Nevertheless, for women, acne is treated as an urgent problem that must be covered up to look “presentable.”
What to Tell Someone with Acne
If someone you know is experiencing acne, the best thing to say to them would be nothing at all. If they ask you for skincare tips, go right ahead, but in all other situations, their skin is none of your business. Just as it is rude to give unsolicited advice and commentary on how one “should” dress, style their hair, or otherwise present themselves, we must learn to refrain from commenting on another person’s skin.
The term FUPA became popularized back in 2018 when Beyoncé’s fourth Vogue cover spread and story were published. The interview focused on her recent pregnancy from 2017 after she gave birth to her third child. In her interview, she begins to discuss her body postpartum. She said: “To this day my arms, shoulders, breasts, and thighs are fuller. I have a little mommy pouch, and I’m in no rush to get rid of it. I think it’s real. Whenever I’m ready to get a six-pack, I will go into beast zone and work my ass off until I have it. But right now, my little FUPA and I feel like we are meant to be.” Beyoncé is no stranger to empowerment; this sentiment of coming to terms with your own body is not new. But what this interview does not elaborate on is what exactly is a FUPA.
FUPA, ie. fat upper pussy (or pubic) area is pretty self-explanatory: it refers to the layer of fat right above a woman’s pubic area. It is medically known as a panniculus. Fat in this area is very common for women, especially women who have had children. The fat serves as a protective layer and is often inevitable after having given birth or gaining weight in general.
Beyoncé, in this one sentence, draws attention to an occurrence that even celebrities are incapable of avoiding: pregnancy changes your body. And this isn’t something to be ashamed of, as she states in her interview. And even if your FUPA is not a result of pregnancy (which is also incredibly common), it’s normal.
The FUPA has been discussed on social media as well. While this Tweet (below) has since been debunked for its inaccuracy regarding anatomy and where the uterus is actually positioned in the body (it’s tucked behind the pelvis, not in front), the sentiment it contains is correct in pointing out that there is a general lack of information regarding female reproductive organs and how the body naturally stores fat. Further, it highlights that the problem is not just misinformation, but also beauty standards that require a flat abdomen, and often exclude postpartum bodies in their definition of beautiful. The person who wrote this Tweet mentions that she “almost killed” herself trying to obtain this standard of a flat, toned stomach. Body standards, social media, and diet culture have created a society that privileges skinny women: women without FUPAs.
Further, the coining of the term FUPA itself is gendered and reflects how the media treats women’s bodies—especially versus men’s. For example, women are expected to and praised for losing their pregnancy weight, and frequently complimented for getting their figure back. Yet when men gain weight due to aging, as well as becoming a parent, they are not considered less physically attractive. For example, in 2019 when photos of Nick Jonas showed that he had gained some weight, media outlets praised him for achieving an attractive “dad bod.” Buzzfeed writer Ryan Schocket’s article was even titled “Nick Jonas Is Currently Thicc And He Is Now My Father.”
Male bodies also come with beauty standards, but these standards pale in comparison to the physical and emotional labor that women are expected to put into their appearance and especially into managing their weight postpartum. The female body is constantly a spectacle, even after something as intimate as childbirth.
It’s about time we eliminate the stigma of postpartum bodies and having a FUPA. And this can only happen if we take the time to learn about our bodies and challenge how fat is weaponized in the media.
I want to start this piece by saying that this is supposed to be fun.
The truth is that I have no idea how to do this. I don’t really have any secrets to dealing with all of the big and terrible things that have come with a global pandemic. I’m not sure that anyone really does at this point. I can’t offer support to students who are struggling to pay for their classes, who are worried about having a safe place to live, who are stuck in jobs that endanger them, who are worried about getting sick or about sick friends and family members. I wish I could. The best I can do is to say that college is stressful. I don’t think anyone imagined this level of fear for our mental, emotional, and bodily safety going into it. But here are a few things I’ve learned after more than a year of doing this.
Get outside every day if you can
This is a big one. I don’t always honor this one myself, but that’s sort of how I know it’s a good one–because I definitely notice it when I don’t get outside during the day, and especially if I don’t for a couple of days. Ideally, I like to go for a run, talk a long walk or bike ride, or spend an afternoon in the sun with friends. However, I don’t always have the time or energy, so I sometimes make do with just literally stepping outside. Whatever the weather, I try to take myself outside, even if that just means being a few feet from my front door. It helps me feel more grounded.
