update: my boss keeps commenting on my acne

Remember the letter-writer whose boss kept commenting on their acne? Here’s the update.

It’s been almost an entire year since I wrote to you about my boss commenting on my acne! First, let me say thank you to the AAM community for being so kind and wonderful to me. I was incredibly emotional and embarrassed when I wrote in, and all of the commenters brought me to tears with their empathy and support. I had never before experienced so much kindness from internet strangers, but please know that you all made me feel so much better, and I am grateful. And I have a very happy update to report!

While Alison was quick to post my story and share her advice, I actually wound up having my one-on-one with my boss first. However, the advice I received was basically how I handled the situation. I told my boss, “Hey, yesterday you made a comment about my skin, and I need you not to do that anymore. It is a medical condition, and I am working with doctors to solve it, but I don’t need to discuss it, especially in front of others.” I had planned a lengthier monologue about how I don’t want to come to work only to have people comment on my appearance and how it affects me emotionally, but my boss cut me off and said, “I’m sorry, I won’t do that anymore. I just was concerned and wondered if I could help. I should probably apologize to (other coworker) too, since I probably made him uncomfortable.” For the record, I do not buy that she was concerned because it was a harsh comment, not delivered with any warmth or concern, and she wasn’t picking up social cues to drop it. And her larger concern for the other coworker who was present was a huge red flag. But in the long run, I don’t think I get to decide what lesson my boss learned out of this, as much as I wanted her to understand the damage she had done.

However, a lot of good things came from this. Firstly, my former boss never commented on my skin again. And I say former boss, because I started a new position about seven months ago! Between this incident and a few other work-related happenings, I decided that it was time to move on. When I started my job hunt, I found an absolutely perfect role for me with a wonderful company, who went on to hire me a short time later. I received about a 66% pay increase, have had a really positive transition period into the role, and am overall doing really well. My acne is still acne-ing, but it has improved, and nobody in my new job has said a word.

I did want to address a few comments — some of you are so funny, and your comeback suggestions are stored in my back pocket in the unfortunate event that I have to use them. I do feel more confident about making people feel uncomfortable about making me feel uncomfortable, so thank you! A few of you thought my former boss might be involved in an MLM and getting ready to sell me skin care. That one is totally plausible, but in truth, my former boss comes from affluence and only works because she likes it. And for those of you sharing my struggle, I appreciate your solidarity and wish you nothing but the best.

Thanks again, Alison and the AAM community!

{ 61 comments… read them below }

    1. Momma Bear*

      Agreed. Sounds like you were seriously undervalued/underpaid!

      And good for you for not worrying about what lesson boss may or may not have taken from this. She stopped commenting. That’s what you needed.

  1. And the Skeletons Are… Part of It*

    Solidarity!! Glad for this positive update. It sounds like she realized that she could get in trouble for what she said to you, not like she genuinely felt bad about it. But either way, at least you got it to stop and got some kind of apology. And most importantly got out!

  2. Warrior Princess Xena*

    I’m glad you were able to find a new place! And kudos to you for standing up to your boss. Getting people to knock it off is indeed as far as we can go, sometimes. It would be nice if they’d understand but in the meantime they can be quiet about it.

  3. Coconuts*

    Congrats on the new job! I’m so happy to hear your update. I have adult acne too, not severe, but I go through periods of breakouts and had a moment at work that made me think of this post. I had a coworker a few times comment on my skin when I was having a good day with “are you wearing coverup today?” and when I said no more than usual she just gave me a confused blank stare like “…oh but your skin looks good today”. I followed with “I just have acne and it comes and goes” But thanks for pointing out that it doesn’t usually look good and that I must be wearing more makeup than usual if it does.

      1. Coconuts*

        Was not the only odd backhanded compliment I heard from her haha. Thankfully I don’t work there anymore.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          What a rude person! It’s really so easy not to comment about other people’s bodies. I’m glad you got away from her!

