Spots and all;Friday's Child;Parting shots

15th May 1998 at 01:00
Victoria Neumark on breaking out all over.

Love, so the song goes, hurts. So do spots, especially when you are 15. That whole process of puberty, with everything sprouting and even the most unremarkable bits - elbows, cuticles, the insides of knees - becoming sites for body anxiety (too bony, too fat, too rough), is encapsulated in painful red excrescences on nose and cheeks. Worst of all, who could possibly look at anyone like this! Mirror, mirror on the wall, When will Prince Charming come to call?

Jason was quiet but confident at primary school. He settled well into secondary school until Year 11. That's when the spots began. At first it was just the odd pimple. Then they got larger, with white central swellings. Then they seemed to grow, the area around the centre reddening and swelling. Some of them joined up, making one swollen shiny red area on the lower cheek. He cut his hair short, in case its greasiness was making the spots worse. He refused to go out with his friends because he couldn't bring himself to talk to girls. He did his homework and played a lot of football with his younger brothers. His mother invested heavily in Clearasil products.

Then, just when his whole visage seemed so agonised that it was hard to imagine how he could face anyone, he got a stye - a spot on the eyelid. This was so painful that he had to go to hospital to have it lanced. It was there that they told him about the magic medication. Within six months of taking the pills, Jason's spots had reduced to the odd blotch. He started buying clothes, invested in male cosmetics and, after taking his A-levels, moved in with his girlfriend.

Jason doesn't want to go to university. All that time, he says, he spent studying, was wasted. He wants to go to the pub and be happy and never be afraid of looking in the mirror again.

Meantime, Jason's younger sister Christina has started buying gels, cover-up sticks and those weird implements for squeezing blackheads. Actually, she hasn't got any spots, apart from the odd blemish once a month. But that one blemish throws her into a frenzy of revulsion. "How can I go out like this!" she exclaims. Christina washes her hair once a day, uses a face pack once a week and is never, NEVER going to get wrinkles.

Mirror, mirror ... If the surface of a person is without flaws, will they feel wholly good inside? And if, on the contrary, a person cannot render their outer surface flawless, does that mean their interior is rotten? Flaming acne, a disease, stigmatises the sufferer, spoiling their appearance for social occasions. It's no accident that Dennis Potter, afflicted with a terrible skin ailment (psoriasis), was obsessed with sexual fantasy: what real woman would want to touch that?

Spots hurt - at 15, more than love. Still, as people get older perfection is less appealing; a bit of rottenness within is par for the course. Look in the mirror. No spots! But wait. Is that a wrinkle? Oh no ...

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