Salon’s David Marchese has an essay up today about our secret addiction to pimple popping which is worth reading, though I can also summarize it for you in one line: Squeezing your zits is gross, but everyone does it anyway — what’s that about?
So here’s a maybe not shocking answer: It’s because we don’t like our bodies. And more specifically, we don’t like our skin.
Because an awful lot of our body anxieties reside in the epidermis. After all, it’s not your kidneys, lungs, and other internal organs stacking up that make you feel fat, It’s how much skin you can see in the mirror. And whether it’s smooth, or lumpy, or skin you can lift using both hands because it’s got that kind of heft. Skin is also where all of our unwanted hair sprouts from. It’s where we agonize over wrinkles and other signs of aging.
And of course, it’s where our pimples brew. Here’s the best quote in Marchese’s piece:
“Pimple popping offers instant gratification,” seconds Laura Cooksey, who “pops pimples all day long” as an aesthetician* at the Face Reality acne clinic in San Leandro, Calif. “People find it pleasurable the way that having your legs waxed is pleasurable. It can be uncomfortable and sort of nasty — we’ve all been grossed out when the pus hits the mirror — but you’re doing something that can help you toward your goal of clearer skin.”
Yes. I’ve talked about the perverse pride we get from extracting before, but I had a bit of an epiphany when Cooksey compared it to waxing. Both of these skills are still so novel to us at Beauty U, that whenever someone comes in with a really big pimple, several of us will cluster round to watch Miss Stacy go to town on it. (We also watch the gross-out YouTube videos that Marchese references. Which I’m not linking to because, seriously? Don’t.) And when we’re waxing each other, there’s a lot of pausing to admire the evidence. I gave Brooke another Brazilian on Monday and every time she flinched, she’d say, “Wow that hurts! But did you get a lot of hair?” And I’d show her the pellon strip now coated with wrong-side-up hairs, freshly ripped from where the sun don’t shine, and we’d both be like, Damn, you can even see the root balls.
I’ve debated whether to view this as a weird kind of empowerment. We genuinely don’t get grossed out by the site of pimple pus or pubic hair anymore, and I’d like to think that’s a sign that we’re all becoming so sangfroid about the human body; sure, it’s hairy and sometimes oozes stuff, but that’s life.
Except. Our satisfaction is all about getting this stuff out. We want pimples and extraneous hair gone — annihilated!— so we can feel cleaner, smoother, and pretty. Which means our natural state isn’t pretty. It’s gross. And as estheticians, we’re the front line on fighting grossness. The only ones tough enough to face that pimple dead on and take it out in a surgical strike. It’s like the Jack Bauer school of skincare.
This is a pretty violent way of viewing the human body. Of course, that sounds extreme. And when we’re faced with the worst of it — the angry red scars of a recent face lift, for example — we might feel horrified and sad. But we don’t connect that extreme violence to the everyday abuse. Anyone who has ever agonized over acne in the mirror, extracting until you’re red and swollen, knows that violence is the answer. We love popping pimples because it’s a not totally crazy way to punish yourself for failing to meet your beauty criteria. For not loving the skin you’re in.
Now, when you choose to have these things dealt with professionally, you’re paying someone else to inflict that pain on the parts of yourself that you hate. I’m not sure what that says — about how you feel about yourself or how you look at them after. But Brooke did a Brazilian on a client last week who didn’t tip her and at first we were all shocked — who doesn’t tip the person willing to get elbow-deep in their junk? (You know, in a non-sexual/non-gynecological context.)
Then I remembered the shame.
That feeling of how fast can I get dressed and get out of here? that comes after a particularly rough bikini wax, or even a facial when the esthetician extracts so much you’re convinced your face is going to look like Swiss cheese. I understand not feeling entirely friendly towards the person who just beat up on you for an hour.
But you should tip. Because once you stop to think about it, the woman making $11 an hour to excavate your pores is not the person you’re mad at. It’s mostly you, what with all your skin.
*Yes she spells it aesthetician and I always spell it esthetician because that’s how the textbook spells it. I think the A is just for fanciness. We all do the same stuff.