    1. The Rural Juror*

      Exactly. I’d like to ask my grandmother that very question. “Dearest Granny, why why why do you always ask me if I have a pimple?! Yes! I have one today, it will be there tomorrow, and I’m EXTREMELY aware of it!” Also dealing with health issues that manifest on my face and make me self conscious -_-

      1. PhyllisB*

        Yep. When my granddaughter was about two years old, she had to have her two front teeth extracted because of decay. A lady at our church said to me, “did you realize Granddaughter has no front teeth?” (Said Granddaughter was living with us at the time.) I said, “Really?? I had no idea!! Let me go tell her mother!!” She then realized how ridiculous she sounded and started laughing and said, “I guess you already knew that. I just said, “yes, I was aware.”

      2. Sally Rhubarb*

        My grandma lifted up my shirt at the Thanksgiving dinner table and asked my mother if she knew I needed a training bra. Fucking humiliating.

        1. Sarah M*

          Oh. My. GOD. I thought my Narcissist mother was bad about stuff like that, but even *she* didn’t do that!

        2. Just me*

          I’m gobsmacked. I have hunched protectively to shield my own chest. That’s truly horrifying behavior by your grandmother, and I’m sorry you had to experience it.

  4. Dust Bunny*

    You already know this, but . . . bullshit. There is no way she was concerned, or, on the extremely remote chance that she really was, she handled it appallingly badly. If you’re concerned about someone you approach them in private.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      I wonder if someone else said something to the boss about this behavior, or similar behavor. That’s my guess since she said she was going to apologize to the other person too.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Or, as oblivious as she was to OP, she did notice something about the other coworker’s reaction and realized he may not be “on her side” (doesn’t think of course you interrupt a presentation to make a critical remark about someone’s appearance.)
        Or that OP may have already talked to him about being embarrassed and she was fishing to determine damage control. Like she was expecting OP to say, it’s OK. He told me he felt bad but I said it’s OK.
        But whatever she was aiming for with that statement had nothing to do with OP, little to do with coworker and tons about herself.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      Yeah she was either too lazy to ever upskill from the toddler-level of social awareness, or she knew she was being mean and didn’t care. I think I’m going for the first option, since she had her ‘what poor manners?’ apology down to a finely practiced art with the equation being: cut them off mid complaint + I’m sorry + I won’t do that anymore + lame justification + offer to apologize to literally any other bystander because who can be bothered figuring out who was actually personally affected? Anyone who had given this any meaningful thought, or I-cant-sleep-post-blurt-out analysis, would have just said they were mortified about the rudeness of what they said, and they’d had no right commenting on your skin. Any mention of someone else being present would have been limited to “I should never have mentioned it in front of others” not somehow twisted into “Oh noes, my concern for your skin probably made them uncomfortable”.

  5. Observer*

    Why am I *totally* NOT surprised that you felt the need to get out of there? That kind of *repeated* comment rarely comes from someone who is truly supportive and a good manager.

    I am so glad you’re in a better workplace, and with much better pay, to boot.

  6. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    Great news that you no longer work for that rude jerk and you’ve got a whopping pay rise.
    Go you!

  7. Suzannah*

    Oh, LW, so happy to read this update! I felt just awful for you when I read your first letter – like being in 8th grade all over again, but the mean kid is your boss.
    And I agree that she probably didn’t feel concern (I mean, maybe she did, but she had an odd way of showing it), but that was probably her only graceful way of getting out of it. The fact that she shut it down is great, and mostly what matters.
    And congrats on the new job!

  8. This_is_Todays_Name*

    So happy for this update! My daughter, 33, has bad acne still, which has gotten better since she got her cycles regulated, but it also flares up when she’s super stressed. And even when she isn’t breaking out, her past issues have left a lot of pits and scars. She is the least self conscious person on earth and has a loving partner, but of course she sees it in the mirror every day and if people at work were commenting on it, especially her BOSS, I know it would upset her; hell, I’m her MOM and I don’t think it’s my place comment on it! (Although TBH if someone did say something, she’d prolly snap back with something like “at least I have a medical reason for my ugliness; what’s yours?”)–She learned snap from her Mama.

