Life&Style’s Elizabeth Winter discusses the long overdue rise of the acne positivity movement, which is taking social media by storm

Written by Elizabeth Winter
Last updated

Having found its platform on social media, the body positivity movement has sky-rocketed over the past few years as an effort to normalise and appreciate individual differences and ‘imperfections’. The movement has rejected the social construct of beauty, believing that conventional depictions of attractiveness should be debunked and replaced by an appreciation of individuality. A multitude of skin ‘abnormalities’ such as stretch marks, cellulite and pigmentation have been celebrated through this movement. However, acne, a condition that around 80% of adolescents and 40% of adults will experience, is still lacking this overarching and much-needed normalisation and acceptance. Despite the condition being so common, media campaigns still refuse to feature models with acne. Even beauty promotions emphasising the importance of diversity will feature an array of models who, despite their physical differences, will still have one thing in common: the same crystal- clear, flawless complexion.

Let us first consider MAC cosmetics’ new advertisement, articulating the message that ‘modern beauty is as individual as you are’. Despite using a range of ages, races and sexes, there was not one model with any sign of acne to be displayed in the video. With both adolescent and adult acne remaining a prevalent condition, particularly among women, providing this audience with something to relate to would be highly influential in normalising the condition. However, with acne being rejected rather than embraced by the beauty sphere, and with the likes of ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures, society is hindering the effort towards accepting all skin types as beautiful.

Not only are makeup brands’ edited images of flawless skin unrealistic for many people, but they are potentially damaging for individuals that are already vulnerable to the fear of acne social stigma

Not only are makeup brands’ edited images of flawless skin unrealistic for many people, but they are potentially damaging for individuals that are already vulnerable to the fear of acne social stigma. Many people are still uneducated in the sense they are unaware that most people experience acne due to elements outside of their control. Indeed, puberty and hormonal factors often play a big part when it comes to acne, and some people are simply acne-prone, despite their best efforts to avoid it. This lack of knowledge and acceptance exhibited by influential brands and public figures in popular culture is, in part, responsible for this lack of widespread acceptance of acne.

Earlier this year, the British Journal of Dermatology released a report stating there is a 63% increased risk of depression in someone with acne compared to those with clear skin. My question is: if the media is so willing to uplift other forms of skin conditions, why is acne still considered to be some kind of taboo that can’t be put on the big screen? This lack of representation in popular culture is what can lead people with acne to feel as though they’re abnormal or don’t deserve mainstream portrayal. With such an emphasis on the importance of physical appearance in modern society, feeling excluded from what is considered attractive is incredibly debilitating, triggering people to isolate themselves.

Recently, however, acne has started to take centre stage in the body positivity movement, and has even led to the coining of its own term: ‘ the acne positivity movement’. This trending movement owes much to the likes of influencers such as Em Ford, whose prominence quickly followed after her YouTube video ‘YOU LOOK DISGUSTING’ went viral in 2015. The video expresses the Catch 22 of being a woman with acne: judgement prevails whether you are barefaced or are wearing a full face of makeup. Ford has since used her platform to create a community where people are encouraged to embrace their skin, understanding that it does not define them. Since social media has gained such drastic influence over the past few years, the impact of opening up about insecurities on these platforms is fundamental in giving acne-sufferers someone to identify with. In fact, influencers have been posting make-up free pictures of themselves to show off their acne, in light of the acne positivity movement. Celebrities such as Kendall Jenner have also spoken about acne through social media, as Jenner told her fans to ‘never let that sh*t stop you!’ in response to images where her acne is visible. Through the increasing number of beauty representatives offering honesty about their struggles with acne, a broader definition of body confidence will form, and will hopefully encompass every type of skin condition.

The body positivity movement, and the acne positivity movement, are  incredible products of modern culture, responsible for the welcoming of a diverse range of people into a broader sphere of media influence. Through the rise of acceptance and normalisation, both via social media and brand campaigns, positivity surrounding conditions such as acne will proliferate. Whether through online platforms or within smaller communities, people should be encouraged to understand that any physical feature they may deem an insecurity is simply a mark of individuality. And without such individuality, there is no beauty.