Meet P Phillips

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Name: P Phillips

Age: 23

Occupation: I paint, make coffee, and talk about my face & feelings on the internet. 

Location: Wales

Skin Condition: cystic acne 

I feel like people with skin conditions often have a one-line explanation that they use to explain their skin condition to others. Tell us yours. 

Actually over the past year I’ve found empowerment in politely refusing to explain myself. It depends on the context, but working in customer service roles has taught me the hard way that many people will bluntly ask to satisfy their curiosity. I like to inform them their question is invasive before cheerily asking whether they want sugar in their cafe latte. Should I feel it necessary, I tell people I had an aggressive case of acne. 

What are you up to in life right now?

I’m an art graduate juggling keeping an active practice and a job in a busy ice cream & coffee bar. And, of course, I am once again enjoying life having now gotten a pretty brutal case of cystic acne under control. Last year was really tough, this year has been far gentler. There are no words for when you feel you are ‘out of the woods’ after what felt like the longest time in the dark.

Why did you decide to start talking openly about your acne online? 

I would search the faces of the people I passed in the streets and shared a commute with in the hope to find someone with skin like mine, and would draw a blank every time. I turned to the internet where there were pockets of people sharing skin snaps who made me feel a little less alone, though I still didn’t see myself represented and I couldn’t find the kind of content I really needed. Acne representation was largely much milder than the bulging cysts I had protruding my cheeks, and much of the content involved practical things like makeup coverage or skincare tips. I needed to know how to hold onto an ounce of self-worth in a social climate which places an awful lot of value on appearance and too often meets acne sufferers with judgment and blame. So I started writing the kinds of things I know would have helped me. 

The condition of my skin took me to some very low and lonely places, and I knew if my visibility could be of comfort to even one other person who was dealing with something similar, there would be something good coming from what did for a while feel all bad. Solidarity can really make a difference. 

Our skin projects our identity out into the world, and having non-normative skin can be really challenging. You're genderqueer. How does your relationship with your skin figure into your sense and presentation of self? 

Truthfully I struggled at first with feeling like visible acne on top of my identity was “too much wrong.” And I know I’m not alone in the LGBTQ community when I talk about this fear of conditional acceptance. You can be non-conforming but not *that* non-conforming. Ultimately though, the way the two have informed one another and intersected has been nothing but helpful. I was familiar with fending off personal questions (in public gendered spaces mainly) long before I had strangers asking what i’ve done to my face. And my process of coming out and being who I am most certainly involved sifting through societal expectations and beauty ideals, untangling my sense of self from what other people had decided I should embody, and maintaining my self-worth in the face of adversity. Much could be the same for a stint with cystic acne. Skin struggles was an exercise in self-acceptance I am now very grateful for, and while being visibly non-normative definitely brings about some difficulties, I never intended to challenge anything. I’m just trying to be the me-est me I can be. 

One thing you do on social media that I love is clap back at people selling snake oil, pseudoscience, and miracle cures. It strikes me as a never-ending battle. Why do it?

I believe anyone with any kind of influence has a responsibility to do right by the people who value their opinion. The level of misinformation circulating the acne world is terrifying and harmful. ‘Natural’ healing is elevated to the point of demonising effective medical treatment, and not being able to heal using alternative routes is a huge source of shame. Going to see a doctor can be seen as a failure, instead of as the appropriate response to having a medical condition it is. Being vocal about it unfortunately won’t stop all the people and companies out there aiming to make a quick profit off of vulnerable folks willing to try anything for clearer skin, but it might serve to better inform those who are struggling. I went into my treatment scared and unsure. I’ve heard from people who delayed treatment for far too long because they wanted to exhaust every other option first. None of us are immune to the things we see and read around us, and right now there is a need for more voices taking a stand against very real conditions being trivialised as minor cosmetic complaints easily cured with the right DIY investments. I owe the painless cystless cheeks I now get to call my own entirely to the medication isotretinoin (roaccutane/accutane) and to dermatology healthcare. There was no way anything else could have sufficed, and there is no way I’m going to stop harping on about it! 

Sarah Harris