The desire for flawless skin is far from being ancient history, although ancient history is precisely when this misconstrued aspiration dates back to. From using urine to fade freckles, and arsenic, lead, mercury, and leeches to achieve a pale, porcelain-like skin color, women have gone to great lengths to alter their skin’s appearance throughout time.
Light skin remained a signifier of high societal status in the 20th century, causing skin-lightening and bleaching treatments to popularize in beauty industry advertisements, with one ad, in particular, equating lighter skin with “lovelier” skin.
Fast forward to 1968; Vogue magazine featured a front-page headline reading: “Cellulite, the New Word for Fat You Couldn’t Lose Before.” As the first publication to print the term, some consider Vogue responsible for the fabrication and scrutiny of cellulite, calling it “a fashionable new way for American women to hate their bodies.” Moreover, in her best selling book, The Beauty Myth, author and feminist journalist Naomi Wolf maintains that this resulted in society’s propensity to reclassify “healthy adult female flesh” as an invented “condition.”
To this day, skin conditions have always existed, but many weren’t considered a problem that required fixing until mainstream media told us they were. Despite the commonality of cellulite and other utterly normal skin variations, we have been subconsciously trained to view such natural occurrences as “ugly” and something to be ashamed of. How do we normalize what once was, and should always have been, regarded as normal?
The stigma and discrimination that shadow skin conditions stem from what society and the media decide beautiful is.
Psoriasis, for instance, is an oftentimes hereditary autoimmune disease in which skin cells build up and form dry, scaly patches on the skin. Psoriasis affects approximately 7.5 million people in the United States, even the model, Kim Kardashian.
Kardashian recently launched a body foundation as a part of her KKW Beauty line, which she uses to cover up psoriasis on her legs. Although the socialite’s perspective on her psoriasis is commendable with claims stating, “I’ve learned to live with and not be insecure of my psoriasis,” and “I’m learning to just accept it as part of who I am,” model and body positivity activist Jameela Jamil begs to differ.
The KKW Beauty website uses buzzwords in the product’s description, “Skin Perfecting Body Foundation works to blur imperfections, enhance skin tone and provide a flawless finish for any look,” which may allude to Jamil’s opinion that the cover-up collection is adding to societal pressures for women to look flawless.
On her Instagram, Jamil says she’s “[s]eeing more and more companies sell *always marketing just at women* makeup that is for your body, to cover all your ‘flaws,’” while highlighting that certain beauty products “can make some skin conditions worse.”
In a time where social media consistently infiltrates our psyche with subliminal messages of inadequacy, some are using the platform for good with the skin positivity movement.
In the same fashion in which the body positivity movement challenges society’s construct of the “perfect body” by embracing all body shapes and sizes (and even stretch marks), the skin positivity movement is following suit to destigmatize skin “imperfections”—especially acne.
Many women are taking to Instagram to post make-up free and unfiltered or unretouched selfies showcasing their skin, breakouts and all. The acne positive community uses hashtags like #AcneIsNormal to erase the shame that surrounds the most common skin condition that occurs in 50 million Americans annually, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
Consultant dermatologist Dr. Anjali Mahto told The Independent, “Skin positivity is about confidence, self-love, and reducing the stigma and shame that can be associated with visible skin conditions such as acne, scarring, or birthmarks to name a few.”
For some, the sense of community and the transparency behind skincare treatments help to make skin positivity the norm and show those dealing with skin conditions that they are not alone. Glamour magazine spoke to Carrie Reichardt, a 25-year-old residing in New York City about the acne positivity moment: “Even for those who don’t get regular breakouts, acne positivity can help put those rare zits in perspective.” From Reichardt’s standpoint, “I think the idea of acne positivity also invites people to talk about their acne and not feel ashamed to ask for help.”
Some skin conditions like psoriasis and vitiligo are permanent, while others such as acne are temporary. Even so, our skin is constantly evolving, thereby age spots or scars may eventually take the place of zits. Instead of striving for perfect, flawless skin, let’s strive to be ourselves and love the skin we’re in. It’s time we recognize that skin conditions are natural and make different skin types the norm.