    1. JaneDough(not)*

      My ears perked up at “irregular cycles” and “adult acne,” both of which I had and both of which can be signs of PCOS (that’s what I had, but it was misdiagnosed for 12 crucial years). A reproductive endocrinologist — not a regular endocrinologist — can make the diagnosis.

      PCOS can affect fertility and cause other health problems, so I encourage you to talk with her about making sure that she seeks medical care to diagnose the problem.

  9. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    I know you know this because you’ve gotten out and have distance, but your former boss is awful. I had a similar former (thank goodness!) boss, and as I re-read your OP it triggered a flash of the same physical anxiety that I had while for her. I’d forgotten how bad it was. I’m so happy you’ve found your way to better places!!

    1. Goldenrod*

      I had a boss who actually made fun of my clothes. And she was the head of HR.

      Only thing to do with those goons is get away from them!

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        This reminds me of Tomato Nation, where Sarah would point out that the person doing these horrible things was a voting adult. Like, how do people reach working, voting, bill paying age and still not realize that these kinds of remarks and behavior are not acceptable?

  10. Dasein9 (he/him)*

    Oh, good for you! Thank you for letting us know.

    And, yeah, this community is something special.

  11. Unkempt Flatware*

    I’m glad this worked out for you! People can be very obtuse. I once overheard a male boss tell my female coworker that her very bad acne was her body’s way of telling her it was time to get pregnant. What. A. Creep. Always shocking when someone thinks they can comment on people’s bodies.

    1. The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon*

      Wooooow. Thanks, I do not need you to participate in communication between me and my own body, STUART.

  12. Bookworm*

    I see that this really had a great ending. So glad you (hopefully) got former boss to understand, even if only just a little bit. Congrats on the new job with the pay bump!! Thanks for updating us!

  13. A-List*

    “ your comeback suggestions are stored in my back pocket in the unfortunate event that I have to use them.”

    I recommend against the snappy comeback at work. Your rudeness will not cancel out theirs—it will just mean two people are rude.

    1. JustKnope*

      Nah, I disagree with this. It’s not rude to be short/snappy with someone who’s making rude comments about your appearance. It’s a natural consequence. Even in an office setting. Expecting this person to take the more professional road just lets the perpetrator off the hook.

  14. sulky-anne*

    I’ve had acne for the majority of my life, and look, let’s just all agree to maintain the illusion that no one can see anyone else’s acne. I’m guessing the number of adults with acne who have never tried to get rid of it is vanishingly small. There is not much to gain from this conversation.

    1. Avery*

      And the number of adults with acne who have never tried to get rid of it, but are indeed bothered by it and would absolutely take action to get rid of it if only they knew about this one weird tip… is even lower, and basically if not actually nonexistent.

  15. Kermit’s Bookkeepers*

    Congratulations on handling this so firmly and gracefully, and on your AWESOME career move! I also wanted to thank you for the phrase “I don’t get to decide what lesson (someone) learns from this,” — which I may be paraphrasing slightly — I think that’s just a marvelous way to articulate that the important thing is to put a stop or change to someone’s problematic behavior, and we don’t get to or have to change their way of thinking.

  16. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

    A fantastic update. I’m still so furious and shaken as I re-read your original letter. I’m so glad you’re doing well and things have turned out so good for you.

  17. Former Retail Manager*

    I missed your original letter but so happy to hear a positive update. I suffered with severe acne well into adulthood (over 13 years) and didn’t get it under control until my late 20’s. I’m now in my early 40’s. I just want to say, Accutane. I didn’t have a chance to read all of the comments under your original post, so maybe someone already suggested it (or maybe you already tried it), but if not, definitely speak with a dermatologist or 3. Don’t be deterred by the fear mongering on the internet. Yes, some people have had negative side effects, but docs take the medication seriously and you are very closely monitored while taking it. The slightest “off” bloodwork or serious side effect and your doc will take you off of it.

