Extending the body positivity movement to skin

Illustration of different skin types
Kelsey Choe/File

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Most of us have seen the body positivity movement blow up, a push to deconstruct societal ideas of the perfect body — the thin, Eurocentric, size zero model — and promote self-love and body acceptance for women of all different shapes and sizes. Celebrities, influencers and everyday users of social media alike are taking to TikTok and Instagram to post unedited pictures and videos of themselves without flattering lighting and angles as a way of celebrating how their natural bodies really look on a daily basis, thereby teaching us that stretch marks, fat rolls, cellulite, body hair and other so-called “imperfections” are all perfectly normal and beautiful.

A corollary to the body positivity movement — the acne positivity movement — has started to pick up steam as well, sparking conversations about acne representation in the media and popular culture. The movement seeks to destigmatize acne and redefine beauty in a way that normalizes not having crystal-clear and dewy skin, but rather embraces pimples, scars and other blemishes. 

I remember my middle school years as a time when everyone around me was going through the motions of puberty, which more often than not was also accompanied by the development of acne. As a late bloomer, I prided myself on my blemish-free complexion, that is until I started my freshman year of high school and watched as my hormones worked to create constellations of pimples that dotted my forehead and cheeks. 

The pain of having acne is both physical and mental. The culture of shame and embarrassment that surrounds such a common condition led me to feel less beautiful when my skin was breaking out. I constantly needed to apply concealer on any red “imperfections” I saw on my skin before I left the house, afraid of baring my naked face in public and being mercilessly judged for any perceived flaw. For so long, I let acne undermine my social life, bailing on plans to go out with friends when I saw a pimple I couldn’t cover up. Making eye contact during a conversation was a daily battle for me, my mind anxiously working to determine whether or not the person I was talking to thought I was disgusting for the pimples adorning my complexion. 

My bathroom cabinets still overflow with all of the skincare products I tried over the years to permanently get rid of my acne and acquire that airbrushed glow without makeup. The experiences I missed out on and the memories I failed to make because I was too self-conscious about my skin still haunt me. 

As I’ve aged, I’ve finally learned to accept that some days, my skin may appear agitated and inflamed, and other days, it will look calm and clear. The intricacies of my hormones, diet, water intake and stress levels all combine to determine how my face looks one day versus the next.

I no longer subscribe to labels such as “good” or “bad” skin, but rather see skin for what it is: a protective barrier that helps shield and protect us from outer threats. I’ve shifted my perspective on my acne from a “dirty anomaly” to something completely normal and natural that I refuse to let burden me with shame or anxiety. I’ve entered into the realm of “neutral ambivalence” rather than a hysteric frenzy whenever I see pimples crop up. I now understand that my skin doesn’t define my beauty — especially not my skin on some random Monday night before I start my period — and doesn’t deserve to hold me back from living my life to its fullest. 

Contact Madeleine Lorie at [email protected].