writing this book is the most difficult thing i’ve ever done. to lay myself so vulnerable has not been an easy thing. to face myself and what living in my body has been like has not been an easy thing, but i wrote this book because it felt necessary. in writing this memoir of my body, in telling you these truths about my body, i am sharing my truth and mine alone. i understand if that truth is not something you want to hear. the truth makes me uncomfortable too. but i am also saying, here is my heart, what’s left of it. here i am showing you the ferocity of my hunger. here i am, finally freeing myself to be vulnerable and terribly human. here i am, reveling in that freedom. here. see what i hunger for and what my truth has allowed me to create. (304)
skincare teaches you about patience, and it teaches you about discipline. skincare takes time, and it takes routine and ritual and repetition to see results, and, you know, that said, i guess this post is kind of a lie because this is what my nighttime skincare routine should look like every night but, y’know, doesn’t.
most nights, i just rinse my face with water and call it a night.
when i was younger, i used to be [more] careless about my skin, much in the same way i was careless about my body, though, at the same time, it wasn’t in the same way at all because that’s only a partial truth — i was careless about my body in that i wanted to care less about it, but i couldn’t, so i was careless with it, about it, at least as much as i could be.
to talk about skin is to talk about bodies, and to talk about bodies is to talk about shame. to talk about bodies is also to talk about want, and i think that these are languages we learn, that we learn to speak. my body wasn’t something i thought of much when i was a child; it wasn’t something i was cognizant of, something i had to concern myself with or think about; and i realize only in hindsight what a privilege that was. gone were my young days of being sick all the time, laid to bed in complete darkness and total silence because of migraines and laid to waste by bloody noses so bad clumps would rain out of my nostrils and make me faint, and, as i moved on from young childhood to mid-childhood to pre-adolescence, my body was just a body, something that was there, something that was a part of me.
and, then, my freshman year of high school, i was taught that i had a body, and i was taught that it was something to be ashamed of. it was something i was supposed to make small.
and, so, it became something i wanted to disappear.
i became something i wanted to disappear.
01. double cleanse.
start with cleansing. obviously. i go for the double cleanse, which means you use an oil cleanser and rinse, then use a water-based cleanser and rinse. the oil will remove your makeup and the gunk that's accumulated on your skin during the day, but it won't (or it shouldn't) break you out. one thing i've learned is not to be afraid of oil, whether for my skin or in my food. oil, when used correctly, is great.
the first oil cleanser i used was banila's clean it zero, and i still prefer that because it's solid, not liquid, and melts onto your face. i love that korean companies provide a little plastic spatula with their products, too, because who wants to put her/his/their fingers into a jar, bringing bacteria and other stuff into the product?
when i think about roxane gay, i think about grace.
while i'm not necessarily the biggest fan of her writing style, i love her voice. she writes with so much grace, so much kindness and generosity, even for the people who have hurt her, which doesn't mean that she's a pushover who simply takes the shit she's given — and it's truly incredible, the amount of bullshit she has to contend with on a daily basis.
even in the midst of all that grossness, she carries herself with grace, and it's something i admire, something i aspire to, and i am not the look-at-someone-and-find-something-aspirational sort. i rarely look at another writer and think, hey, i wish i could do that, but, as i was reading hunger (harper, 2017), i kept thinking, this is the book about my body i hope i can write some day.
i mean that more theoretically than anything because i don't know that i'd ever write a book about my body (i don't know if there's necessarily a story there) and because i use "my body" as a fill-in for other topics. there are things i want to write about, things i will write about, things that are difficult for me to broach today for various reasons, and hunger made me think that, one day, it may be possible for me to write the things i need to write with grace and generosity, not fury and spite and resentment.
and i think that as well because i think i have come a long way in writing about my body. even a year ago, there would have been more anger driving this post; today, all there is is what i have; and all i have to offer is my truth. and maybe i'm not the best person to be writing about any of this because, at my heaviest, i was maybe what roxane gay calls "lane bryant fat," too big for "regular" sizes but not too big for plus sizes. or maybe i’m not the best person to be writing about any of this because, today, i may not be tiny, but i can shop comfortably, don't look at narrow seating nervously, can relax when someone takes a full-body photo of me.
and, yet, my body and i have a long and painful history of being at odds with each other, and physical size is no indicator of health, whether physical or mental, anyway. physical size doesn't diminish the fact that i've lived with disordered eating and severe body dysmorphia since high school. it doesn't mean the shaming didn't happen, the obsessing over my weight, the self-loathing and self-hatred and total obliteration of my self-esteem.
because that is damage i carry, damage that bleeds into every single aspect of my life, and that is damage i have had to teach myself mercilessly to unlearn.
