Monday, June 29, 2009

The Skin Won't Lie

I've been thinking a lot about authenticity lately, and for a number of reasons. Socially conservative politicians who defy the very heteronormative family framework that they so enjoy shoving down everyone else's throats make me think about authenticity. Watching a beautiful teenager, who grew into a man who could not stand his appearance or feel acceptable for even one day in his life, sing about not having to change at all makes me think about authenticity. And feminists who routinely fail to be inclusive make me think about authenticity.

But lately, it's my skin that really has me thinking about authenticity. I have very sensitive skin. People who don't know my skin and the shenanigans it can pull admire it. They think I'm lucky to have such a clear complexion and such delicate, young-looking skin. That's because they don't know how treacherous my skin can be. First of all, my skin is allergic to everything. Everything. Second, it doesn't make calluses. Think about that for a minute. The skin on my feet will blister and peel repeatedly rather than just making a callus already. The palms of my hands were reduced to a bloody pulp during three long seasons of crew rowing, and nary a callus in sight. And every few years my skin decides to follow up an allergy attack with a particularly bad case of eczema, which is practically incurable without resorting to the dangerous, toxic medical remedies available. So I've spent a lot of time resenting my skin.

But lately, in the middle of my current allergy/eczema attack in which the backs of my hands and my arms up to the elbow are covered in a fiery red rash with dry flaky patches and an incredible itch, I find myself gaining a new perspective on all of this. I think my skin is simply refusing to lie. There are things in my environment that are toxic, and my skin is not going to lie about it. Further, stress can cause eczema flare-ups and slow the healing process, and I'm under a lot of stress right now. So when you take the physical and social toxins in my environment into account, it would make less sense for my skin to be all healthy and clear right now. In fact, it would be a facade, a fake presentation, a lie. So as I continue to apply the natural remedies and gentle, toxin-free lotions and creams, and protect my skin from the mosquito repellant and chlorine that started this whole bout, I refuse to berate my skin the way I did when I was younger. It's authentic. It's telling the truth.


  1. I will say my skin is the exact opposite. Takes sun, water and all other manners of chemical exposure and 'abuse'- It doesn't show any of it, yet. What does that mean for me? Well, It forces me to remain cognizant of the damage I do. It is easy to forget. But if i want to avoid say, melanoma, I must protect my skin from the sun with sun block. My skin will not always reflect the damage it suffers but that doesn't mean the damage cannot or has not been done. And yet, one can still be true to their body's limits and know that certain precaution (sunscreen) can prevent as much as possible the negative affects from chemicals or overexposure of the sun.

    For most people, we only have our conscience to guide our actions. What is right and what is wrong; what is moral and what is not moral ; all of these answers will differ from person to person. Who knows for certain how each of us find such answers but we can assume the Christian dominated politics, the ancient patriarchal social construct, and modern school curriculum all play a significant role. Perhaps these "family" first politicians figure if they don't get caught , the affair doesn't really happen. It is easy to imagine this train of thought, as illogical and frankly immoral as it is. If I don't get a sunburn, my skin isn't getting damaged.

    To be 'real' isn't encouraged politically or socially because it exposes all of our flaws(beautiful flaws I may add). Conformity is encouraged because it is easy. The problem is that the intolerance,the forced concept of what is right all breed such characters like Gov. Sanford. They suppress their real desires (Being in a non monogamous relationship for example) until they are not able to conform any longer and end up hurting more than just themselves; which is the center of almost all of the modern ethics and morality concepts.


  2. To be 'real' isn't encouraged politically or socially because it exposes all of our flaws(beautiful flaws I may add).

    So true.

    Also, sometimes I really love your writing, Rachel.

  3. Meg'n7/01/2009

    What Riley said.

  4. When I was in my twenties and the first half of my thirties, I recieved similar comments about my skin. It too breaks out in rashes at the drop of a hat. Yay sensitive skin. Or not.

    Hmmmmm. This certainly puts a different spin on years of depression that came out of a childhood of ostracism and abuse rooted in gender conformity. I suppose you could say that my depression is an authentic response of my persona to the social toxins of my childhood?

  5. timberwraith,

    Exactly! I have a huge issue with the way depression is pathologized in our culture. So much of the time, depression is a healthy response to fucked up cultural dynamics or real personal loss, and then instead of addressing that issue, we label the person as mentally ill. As if something is broken in their head. The irony is, if you didn't have a profound emotional response to ostracism or loss or whatever you've gone through, that would be an indication that there was something wrong in your head, to me. My aunt lost a baby and was later diagnosed with depression. Her response was "I'm heartbroken, not mentally ill!" Now she has a "history of mental illness" which was dragged out in a custody battle later. Such bullshit.

    Quote of the day: "It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society." -Krishnamurti

  6. social toxins...i love this phrase. from now on whenever i encounter a person who stresses me out and makes me feel bad about myself i will politely excuse myself from interacting with them on the grounds that they're socially toxic to me. nice!