In February 2018, a gunman opened fire at Delaney Tarr's school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 of her classmates. In the weeks that followed, 18-year-old Tarr became one of the public-facing leaders of the gun-reform movement March for Our Lives, which began with a march in Washington, D.C., and led to Tarr and her classmates touring across America to speak to crowds of thousands. The weight of the past year and a half impacted Tarr in innumerable ways, from her mental health to her sleep schedule, and that stress manifested itself on her skin. Through the trauma, she learned that self-care — and even skin care — are essential to her healing, activism, and fight to change the world.
I started getting acne when I was in 6th grade, a lot earlier than most of my friends. One of the girls in my school was like, "Why don’t you just wash your face?" I was seeing a dermatologist, I was trying so hard — I couldn’t help it. I thought there was something fundamentally wrong with me and it hurt so much. It was before I even understood how to cover it up, so I thought I was stuck with it. I remember thinking, If I had one wish, it’d be to have perfect skin. Now, I'd be like, Girl, pick a better wish.
I stopped caring about what I looked like in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. That was very much thrown to the wayside. I was going on camera all sweaty, like, Screw it, I have a message to deliver. Then, March for Our Lives took a toll: not sleeping enough, not eating enough, eating just junk food for an entire summer. It ruins your skin. I’ve always had stress pimples, and it was really stressful to have all this vitriol thrown at me from media outlets and commenters.
Being on a public platform changed my acne both for the worse and for the better. I’ve had more stress in this year and a half than I’ve ever experienced. A lot of times, my makeup was a lot heavier because it was news-interview makeup. They glob it on you. Then, I was on planes all the time, and that dehydrates you and makes your skin worse. I wasn’t changing my routine at all. I was just thinking, I don’t have time, I’m just gonna keep going, who cares? I’ll cover it up more.
In the beginning, it was very hard to see myself on camera doing interviews and giving speeches. I am my own worst critic. I would see myself and pick out every single thing I didn’t like. Thankfully, that didn’t last forever. After a while, with all these people attacking me online, I got defiant about it. Like, Yeah, you hate me? Guess what? I love myself. I don’t need to cover this up. It was a way of proving the haters and critics wrong. Wearing makeup does make me feel powerful and confident, but so does not wearing makeup.
I’ve martyred myself because I thought that was the right thing to do when you’re trying to change the world, but it’s not.
At a lot of public events, I do feel a need to put on makeup to be ready to be seen by a crowd. But there's also a lot of young people who have told me that they look up to me. Knowing that I’m a role model, I need to be at peace with myself. I need to be conveying the right type of message — and if I’m not being authentic to myself and if I’m not loving myself, then I can’t be conveying that to anyone else.
There seems to be this idea that there’s activism and then there’s self-care, and you can choose one or the other. I reject that, because I have done it. I have tossed aside my self-preservation, I’ve tossed aside my self-care — I’ve martyred myself because I thought that was the right thing to do when you’re trying to change the world, but it’s not. It may not seem as pressing as climate change, as gun reform, as reproductive rights, but we can’t make change if we’re not taking care of ourselves first. Especially young people, especially queer people and women and trans communities and people of color. These are the communities that are attacked the most, and I think you can only put up a strong front if you are caring for yourself.
For me, I rely on my ritualistic skin-care routine. I take a lot of pleasure in taking off my makeup every day, washing my face, maybe doing a face mask. I realized that instead of attacking my face with all these products, I should try to be more delicate with my skin. It’s about treating my body like a careful ecosystem to be maintained, rather than something that I can throw anything at.
Right now, my acne is flaring up a little bit. I’m letting it breathe and I’m gonna do a few face masks, but I’m not mad at it. I’m not gonna hide myself away. The idea that I need to be this image of traditional beauty — it’s stupid. Beauty comes in so many different forms. I can have these spots and still be beautiful to myself and others. I’ve realized that there’s a lot more worth to me than what I look like. That helps me go out without makeup and know it does not determine my value or my contribution to the world.
This story was told to Rachel Lubitz and edited for length and clarity.