by Katharine Jackson
grips your heart. Terror claws at your stomach. You are so
petrified you are unable to move. You stare at your
reflection in the mirror. The girl in the mirror stares
back. Trembling, your hand touches your face. You have
been looking forward to, dreaming of this day for so long
and now… this. This is a catastrophe, a calamity, a
tragedy! How could this have happened? You rub your eyes
in disbelief hoping, praying that it is an optical
illusion. You cry out to the Gods "What did I do to
deserve this? What vicious deed, what heinous act could I
have committed to merit this awful fate?" You sigh a
sigh of resignation <sigh>. You are beyond help.
Nothing can save you now. It is the day of Prom, the
pinnacle of your high school years, and you have… a zit.
However, the actual problem "facing" acne
sufferers (so to speak) is not the health hazard of a
bacterial infection of the skin, but rather the
prejudicial infection that plagues our society based on
appearance. Alternately, the overreaction sometimes lies
more with those tormented by acne. For example, what is
virtually invisible to the rest of the world may seem to
the victim a veritable Mount Vesuvius threatening to bury
any semblance of a social life like the city of Pompeii.
Hold on a second. It's only a zit. Those things are tiny!
They can't be much more than a millimeter or two in
diameter. How sick are we as human beings if we allow an
iddy biddy bump to make or break our social confidence.
How sad is it that we judge our entire sense of self-worth
on the number of red dots that appear of their own free
will on our faces. Okay, so maybe we all aren't quite that
fanatic. May of you adults have gone through this and
obviously lived to tell the story. But acne anxiety is a
common phenomenon that runs wild through the streets of
every American city from the tiny town of Podunk, Iowa to
the booming megalopolis of New York City. Why do we let
this miniscule object about the size of a crumb be a
central focus of our adolescent years? Today, we will step
back and examine the pimple, determine its physiology and
psychology, and find out why we let it have such a huge
impact on our lives.
Although it seems that pimples appear only before
important events: picture day, prom, weddings, dates, bar
mitzvahs, their mysterious materialization has little to
do with your personal calendar and more to do with the
chemicals in your body produced by these events or the
anticipation thereof. In truth, hormones cause acne. As we
all know, a teenager's entire life is controlled by
hormones, which is why we obsess about our appearance.
Around puberty, sex hormones called androgens kick in. The
cells in the skin follicles shed abnormally in flaky,
clumpy sheets. The hormones also cause our skin glands to
work overtime producing an oily substance called sebum.
The excess sebum blocks the gland opening causing cells to
build up and wham! I give you the pimple. Of course, acne
presents itself in many different forms. You got your
blackheads, your whiteheads, your pustules, your red
spots, your papules, and if it gets worse you get cysts.
There are actually over 50 types of acne, the most common
of which is particularly prevalent among teens. However
widespread, the thought of any type of blemish appearing
on an otherwise perfect visage is absolutely horrifying to
most adolescents. A thought tantamount to eternal social
damnation, many a teen would consider a face full of
pimples the ultimate sin, with a punishment that would
strike fear into the hearts of many a cowering young
adolescent. <Imitating judge> The United States
Court of Dermatology will come to order. The defendant is
found guilty of… Acne Vulgaris. He is sentenced to 5
years of public ridicule and 10 years of fear of social
contact and dysmorphophobia: hatred of one's looks. It's
not just hormones that cause acne. Anxiety and strong
emotions have been known to cause or aggravate acne.
Heredity also plays a big part. If your Dad's skin looked
like the Rocky Mountains when he was in high school, you
can expect to be a wee bit bumpy. If you are one of the
poor unfortunate souls found guilty of acne, you are not
alone. 85% of the United States population between the
ages of 15 and 25 suffer from acne at some point in their
lives. Outside of the fantastical realm of Hollywood, the
stereotypical teenager has acne. Out of every 10
teenagers, 8 ˝ of us have to deal with unsightly
blemishes. Therefore, we should either be looking at this
as a serious risk to national health and security, or
something so common it is barely worth mentioning. As for
me, I'm a little more worried about that half person
And yet, as the children suffer, so do the adults.
