Acne Positivity

If you search Instagram for #acne you won’t find that the most popular post is an ad for a cleanser, acne treatments, or a makeup tutorial on how to keep acne hidden. Instead you’ll find body image activists like Em Ford (@mypaleskinblog), Hailey Wait (@pigss), and Kali Kushner (@myfacestory). The same way that body-positivity bloggers encourage the embracement of stretch marks, the “pro acne” and “acne positivity” community is pushing back on skin-shaming on social media right now that we all need to celebrate.

Side by Side comparison with of Kali Kusher with no acne captioned "beautiful" (on left) and picture of Kali Kushner with cystic acne captioned "Still beautiful" (on right.)
Courtesy of @myfacestory

The Start

Many have traced the movement to British blogger Ford, who posted a video on YouTube called You Look Disgusting in 2015. It showed her in full makeup and bare-faced with her acne visible while also showing comments people had posted about her skin: “WTF is wrong with her face?”, “Her face is so ugly”, “Ewww, gross, horrible ugly…”. In the first week alone, it gained a total of 10 million views. Today, Ford has over one million followers and regularly shares photos of her acne—completely makeup-free. She publicly hits back at anyone who tells her she should address her “skin issues.”

Wait has 135,000 followers on Instagram and in her close-up selfies show breakout scars, and her followers adore her for it: “She makes (acne) beautiful again,” one commenter wrote. Another said: “Thank you. You made me love me and love my acne.” Wait says, “I got tired of waking up each morning and covering my skin up, and over time I noticed that it only made my acne worse. I needed to let my skin breathe, and so as an experiment I started posting selfies on my Instagram that showed my acne. I was expecting loads of hate, but at the time I had a small but very loyal following, and instead of being disgusted, the majority of the feedback I got was praise.”

The Movement

Kushner, from Cincinnati Ohio, began documenting her struggle with acne on her private Instagram including her experience with the drug Accutane, dermarolling, makeup, scarring, hyperpigmentation, along with all the ways people have responded to her acne, from her husband, who has always been supportive, to the traffic officer who assumed she was a junkie. “At the end of the day I washed off my makeup,” she recalls. “My nephew said: ‘Why is your face so dirty?’ It took me a minute to realize he saw my foundation as a ‘clean face’ and acne as dirt.” When she made her page public, it was an act of defiance. “If anything, my account was a rebellion against the typical beauty blogger accounts at the time,” she says. “There is no curation taking place, no filters, angles, and certainly no Photoshop. It was and always has been about keeping it real. It was a call against stereotypical standards of beauty, saying you don’t need X/Y/Z to be beautiful. All you need is you.”

Close up of man with acne with black, strike-though, type "retouch, retouch, retouch, retouch."
Courtesy of @peterdevito

The acne-positivity movement seeks to educate those who still believe that acne is a problem for the unwashed and unhealthy. 60 million Americans have active acne, 20% of whom are adults. Out of the 85% of young adults (between ages 12 and 24) who have acne, 25% will have physical scars that may last a lifetime. In a society that values clear skin—whether it’s achieved though amazing genetics, treatments like Accutane, or mastering the art of makeup and FaceTune—acne and acne scars can have an impact on everyone’s mental health.

According to a study published by The New York Times, people with acne are at a greater risk for depression. British researchers also found that people with acne have a 63% increased risk of depression during their first year of acne compared to those without it. Researchers concluded that acne has a “substantial” impact on a person’s mental health.

Close up on man with acne and letter stickers on top of acne that say Kendrick Lamar lyrics, "I'm so fucking sick and tired of the photoshop"
Courtesy of @peterdevito

Acne photographs went even more viral in December 2017 when FIT student, Peter DeVito, shot a photo series of unedited skin close-up emblazoned with phrases like “acne is normal” and “retouch” Supermodel Cara Delevigne reposted one of DeVito’s photos, adding, “It’s so wrong that if I had taken that picture of myself, then I wouldn’t have posted it.”

Wide-Spread Acceptance

Celebrities have also gone on to embrace their acne as well. Kendall Jenner hit the Golden Globes red carpet earlier this year with most noticing her breakouts. The digital public overwhelming applauded her for her confidence and showing everyone that acne is both common and indiscriminate. One fan wrote, “Ok but @KendallJenner showing up and strutting her acne while looking like a gorgeous star is what every girl needs to understand.” Jenner responded, “never let that shit stop you!”

Truth Be Told…

People will always have something to say, whether it be negative or positive, no matter what you do or post or say, so that’s important to keep in mind. The pro-acne community has been able to educate those who were once ignorant on the subject. Social media platforms have felt a lot more accepting and understanding when it comes to this topic. In the era of body positivity, we often forget to include our skin in that category as well. As more and more beauty and skin care accounts as well as celebrities continue to be open and honest about their acne struggles and are attempting to normalize it, the scope of body positivity would broaden. And even while attempting to clear your skin, the goal is to accept and embrace your skin throughout every phase of the journey to clear or not-so-clear skin.