Be kind to yourself
Treating yourself well is a good rule of thumb in general. But especially during a global health crisis, it’s helpful to try to remember that you are living through a global health crisis. If you procrastinate, or sleep in, or eat two boxes of mac and cheese in a row (not from personal experience), don’t judge yourself too harshly. Things are harder than usual, and therefore, you should be kinder to yourself. This thing isn’t over, and the longer it goes on, the greater the toll it takes, at least for me. Don’t forget to take care of yourself in the best way you can right now.
Make a schedule of your deadlines
Logistical tips can be sort of annoying, but this is one that I find to be super helpful. Whether it’s hard just getting by in your classes, or you’re thriving, it’s never a bad idea to make sure you know when your crunch weeks are well in advance. Especially now, I’m really grateful I have this protocol to follow. I’ve been having a hard time not procrastinating and staying on top of everything, but sticking to the bare minimum of getting my assignments done on time works well for me. I remind myself that things won’t be this hard forever, and I try to just hang in there.
Take advantage of Zoom University
Zoom U sucks. Pretty much everyone agrees. But just because it’s not ideal doesn’t mean there aren’t things about it that are kind of nice. I try to make myself a nice breakfast most mornings–and sometimes I do it while I’m in class (please don’t tell my professors). I can go for impromptu runs in the middle of the day with my housemates because I don’t have class, and it’s easy to just change into workout gear when you’re already at home. I’m taking classes with earlier start times than I normally would because on a bad day, I can take them from my bed. Yeah, this whole COVID thing is pretty awful, and it’s exhausting and scary and just really draining. But there are some silver linings if you’re a student right now, so try to take advantage of those while you can.
Listen to your body
The idea of listening to yourself may not seem very controversial, but I actually think it sort of is. University students, especially Cornell students like myself, are taught to push ourselves, to always give 110% to our assignments, to not procrastinate, and to manage our time well. We’re told that if we do all of these things, we’ll be successful. Honestly, in general, I haven’t found that to be untrue. I do strive to do all of those things. However, this semester in particular, I’m also learning to give myself a break. Saturday afternoons have become my time where I just get cozy, drink tea, and watch a movie. There are days where I stay in my pajamas all day. I’m not saying you should procrastinate, or shouldn’t work on your time management, because I do think those practices can be very helpful for dealing with stress and improving your mental health, but don’t let them work against you by beating yourself up when you “waste” a few hours watching Netflix in bed.
Put on an outfit
This one is short. Get dressed. It doesn’t have to be every day, but for some reason, showering, getting ready like I’m leaving the house, and putting fresh clothes on makes a huge difference. I highly recommend giving this a try if you’re having a tough day, week, or year.
Curate your space
Another simple suggestion. As college students, dorm rooms are supposed to be these temporary spaces where we sleep. They’re usually not really built for hanging out in. Everyone always says don’t study where you sleep–but, obviously, that’s all changed now. I started out my academic year in a room the size of a closet. I don’t live in a dorm, but most students aren’t living in the most luxurious of accommodations in general. Still, it’s helpful to recognize that you spend a lot of time at home, or in your room. Find ways to make the space work for you–putting up a new poster, buying some ambient lighting, picking wildflowers, getting essential oils, a humidifier, or whatever makes your space more appealing to you.
Talk to friends and family
You’re not alone out there. Everyone else in the world is going through this, even if our experiences are different. Keep in touch with people that bring you comfort so you can support each other. If you’re feeling lonely, reach out to old friends you haven’t talked to in a while, or people you want to get closer to.
Don’t compare yourself to others
We’re all in this together, but we’re not all going through the same thing. Don’t imagine your circumstances are identical to everyone else who seems to be thriving. They may be struggling in ways you can’t see, or maybe they’re doing great. But that doesn’t mean you need to be doing great, too. COVID impacts people in different ways depending on circumstances, background, resources. If you’re scrolling through social media, don’t feel bad that you haven’t learned a new language or found a new best friend in the past year. Just try to be okay with where you are without making a comparison.
Lastly, put on a mask. We all just want this to be over, and being careful now means that we can start thinking about a time when we don’t all have to be wearing masks all the time; they may be annoying, but the annoyance is a small price to pay to protect the health and safety of our communities.