When you have acne, you become really good at hiding. You hide your breakouts behind a layer (or three) of foundation. You hide the shame or embarrassment that often comes with them. And sometimes, you even hide yourself. For years, Cassandra Bankson became a master at the cover-up — but it wasn't until the model and beauty vlogger finally cleared her skin that she realised she was using her chronic cystic acne to conceal another reality: she's gay.
"This has been my deepest secret," says Bankson, who candidly chronicled her skin-care journey with her 824K followers on YouTube. "It got to a point where having acne was my life. I was not Cassandra; I was acne. It wasn't until I discovered makeup that I finally found my identity outside of it. I cleared my skin — now it's time to clear the entire slate."
While Bankson says she's been aware of her sexuality since she was a young girl ("I have memories of being four or five and having a crush on my third grade teacher"), she buried it in junior high, which was when her cystic acne emerged.
"That was a really big struggle for me," she says. "My acne at this point had taken over my life. I had been bullied in school, I was covered head to toe in breakouts, and I was trying so hard to make up for whatever I thought I lacked. I never felt beautiful or worthy or important."
Those insecurities led Bankson down a dark path of unworthiness, where she put on a mask to live up to society's expectations of her. Some of the stress, she admits, was self-imposed — but the other half of it stemmed from a very public career on YouTube.
Eventually I realized that I would rather go to hell than live in this hell.
"When I post online, people are watching me for who and what I am," Bankson says. "I felt a lot of pressure to keep quiet, especially after my videos started to blow up. All of a sudden, people were calling me a hero; an inspiration for helping them with their acne. But insecure me didn't feel like an inspiration. I felt like I had to step into that role. So here comes the materialism, buying the car I don't even like, and the Instagram boyfriend that everybody had."
Bankson played the part of successful YouTube influencer, wearing an invisibility cloak to hide the truth that was gradually bubbling to the surface. But when that inauthenticity began to trickle into her everyday life, affecting her relationships and her sense of self, she knew something had to change.
"Stress was a huge factor that contributed to my acne," she explains. "When you're dancing around pronouns and hiding half of your story, you become inauthentic. I stopped being honest in my vlog and sharing my day-to-day life, because I didn't want to say I was going on a date with a girl. Then I started taking brand sponsorships that weren't authentic. I felt like I was living a double life. I grew up in a strict family, but eventually I realised that I would rather go to hell than live in this hell."
Finally, Bankson decided it was time to stop hiding. She made a conscious choice to love every aspect of herself, and as she did, something amazing happened: "Once I started coming out to friends and family — which I did individually, one by one — my acne started to get better."
With her clear skin came a newfound confidence — one that led Bankson to finally feel comfortable sharing her coming out story with the world on YouTube.
"I've wanted to share but I've been afraid of alienating people, because I do have followers from the Midwest, India, and Southern America who have more conservative ideals," she says. "I know I shouldn't seek approval from anybody else, but we are human and we want to be loved and appreciated for who we are, so there is that fear that I won't get that."
She continues, "But I also have an obligation to be fully authentic. I struggled with self-harm growing up, and a lot of that stemmed from trying to mitigate my attraction to other women. I was destroying myself over something I can't change. Maybe this will be the wake up call to someone who is homophobic or hateful, to show that who I love doesn't change who I am."