Last month, Mount Vesuvius erupted on my chin.
You might think I’m being dramatic, but I’m not. Honestly. It looked like a red Wine Gum had been superglued to my face. It was quite possibly the biggest spot anyone has ever seen.
I thought that I had dodged the acne bullet as a teenager. Turns out that acne isn’t a bullet: it’s a boomerang. One that has smacked me in the chin, repeatedly, ever since I was twenty-five or so. I haven’t had clear skin in six years. SIX YEARS.
And in that time, I have valiantly fought The War Against Acne: going to the doctor, buying expensive skin products, trying different cleansing methods, going to another doctor, drinking gallons of water, praying to various gods, going to a different doctor, repeatedly Googling ‘a cure for acne’…
This leads us onto sugar. In my extensive research, it kept coming up as a potential Enemy of the Skin. Quitting sugar has now become something that people do: Davina McCall’s got a book about it. There’s been rubbish reality TV shows about celebrities doing it. Even Cancer Research UK has turned it into a fundraising challenge.
Sarah Wilson, an Australian TV presenter and writer, has made her name by teaching others how to quit through books and an £89 online programme. The alleged benefits of ditching the sweet stuff, as listed on her website and in her books, are compelling: weight loss, clearer skin, fewer wrinkles, more energy, improved mood (and more!). And to be honest, I was desperate enough to give pretty much anything a shot, because having acne sucks. It feels painful and embarrassing. And with Mount Vesuvius erupting on my chin, quitting Crunchie bars for eight weeks seemed like a small sacrifice to make.
As I don’t have a spare £89 knocking around, I took the cheap option, getting I Quit Sugar & I Quit Sugar For Life from the library. They are pretty, colourful books full of photos of Wilson herself. She is a beacon of happiness and good health. In some pictures, she GLEAMS. She looks as if she might have superpowers. Who wouldn’t want to sign up for that?
After two-weeks of adhering to the plan, I hadn’t developed any new spots. But none of the other benefits materialised. I was actually more tired, despite getting plenty of sleep. I felt stressed, had low energy levels, and was right on the edge of burnout. This probably had nothing to do with quitting sugar, and everything to do with the fact that I was trying to balance a full-time job with a part-time Masters degree, training for a marathon, writing posts such as this one, and reading labels on every single food item. (Spoiler: sugar gets. in. bloody. everything.)
On week three, new spots appeared on my cheek. I was still exhausted. Still stressed. And so I quit quitting sugar.
— The Bookseller (@thebookseller) 28 January 2017
Wellness is a very healthy business to be in right now. Cookbooks full of superfoods are a recipe for commercial success. And we eat it up without asking questions. Eating healthily is good; so eating super-healthily must be better, right?
We turn to people like Sarah Wilson, Deliciously Ella and Hemsley + Hemsley because they look the part; ignoring the fact that it is IMPOSSIBLE that a healthy diet alone has created their model looks, glowing skin, good health and amazing-looking lives.
We believe them because we want to believe them. Let’s face it: the idea that we can change our diets to change our lives is irresistible. It’s something active that we can do to solve our problems. It gives us control over our destiny. And our acne-ridden chins.
The wellness industry is booming because we want to have that control, and its main figureheads make alluring promises about the unique benefits their programmes will bring. And therefore we will fork out £147 to have our bodies ‘transformed’ after three months. Or £2 for a 40g snack as part of a diet that could help cure your postural tachycardia syndrome.
The unfortunate truth is that the problems we want to solve are complicated and have no guaranteed solutions. Take obesity: despite the popular myth that we can cure it individually by cutting down on cake and going for a jog, it’s actually far more bloody complicated than that. In fact, it’s THIS complicated:
These are all the systems that contribute to obesity. As an issue, it’s economic, psychological, environmental, genetic and hormonal. We cannot solve obesity in ourselves by cutting out gluten or sugar, or by eating chia seeds and ‘green powder’ (whatever that is). If only it were that simple.
And, sadly, it’s not that simple when it comes to my skin situation either. I will still continue to fight The War Against Acne but I am coming to realise two things: firstly, that there is probably not one single weapon that I can deploy to stop my spots for good. Women like Wilson may look like they have superpowers, but they cannot rescue my face.
Secondly, and sadly, clear skin might just be an impossible dream. I might just have to, you know, LIVE with my spotty chin and learn how not to let it piss me off.
And whilst it’s sad not to have an simple solution, it means that I can quit quitting things and go back to enjoying Crunchie bars and other sugary treats. As part of a balanced diet, of course.