I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
Teal Swan is a self-made guru who calls herself “the spiritual catalyst.” She built a commune in Costa Rica for the “Teal Tribe,” a set of devoted followers culled from her roughly half-million online followers. She practices a Skype-enabled form of recovered memory therapy, believes she was raised in a Satanic cult, and has accused a family friend of stuffing her into a human corpse and then sewing it shut, forcing Teal to sleep inside — like a depraved human version of the Star Wars tauntaun scene. She says she can access the Akashic records, which are a compendium of all human knowledge, events, thoughts, and feelings through all time — so she literally believes that she knows everything. Some say she’s a savior. Others say she ruins lives.
But what I can’t stop thinking about are her pores.
Let’s back up. In the second episode of The Gateway — a six-part podcast from Gizmodo Media that investigates Teal’s wildly unorthodox (and possibly dangerous) ideas — reporter Jennings Brown visits the Teal Tribe commune. In the background, people undergoing recovered-memory therapy scream in terror. Followers tell stories of abandoning their lives, families, and homes for Teal Swan. How could one person possibly inspire that level of devotion? I wondered. In her interviews with Brown, Teal has a flat affect and monotone chuckle. I couldn’t understand it. So I Googled Teal Swan, and discovered that she is a stone-cold hottie with perfect skin. This still didn’t explain anything, but I did find myself wondering how she gets her skin so good. So I started watching Teal’s hypnotic self-help videos, which she builds around frequently searched phrases of desperation like “I want to kill myself,” “How do I kill myself,” “How do I not kill myself” — and, um, “How to cure acne”?
Teal Swan believes in mind-body integration. Most medical problems are symptoms of spiritual distress, she says, and acne is one of them; heal your soul, and your complexion will improve. “You can consider clogged organs, like the liver, a primary manifestation of the suppressed and clogged and repressed emotions,” Teal explains in her acne video. “And you could consider the pimple a secondary manifestation of that original pattern of suppressing, denying your negative emotions.” This presents a pretty terrible double whammy for the emotionally distressed — to be miserable and hideous simultaneously, with each condition exacerbating the other, is a vicious cycle. Also, one of Teal’s essential practices, “breath work,” requires practitioners to “breath through your pores.” She calls pores “tiny chakras,” and says that if they’re clogged, they can clog your entire spiritual flow.
Just to be clear, this is bullshit. Since Teal thinks she knows everything — literally — she claims to be a “medical savant” with “medical intuition” better than most doctors. Practically, this means she’s just sort of making stuff up, based on what feels right.
But is Teal’s “medical intuition” really so different from the pseudoscientific stuff I do to my face every day, with the hope that a jade roller or snail mucus will preserve my youth and make me beautiful? Skin care is, essentially, an intuition-based form of medicine that everyone practices on themselves. I don’t know why flawless skin seems like it would improve my life, but I am completely certain that it would. I perform elaborate rituals involving jade rollers and snail mucus. I purchased a pore vacuum. At my nadir, I considered paying $90 for a single ounce of snake oil: Rodial’s Snake Oil Booster, which “mimics the effects of the temple viper’s venom, giving a mild freeze like effect to the skin.” And then I realized that I was completely insane and had brainwashed myself — without even getting a cute commune on Costa Rica to show for it.
In the sixth episode of The Gateway, Teal Swan tells Brown that she is X-raying his body while they speak. “I’m watching the blood going through your veins. I’m watching the way your heart is pumping. I’m watching your digestive system. I can see your bones. If I zoom in, I can look at specific genetics if you’d like me to.” I gasped in horror when I heard her say this. (I also gasped in horror when a follower spoke in tongues and Teal said she understood him perfectly. Seriously, you’ve got to listen to this podcast.) But I also recognized it, a little: When I stand in front of the bathroom mirror, performing whatever ridiculous skin-care ritual I read about most recently, I often fool myself into thinking that I can see my skin cells plumping up from moisture, or firming up from collagen, or glowing from — I don’t even know, just glowing, I guess?
I think about breathing through my pores, and X-raying my skin, every time I wash my face. Teal Swan has only been in my life for a couple of months, but she is in it every morning and night. And it’s horrible. I’d like to get rid of Teal Swan, but I can’t. My inner monologues of sneaking suspicions and vanity and self-obsession are now spoken in Teal Swan’s monotone voice. My mind has been sewn into a corpse of Teal Swan, and I cannot escape.