mine is not a weight loss story.
one day, i will venture into the world of chemical exfoliants. until then ...
the other day, my therapist tells me that all the cells in our body regenerate every seven years, that we are literally, physically not the same people we were seven years ago. i love that fact, that we are constantly in turnover, constantly changing and becoming new, but, sometimes, in weeks like this, it's also frightening. part of me wants to find comfort in the constant change. i know that i never really will.
because here's the truth — or here's a truth: i write this post at a time of intense vulnerability, in a moment of decline. the last few weeks were generally good, great even, and i was stable for the most part, despite dealing with swirling anxiety that continues to feed my insomnia. however, the fact is that things cycle — i cycle; my moods cycle; and, sometimes, most times, it's out of my hands.
as i struggle not to go tumbling down this slope, i remind myself that things aren't technically bad. i remind myself that i'm lucky. i remind myself that this, too, will pass.
i remind myself of all the things i remind myself of when things start to get bad again. to live in the now, in the present, that the future will arrive when it does, and i will reckon with it then. to maintain perspective, to remember that i'm not the only one suffering, that other people might have it worse — i remember how much i hate this idea of "putting things in perspective," how much i hate looking for that damn silver lining because that doesn’t stop everything from being shit.
but we slough off pain like we slough off skin, and we try to get through these dark moments. i do believe we are built to survive, but, more than that, the fact is that the only other option is not to get through any of it, to pass on and die instead, and, when those are your options, what do you choose? generally, i’m someone who believes in middle grounds and shades of grey, but, when it comes to surviving, i think it's either/or — we survive, or we don't, and that is it. how you define surviving is up to you.
03. tone and use essence.
of course, as these things tend to go, i took these photographs, and, then, i acquired missha's time revolution essence, which many swear is comparable to SKII without the high price tag. that acquisition happened through luck because alaska air decided not to board our luggage when we were en route to seattle, so we were left without our things for a night and day, including our toiletries, and they said they'd reimburse us for anything we purchased.
to be honest, i still couldn't explain to you what toner and essence are. i've had them explained to me several times, but i still don't know — and i think koreans might approach toner differently from others. like, i know some people are obsessed with witch hazel toner, and i used to use that, too, except, as it turns out, it's not actually that great for skin because it strips the natural oils from your skin and dries it out.
truth to be told, no, i don't understand all the science behind skincare, but i do know that you don't want to strip the natural oils from your skin, and you don't want to damage the skin barrier, and you don’t want to throw off your pH levels. it's when you do the above that you can't regulate sebum production, and that causes your skin to become oilier and break out.
… have i got all that right?
you'd think i'd know better, but it’s like science has wings, flying way over my head every time i try to catch it.
there is a lot gay writes about in hunger that i sympathize with but can’t identify with because she is who she is and i am obviously my own person. she has endured trauma i have been fortunate not to have experienced. i’m sure she could say the same back to me.
i identify with a lot of what she writes, though.
i identify with her confidence in her intellect and her ability to write. i identify with so much she has to say about bodies and being body shamed and specifically being body shamed by your family. i identify with the self-loathing and the self-destructive behavior, with the bile that rises with every “i do this because i love you” excuse, with the way she had to learn to put her foot down and say this wasn’t acceptable, it wasn’t okay to keep making comments on her body.
and i identify with her when she says that she loves her family, that she is grateful for them, that they have always been there for her, supporting her, loving her, catching her when she falls, and i believe her. i believe her when she speaks lovingly, glowingly of her parents — her parents sound like amazing, loving, generous, brilliant, immigrant parents who would do anything for their kids.
her parents sound a lot like mine.
maybe it's one of the great cruelties of life that the people who love you most (and whom you love most) are the people who will hurt you most. it's not a one-way thing, either; the people you love most (and whom you love most) are the people you will hurt most. maybe it's to do with how, the more you care, the more vulnerable you become — the more you open yourself to the possibility (and probability) of hurt.
love is a complex beast, though, and love is complicated. love becomes muddled as it moves between human bodies, between human people, as it gets lost in translation, which it inevitably does because we all have our own individual languages for love. love gets tangled up in individuality. love invariably becomes intertwined with expectations, and expectations always lead to disappointment. love will always be disappointed.
when you're different, when you think differently, look differently, want differently, you start being acutely aware of this. you look at the people around you and wonder, how can you hurt me so? how can you reject me so? because, to you, these differences, whether they be physical or sexual or religious, seem like nothing to you. they don’t seem important enough to you to hang a relationship on, and, yet, so many of us are the ones who have to walk away to save ourselves.
one of the things that body shaming and body dysmorphia have taught me is that love is complex, that love is complicated.
it is possible to be angry at what people have done, and it is possible to acknowledge and confront the harm they have done you, and it is possible to love them fiercely all at the same time. it is possible to be disappointed by people, to be hurt by them, and love them fiercely at the same time. it is possible to mourn and despise the damage you carry and the years of your life you have lost because of people’s destructive behavior and still love them fiercely at the same time.
the existence of one does not negate or diminish the existence of the other.
i use son & park's beauty water as my toner, shaking some onto a cotton pad and swiping it around my face, and then i use essence. i really don't know what essence is. i've just used it for forever, and i will keep using it for forever until someone gives me a really good reason why i shouldn't.
