I’ve decided to stop taking my pills.

I’m not a doctor, but I’m aware of the risks.

You see, I can’t bear to swallow those little orange tablets a day longer.

Just to be clear – I’m not suffering from a life-threatening illness.

My issue is acne.

As many will empathise with, I began experiencing the unpleasant pus-filled extrusions when I was 12, and, like most others, the affliction subsided over time.

By 16, balance had been restored to my once-oily, hormone-ravaged face.

And then, less than four years later when I was almost 20, the pimples returned with a vengeance, intent, it seemed, on making my skin more volatile than ever.

It was puberty’s second coming, and with it came the need for more drastic action – drugs.

Prescription, of course.

Acne may not seem like such a big deal, but day-by-day over two years the meds gradually laid me low. One of the most common acne treatments is a drug called Accutane, although it does  require a head-check because in rare cases it can cause anxiety, depression and a range of other side-effects. I was put on a milder alternative involving a mix of pills and skin treatments to avoid these adverse effects, yet I still experienced distress.

I wasn’t upset merely because a guy in his early-20s should be past his pimply stage.

It was much bigger – the whole experience actually made me feel emasculated.

I might be stating the obvious, but here goes: Most guys just want to feel like guys. When I was taking those pills, in some strange way I felt like a girl. It’s not that I underwent any bodily changes, nor was I enduring hormone replacement therapy – it was all just a matter of self-perception.

I’m not saying women are weak and can only fix their problems through medication, but I grew up thinking that men don’t dwell on their appearance. Being male makes up a weighty chunk of my sense of identity, but the acne treatment was inhibiting this. There was a rising gender-disconnect.

These feelings of impotence arose because I’d become high maintenance…to myself. Between the pills, the topical treatments, the cleansers, the exfoliators and the moisturisers – all tied together by waiting times and a drug-induced aversion to sunlight – I began to feel effeminate (and somewhat vampiric). When other guys were ready to hit the hay, I’d be up for another half-hour ‘fixing my face’.

I’m aware that many women tolerate similar daily routines in pursuit of immaculate skin, and I feel for them, but for most guys the daily routine doesn’t extend further than a quick shave and tweak of the hair.

I didn’t feel spontaneous; I didn’t feel like a man; I didn’t feel like me.

There are people who think ditching my meds because of a feeling of pseudo-castration is ridiculous, but these people have probably never struggled to identify with their gender. Consider this: I know a woman who recently went under the knife for breast implants. It wasn’t a reconstruction for medical reasons; it was purely cosmetic. I’ll admit I was initially critical of her choice and placed a mental ‘she’s vain’ stamp on her forehead, but her reasoning behind the decision changed my mind.

She didn’t do it for attention or to appease some idealised model of beauty. She did it simply because she was sick of having such a small bust. She just wanted to feel like a woman. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

That woman’s situation is not so different to mine. She’s not vain for getting implants, just like I’m not an idiot for going against the doctor’s orders. If you don’t see yourself in the way you think you should, the only choice is to make a change. I’ve been making these sorts of changes for near on a decade. Whether it was forcing myself to eat more in high school so I wouldn’t look so scrawny, or over-emphasising my (very real) interest in sports so others would recognise my male qualities, I’m no stranger to struggling to feeling masculine.

Waving bye to my time-consuming skin care routine is just the next masculinity-asserting action in a long line.

Looking back on all my efforts to feel like a man, it’s hard not to wonder if I’m questioning the wrong suspect – is the problem me, or is it my idea of masculinity? So many people will remind me it’s the 21st Century; that traditional notions of gender have evolved; that I should lead any sort of lifestyle I choose, regardless of whether it conforms to the long-established view of manhood.

And I agree with them, but it’s essentially irrelevant.

It doesn’t change the fact that most guys just want to feel like guys. They don’t want to feel remotely feminine, nor do they want to be slaves to cosmetics or a beauty routine, as long as I stayed on my meds, that was how I was going to feel.

That’s why the choice had to be made.

Why I will have to deal with the acne.

The pills had to go.

 

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