As I searched for a photo to use for this article, I quickly discovered there were very few options. If I typed the word ‘woman’, photos of blemish-free, aesthetically pleasing, smiling women flooded my results. When I searched the words ‘acne’ and ‘women’, all I found were skincare product ads, and photos of people with acne looking sad and deep in thought.

There were hardly any photos of people with acne smiling.

As if the internet was telling me — people with acne aren’t happy. People with acne shouldn’t be smiling. People with acne should be sad and quiet, preoccupied with fixing their imperfect skin.

I know firsthand that when we have acne, we feel as if we don’t deserve to take up any space in the world. As if, happiness is not meant for us. Love is not meant for us. Selfies are not meant for us.

Determined to find a colorful photo of someone with acne, I visited the #acnepositivity community of Instagram and commissioned the header piece here from Brie Lamour (brielamour89 on Instagram). I asked for it to be of her because she is everything I love to see in a positive woman role model.

Brie is a kind, creative, and inspiring artist who happens to have cystic acne. But her message is clear: she’s not going to stop living her life because of her skin condition. Even with acne, she’s still an involved mom in her son’s school, she starts conversations with people in public spaces, and she reminds her 16K+ followers every day that acne is normal.

Brie doesn’t sugarcoat anything or pretend that living with acne is easy — because it’s not. But she represents an entire community of people who struggle daily with feeling deserving of love and happiness because of their skin, and she does it so honestly, you just can’t help but feel inspired by her.

Do you know how many people in the US alone suffer from acne?

According to the AAD, acne is the most common skin condition in the United States, affecting up to 50 million Americans annually. If acne is so prevalent, why was it nearly impossible to find a stock photo of someone with acne looking normal and happy?

Because society has conditioned us to believe we must look a certain way to be happy. And in this world of unattainable beauty standards, if we don’t fit that mold, we think we don’t deserve to take up as much space as someone who does.

That is — to be truly happy, we must be thin but with curves in the right places, our teeth should be perfectly straight, our lashes long, our brows full and perfectly symmetrical, our body hair-free, and our faces clear and smooth. And if we don’t fit this image of “perfection”, then we don’t belong.

And the multi-billion-dollar industries compiled of beautyfashionskincarecosmetic surgery, and weight loss/dietthey profit by convincing us that we don’t deserve to take up space unless we look how they say we should.

For several years in my twenties, I suffered from adult acne. Cystic acne literally took over my face, back, and chest. It destroyed my self-esteem and robbed me of feeling worthy of happiness.

When my acne was its worst, I perfected the art of taking up the least amount of space possible.

I wanted to be invisible, so I learned how to be the next best thing: unimportant. I canceled plans; I made excuses; I talked quietly and never raised my hand in class.

Accutane was the only thing that ever cleared my face, but I broke out again 3 years later. Then, I discovered an imbalance in my hormones, and unfortunately, acne is a lifelong symptom of my PCOS diagnosis. Even though I knew I would probably relapse again, I took Accutane a second time. It’s been almost two years now since I’ve been off the drug.

And as I look in the mirror today, I am relapsing once again. My cystic acne is slowly taking over my face, just like last time. But the difference here is I am not the same woman I was the other times — I am older, wiser, and more gracious with myself.

I know, from the bottom of my heart, I deserve to feel happy.

I also know that living with acne, while difficult, painful, and stressful, is not a death sentence. I am alive. I am healthy. I am physically active. I am in love with the best man I’ve ever known. I am a dog mom of a spoiled little old dachshund who needs me and loves me just the same, acne or not. I am a writer, an editor, a strong woman.

I am all of those things, with and without acne. And so are you.

And as I write this with tears streaming down my face because I wish I didn’t have to live with adult cystic acne, I know it could be so much worse. And for that, I will not let acne run my life. I will not succumb to the artificial “perfection” that thrives on social media. I will not compare myself to anyone with clear skin, because I know everyone is fighting their own battles. Those with acne just happen to fight an outer demon they cannot hide from the world. (But just because you can see our battle doesn’t mean we want your unsolicited advice.)

And if I have a day or two of doubt, I know we’re all allowed our moments of weakness. The most important thing is we get back up and love ourselves again.

Acne has stopped me before from taking pictures, making friends, enjoying travel, feeling worthy of happiness. I don’t want to live like that this time. I want to say that I love myself and mean it. I want to love myself, acne and all.

For anyone also going through a self-love journey of their own:

Don’t forget that you deserve to take up space in this world. Social media will try to convince you otherwise, but you must know this:

Love is meant for you. Selfies are meant for you. Happiness is meant for you.

Jessica Mendez is a full-time writer living in Las Vegas, NV. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from NAU and her master’s degree in family and human development from ASU. In 2018, she left her career in mental health to pursue a career in writing. She is currently working on her debut novel and a collection of bilingual poetry. Follow her on Twitter and Medium to read more of her work.

Image courtesy of Anna Nekrashevich.