Parents and grandparents were once part of the 85%
suffering from acne and must now relive the anxiety
through their teenagers. Not only do they buy Clearasil
and Oxy-10 by the truckload, they must remind their
adolescent 300 times a day "It's not
noticeable". Although teenagers make up the majority
of individuals suffering from acne, there are a number of
adults whose acne does not appear until middle age.
Just as there is no cure for AIDS or cancer, there is also
no cure for acne. Many different treatments are available,
but as with most medications, there are side effects.
Sure, you can clear up a pimple here or there if you want
to put up with dry, flaky skin, depression, increased
sensitivity to the sun, and gastrointestinal problems such
as vomiting and diarrhea. Am I the only one thinks that
this might be a big waste of time, energy, and money? I
would guess that the millions of adults who have gone
through this would agree with me. But unfortunately, in
the domain of high school, many have a deeply rooted
prejudice against people with acne. A recent survey by the
American Academy of Dermatology showed that 41% of teens
consider individuals with acne to be less desirable. Is
this not the epitome of superficiality when one is judged
less on their appearance and more on what appears on their
appearance? According to the same survey, 36% of girls say
that acne makes them feel self-conscious and 28% of boys
say they prefer to date partners without acne. According
to Dr. Gail Robinson, past president of the American
Counseling Association, "Many teenagers with acne
have a negative self image, which can lead to withdrawl
from friends and activities, inappropriate social
behavior, and poor academic performance."
For all the misconceptions in existence about people with
acne, there are just as many untrue myths about the acne
itself. One common theory is that the sun does not help
clear up your acne. In fact, it makes it worse. Although
many teens claim to have fewer breakouts when they have a
tan, studies have shown that the UV rays harm the skin and
many experience aggravated acne two to four weeks after
prolonged exposure to the sun.
I'm sure that all of you have heard the most popular
fallacy concerning pimples. No matter what your mother
tells you, chocolate and fried foods do not cause acne.
Despite what Mom says, the occasional Snickers bar isn't
going to make your face clash with your favorite plaid
shirt, for as we all know, plaid and polka dots do not
match. Professor of dermatology, Dr. Donald Downing states
"People have always had this impression that the fat
you eat comes out of your skin. But the fat that makes
pimples is different from the fat we eat in foods."
Throughout the conservative days of the '40's and '50's
dieticians told the public that fat in the diet caused
acne. More recent studies have proven that greasy foods
and chocolate do not cause pimples. In fact, Dr. James
Leyden did a study in 1968 in which the participants were
force-fed large amounts of chocolate and the results
showed no effect on their acne. Now that's one experiment
for which I would be more than happy to volunteer. Of
course this doesn't mean that you should start scarfing
french fries and Hershey bars like there's no tomorrow.
Healthy skin requires a healthy diet. If every time you
eat chocolate pudding, you notice an extreme outburst of
red spots, you may want to switch to Jell-O.
Yes, it's scary, yes it's big, yes it's ugly, but it's
normal. In our society, those who have never experienced
the joys of a pimple are in the extreme minority. If you
have acne, don't sweat it. In fact, the more you get upset
about it, the worse it gets. Your options are
limited and modern medicine can only do so much. Now it's
up to you. Are you going let it run your life, or are you
going to learn to live with it like most everyone else in
the world? It's your decision. Just remember which one of
you is bigger. When you're guilty of acne, your
sentence is whatever you make it.
You wipe your tears away and walk into the bathroom.
Hmmm, with the lighting in here, Mt. Vesuvius looks more
like a little hill. You face the mirror armed with your
noncomedogenic concealer. A little dab here, a little
touch there, and what do you know, your face looks as
clear and smooth as still water. You are a survivor. You
may be guilty of acne, but you've been pardoned, and now,
you can take on the world.
For those interested in performing this speech in
competition, go ahead! Info that may be required:
this speech was written and first performed in 1998, and
is published in the Ohio High School Speech League's
Winning Orations 1999.