Acne and ED, Part I: How Vegan Began
Before I get started on this series of posts on my experience with veganism, I just want to say that this is my experience and may not reflect your own if you happen to be a card-carrying member of the veg*n community. I get it: your choices are your choices–whether you make them for ethical or for health reasons–but so are mine. As I explain why I’m not a vegan anymore, please understand that I don’t imply judgment toward anyone’s food choices. If you find yourself in accordance with me, so be it. If you don’t, so be that too. So, please read with an open mind, take from this what you will, and I’ll see you in the comments section!
If you came to veganism late in the party, then you’re probably here because the term carries as much cultural caché as the red string had when Madonna was into Kabbalah. Believe it or not however, before being vegan was the trendy way to lose weight and look like Alicia Silverstone, before Usher told Justin Bieber that it was the cool thing to do, before raw kale smoothies were posited as the secret to life, veganism was an ethical movement. Far from pandering to the fad-diet-obsessed world of celebrity and fitness, veganism was a protest against the unethical and immoral treatment of animals. Saying no to meat wasn’t about being heart healthy; it was about having a heart where animals were concerned.
And while I’m all for the ethical treatment of animals, I came late to the vegan party–and I came for the kale smoothies.
When I read Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Diet, I fell for the mostly raw, vegan party line–because I wanted so badly for it to be true. And I took from the diet the principles that worked for my life: eat plants, mostly raw; drink lots of fresh, un-oxidized juices straight from the juicer; no animal products–not even honey–whatsoever. Why? Because if that kind of diet could cure Kris’s cancer, it could cure anything. (And it would help me lose weight–an added bonus!)
Not only could I do some serious calorie control while eating mainly kale and broccoli, but reports of glowing, perfect vegan skin convinced me that my new diet would cure me of my lifelong problem with acne.
Now, those of you who know me have seen what I’m talking about, but for those of you who don’t, I’ll explain:
I don’t have the kind of Accutane-requiring acne that takes over a person’s face with a nearly interminable army of angry red bumps; instead, I suffer–and I mean this both physically and emotionally–from three different kinds of acne, all of which have caused major skin infections and embarrassing scars since the day I hit puberty. The first, your regular old comedones (black and white heads) show up on my nose and chin whenever my face is within about a million miles of an external toxin like hair gel or makeup. The second, small hard, red bumps that almost look like rosacea or eczema but aren’t either of those things, which show up around my nose and mouth like an unwanted goatee for as-yet unexplained reasons and last for months before fading. The third, painful, hormonal cystic acne due supposedly to the influence of polycystic ovarian syndrome, of which I received the (as we’ll learn mis-) diagnosis in 2007.
I think at least a small part of my ED sprung from my battle with my skin: if I couldn’t be pretty because of my acne, I could at least be fit enough to be a “butterface”* (a direct quote from my internal monologue–scary, huh?).
I’ve tried to deal with my embarrassing condition every way I could conceivably think to do so since I was 14 years old. When I was 16, I had to go to a Valentine’s Day party wearing a huge bandaid on my face because I ended up with cysts on my chin so horrifically infected that I had to be put on antibiotics because the infection had spread to my lymph nodes. (Needless to say, I didn’t get asked on a lot of dates in high school.) I’ve tried birth control (many different kinds) for hormone regulation. I’ve tried Proactiv. I’ve bought every acne and oil control product on the shelves at Walgreens. I’ve worn every brand of concealer I could get my hands on (and have broken out because of each and every one of them). I’ve seen dermatologists and tried topical retinoids and oral antibiotics. Nothing, nothing, nothing has ever worked with any consistency or duration.
When I became a vegan, I believed that kale was the solution. When I looked at the faces on the women in the vegan blogging world, I saw the acne-free beauty that had eluded me for my entire young adult life.
I was also 24 and tired of looking like I hadn’t finished puberty. (I know older women wish for the skin of a 16 year old, but I don’t think that this is what they mean!)
Part of what attracted me to the (mostly) raw, vegan diet was the idea of detox: My body had been under severe stress, what with all of the cooked meats and eggs, the dairy protein powders, that I had been shoveling into my face every two or three hours for almost two years. I needed to completely clean it out, start over, clean slate.
So in addition to emptying my kitchen of animal products and starting my 30-day yoga challenge, I also emptied my bathroom of beauty products. I was going…no ‘poo.
*A “butterface” is a horrible insult describing a woman who has a great body…but her face…
It’s disgusting that I even internalized this term while tuned into the channel of my negative self-talk, let alone that this term even exists. And, my dear male friends who taught me this term, I don’t care if you think it’s funny–it’s not. I’m sorry that I ever pretended to laugh and not be offended while you used it. (I’m even more sorry that I adopted it into my own self-vocabulary.)