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My problematic relationship with black skin

My skin and I have always been intimately connected: we've had no choice in the matter. My skin has always protected me without question; it's a fierce and loyal physical barrier from outside threats. Moreover, being black meant it had a large proportion of its identity assigned to it. The largest organ of my body has played a pivotal role in my life. It's grown with me, stretching out through my years of change, repairing the damage that I caused, never ceasing in its duty as partners—my beloved skin. However, there were times when I was indifferent towards it, was embarrassed by it and even scorned it; thus, it's fair to say our relationship has been problematic. Here's my journey to loving my skin.

The first time that I really noticed my skin was when it went through a stage of being ugly. It grabbed my attention by bubbling with spots and frothing foul looking substances from the inflamed areas. I had managed to get through my teens unscathed by skin issues, and I was determined not to start my early years of independence being weighed down by a flaky, temperamental partner. I needed to get my face in order. And so, I treated my skin to a lavish cocktail of harsh chemical scrubs, thinking all it needed was an abrasive cleanse to purge and purify it. Then we'd be back on good speaking terms. Wrong.

So, I did what any concerned partner would and booked us in for professional help. My GP took one look at my face and knew exactly what the problem was. With a prescription of antibiotics, I knew that we were on the right track to resolving our issues. The drugs worked a treat, but it wasn't long before our positive journey forward was derailed. One week after our completion of a course of antibiotics and my skin was behaving worse than ever. The spots were more aggressive and vulgar. We returned for more professional help and received pretty much the same response, and I stupidly believed that the same course of action would lead to a different result.

Looking in the mirror became both an obsession and a phobia. Waking up to find my pillow stained with blood and yellowish discharge was not an uplifting start to the day. My skin had once served me well but was now betraying me. We had to take to the streets, hiding what should have been our best feature. We avoided socialising because I, for one, didn't want people staring at my ugly partner and judging me for how it looked. After the third course of antibiotics, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I couldn't continue this back-and-forth dance between GP and pharmacist: it was a temporary fix, and we needed a permanent one. Thus, I researched and learned that I was experiencing pseudofolliculitis barbae, which occurs more commonly in people with curly hair, and is characterised by papules, pustules, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Armed with knowledge, I set out to save my relationship. Admittedly, I used far too many products that promised more than they could offer, but we learned how to help each other with patience and understanding. For so long, I had had a superficial appreciation for my skin, never delving beneath the surface layer; I was not willing to face the layers of misrepresentation, self-hatred, and misconceptions. My skin was part of a tiresome, long history of being deemed inferior, and I was only adding to it.

Black skin, especially for a black male, comes with so much to unpack, and yes, to all my other black brothers, we shouldn't have to deal with that, but unfortunately, we have to. Rest assured that it's a meaningful moment to celebrate your reflection in the mirror and smile back at yourself with deep affection, but it's not an easy journey. So, no matter the scars, the bumps, the rashes, shame should never be what you see in the mirror. Don't rush to treat your skin with less care than it has earned. Don't rush to those who do not understand skin of colour and trust in their ignorance. Let your skin rest, educate yourself on nourishing it, listening to it, taking care, and being patient with it. Do this, and the skin that adorns you will glow. My relationship with my skin, my black skin, has been accepting and not tolerance. So, give your black skin its fair share of love.

Daniel. A. Ward

Daniel is a qualified Personal Trainer and Health and Well-being specialist. He regularly shares his knowledge with others to empower them to be the best version of themselves.


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