04. apply serum, oil.
i love the ordinary's niacinamide/zinc serum; it’s been brightening and smoothing my face out beautifully, giving it a nice glow from within. i also really like its rosehip oil, and i like these two products so much, i purchased more products from the ordinary, all of which should arrive next week and i am excited to use. one's specifically supposed to help fade hyperpigmentation.
i'm obsessed with trying to fade my hyperpigmentation.
i even tried getting them laser-removed once, which was supposed to happen over two sessions, but, while the first was effective, the second was not, and i am still hyperpigmented all over my face, which annoys me to irrational levels.
i mean, skin is just skin, except it's not. skin is that thing we live in.
skin is that thing we sometimes mark.
in hunger, gay writes about her tattoos, and she talks about visibility when wanting to be invisible. i think about tattoos, how they mark us and make us seen, how they identify us and render us recognizable. i think about how tattoos are choices, exercises in taking control, a way of saying, this is my body, and it is mine. i will mark it as i will.
and, yet, getting a tattoo is also an act of letting go, of trusting your artist to take your vision and make it into reality and leave you with something permanent that will carry with it whatever significance you’re attaching to it, how ever great or small that may be.
there’s something i like about that, about how marking yourself is something you do with another person, and i think tattoos are very literal, visual reminders of the ways we touch each other and leave our marks on each other’s lives. in the case of getting inked, you’re [hopefully] delivering yourself into your artist’s hands, entrusting her/him/them with a part of your skin, your body, but, when it comes to the rest of life, we’ve no idea what we leave behind — we’ve no control over that — or of the impact others will have on us and our lives.
sometimes, we mete out horrible damage, and, sometimes, we do that willfully and intentionally. other times, we try to soothe and to comfort, try to do good, to be positive forces, but, sometimes, that doesn’t succeed and we end up doing harm instead. sometimes, though, we do succeed, and we do provide some healing, some warmth. we just never know.
these marks are invisible, though, not like the tattoos some of us, myself included, bear on our skin, and one of the things i’ve learned is never to assume. there is only so much we can extrapolate from someone’s behavior, and there is so much we project onto the people around us — we take our fears, our insecurities, our hurts and interpret others through those lenses. we see the world through the kaleidoscope of ourselves. there is so much we can’t understand, and, unless we actively seek to listen, not to hear what we want to hear or see what we want to see, we will never be better people, and we will never make a better world.
05. moisturize and/or mask.
i genuinely love glossier; their products tend to work very well on my skin; but i was not a fan of their priming moisturizer. i thought the texture was kind of weird, and i hated that smell, not like it was very strong (not to me) but just kind of ... strange and faint and kind of there but not, kind of unpleasant but tolerable.
when they announced priming moisturizer rich, i was like, pffffft, no thanks. and then this one korean beauty vlogger i love posted about her glossier haul and said she loved priming moisturizer rich — she loved the texture, and she even liked the scent, even if it were pretty strong and even if it did smell of lavender, which isn't the most friendly to sensitive skin.
i am fortunate enough not to have sensitive skin (i also have combination skin for those curious), so i was intrigued, so i went down the google black hole. people seemed to like priming moisturizer rich in general, so i went for it — and, you know, i love it. i love the texture. i love the scent. i love how my skin absorbs it happily, and i love the heaviness of it, especially during these dryass los angeles summer months.
because, of course, there's a reversal here — back home in new york, during the summer, my skincare routine gets much, much lighter because of all the humidity in the air. here, the dryness destroys my skin, so my skincare routine pretty much stays the same in the summer as it does in winter. i might hate humidity because i hate heat, but my skin hates the dryness, and i think i’d rather have happy skin.
priming moisturizer rich comes in a jar but doesn't come with a spatula, which, to me, makes no sense. i use the one that came with my laneige water sleeping mask, which i use occasionally instead of moisturizer when i want to give my skin an extra dousing of moisture. i love this smell, too — i mean, i love good smells in general, even in my skincare. again, i'm fortunate enough not to have sensitive skin.
and this, usually, is where my nighttime skincare routine ends.