    Note: Accutane, the brand name, is no longer being manufactured, but there are other manufacturers making the medication.

    I say this as someone who NEVER felt pretty until I took this medication. Acne was extremely defining in terms of my own self-image and did a horrible number on my self-esteem. I used to work retail and loved coffee (so high energy). Multiple customers over the years asked other employees if I did drugs (i.e. meth) because of my energy level combined with my skin. It was hurtful. I developed a thick skin and never let anyone know it bothered me outwardly, but acne is something I wish on no one, and Accutane was the one thing that changed my life as it relates to my appearance.

    Glad to hear that you are coping well and got a GREAT raise!

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      I took Accutane and used Retin-A to get my skin under control–back when it was basically blasting your epidermis with Agent Orange. It was brutal, but it worked. I still get the occasional flare up (thanks, perimenopause!) but certainly nothing like it was. And I’m pretty wrinkle free as a side benefit!

  18. Sarah M*

    I have no useful feedback or commentary other than to say, as someone who had Adult Cystic Acne from ages 17 -35, I can soooo feel OP’s pain. That manager was an obnoxious jerk.

  19. LawBee*

    I overheard one side of a conversation on the train once that went like this:

    “You keep asking me about [personal thing]. Why are you asking?”
    “I understand that’s why you want to know. What I am asking you is, why do you think you have a right to know? Why exactly are you asking me about [personal thing]?”
    “OK then, now you know not to ask me about it anymore.”

    Probably wouldn’t work with a boss, but it was masterful.

  20. JaneDough(not)*

    LW, I’m so impressed that you were able to speak up clearly and neutrally (I couldn’t have done that at what I think is you age — 20s, 30s?), and I’m impressed by your insight (“I don’t think I get to decide what lesson my boss learned out of this”).

    Fwiw, I had a moderate case of cystic acne from about ages 25 through 30 because of misdiagnosed PCOS; at age 30, I took Accutane and that got rid of it (two 35-ish men I knew also had good results with Accutane, but I acknowledge that the Rx isn’t for everyone). If I’m out of line in mentioning this, apologies; my goal is to help because I know how unpleasant this can be.

    Also fwiw, at age 51, I developed an autoimmune condition that had some elements of lupus and some of rheumatoid arthritis; when I was no longer able to afford the Rx that reduced the swelling in my joints, I kept it under control with a whole-foods diet that contained almost no added sugar and very few lab chemicals; given that inflammation is thought to be one cause of acne, reducing inflammation through diet could help. Here, too, I apologize if I’ve overstepped (I know that mentions of food can be troubling to some, for various reasons), but here, too, my goal is to help if I can. Best wishes.

  21. DogBiteBruise*

    The original letter was so jarring in the vein of “what would possess someone to say that” – it reminded me of a few Christmases ago. My fiance’s family dog bit me (was not serious and I would consider it my fault, I got in his face) on the nose, but one of his teeth caught me right under the eye. That part of your face is so sensitive, it managed to give me a pretty nasty black eye that I sported for a week or so. My company has a Christmas break, so I didn’t see coworkers for a few weeks, but on the first zoom call back, a coworker I am not particularly close with, in front of the entire meeting, said “OMG WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU?!” At the time is was just annoying because I had to derail the meeting to tell everyone I was bit by a dog, but as soon as I hung up I was so floored because there are so many reasons that could’ve happened, like domestic violence, that are so incredibly sensitive. That woman remains a weirdo who frequently says overly personal things, like asking me about our upcoming wedding in big groups even though I have no social relationship with her whatsoever and no desire to have one.

  22. Raisin Walking to the Moon*

    I’m so glad you stood up for yourself!
    This is such a good example of how we characterize lousy people as being kind when we’re stuck with them. I remember in your original letter, you described this woman as friendly, supportive, and someone who was mentoring you. But it sounds like now, with distance, you realize she wasn’t like that.

  23. Michelle Smith*

    Love that you got her to stop and love that you got such an amazing new job!! Congratulations!!!!

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