this is out of order because, on nights i use the bite lip scrub, which i do maybe every 2-3 days, i use it right after i cleanse/exfoliate my face and before i start applying anything to my skin.
i'm all about lips — when it comes to makeup, my fall-back, lazy routine is mascara and lipstick. my really, really lazy routine is just lipstick. (and sunscreen. always, always use sunscreen, even when you're staying indoors.)
lip products might be my giant weakness, and they're why i avoid sephora. it's why i've tried to enforce a rule that i can only buy new lip colors that are more than 3 shades removed from colors i already own — and i tend to gravitate towards oranges and cool reds. it is one of my great joys that i can wear orange lipstick.
i think that one of the reasons i love lipstick so much is that i love color, but i've shied away from color for so long in my clothing choices. i've been afraid of wearing anything bright, anything white, anything that might call attention to me or make me appear bigger than i already was, and that's something that stays with me, continues to linger, the way i stick to darker colors, to neutrals, to greys and blues, despite the fact that my eye automatically goes to oranges and purples and greens, to shades that are less conventional, more odd.
lipstick is a nice pop of color, and it offsets the tiredness that usually lingers under my eyes. i do tend towards chapped lips, though, so i usually apply some glossier balm dotcom under my lipstick (i have all the balm dotcoms; i love balm dotcom), and i use the bite lip scrub every 2-3 days. i don’t need to use a lot (a little goes a long way), and i love the feeling of scrubbing off dead skin, of getting my lips nice and clean but not dry and chafed. the bite scrub is a sugar scrub, too, so it smells lovely, though don’t eat it — it tastes horrible. i’m always careful when i’m rinsing it off and trying not to let it get past my lips.
after i’ve scrubbed, i slather balm dotcom on my lips. i keep the mint flavor in my bathroom specifically for this use. the rest, i carry in one of those pink glossier pouches with the rest of my lipstick.
i meant to write more about hunger in this post than i feel like i actually am.
sometimes, on sunday mornings, i like to do face packs. i’m not that into sheet masks, but i do love a good face pack — and i love these from glossier. (is there enough glossier in this post for you?) i use them one after the other, first the galaxy greens then the moon mask, and they leave my face feeling fresh and clean and moisturized. i like doing them in the morning specifically, too; that way i can enjoy the renewed springiness in my face all day.
and here is a massive tangent.
in a recent interview with buzzfeed, sherman alexie says:
there’s a fantasy, alexie thinks, that fame means power — or the ability to change things. “it depresses people to think that i have exactly the same vote as they do — that i don’t have power to change oil company policy, that i have not changed a single human being’s mind about environmental policy.”
what about soft power, then? the idea that his books can humanize native americans — and in so doing, quietly change people’s racist minds? “listen, i’ve never met a conservative person whose mind has been changed about natives,” alexie countered. “i’ve never received that letter. my primary power is for the weird brown kid who gets to know that they’re not alone. i don’t mean to undervalue what i do: me and my art can make some people feel less lonely; i exist because of the books that made me feel less lonely. we don’t have power. something like ‘poets against trump’ doesn’t change minds. what we can do is help people get through another day.”
when i first read those words, my immediate reaction was to feel discouraged. i thought, well, that’s kind of sad. if we can’t implement any kind of positive change, then what’s the point?
the more i kept thinking about it, though, the more i thought, what better way is there to change the world than to reach the lonely people, the kids you look like you, hurt like you, break like you? what better way is there than to help some isolated kid struggling with her/his/their personhood, sexuality, ethnicity, differences, etcetera that she/he/they is not alone, that it is okay to be who she/he/they is? that, yeah, the world is still a shitty, dangerous place, but, slowly, very slowly, as we all learn to live in our skin, we can and we will bring about that change?
why wait for the world to change when that change lies within us, within each other?
and i know these are words easier said than lived most times, and i know how horrible solitude is, feeling alone and weird and strange. and i used to think i was writing my book — a collection of interrelated short stories about suicide — so that non-depressed, non-suicidal people could understand what it is to be depressed and suicidal. i used to think i was writing it to help bridge these barriers of understanding, to help fill the spaces where empathy is apparently impossible and basic human decency is too much to expect.
and it’s not that i’ve stopped believing in the importance of dialoguing with people who disagree with you or see the world differently. we all need to learn to do it.
however, the more i think about it, the less important it becomes for me to try to change those people’s minds or hearts, and the more important it becomes for me to reach people like me and let them know, you’re okay. you’re not alone. you’re not broken and damaged beyond repair. you’re not ugly. you’re not unlovable. you’re not unworthy.
don’t hide. don’t run. don’t try to disappear.
don’t harm yourself, and don’t take your own life.