A quick scroll through Instagram is more likely to show you people with sculpted abs and glowing skin than someone with unwashed hair nipping down Tesco.
As much fun as Instagram is, it’s not exactly the best representation of life. But now, there’s a growing movement of acne positivity with people posting unfiltered photos of their skin. It’s to show that not everyone is blessed with a perfect complexion, and there’s really no need to Photoshop your blemishes.
We spoke to two proponents of the movement – Hailey Wait and Hannah Shields – to find why they are embracing this new form of body positivity.
As anyone who has suffered from acne knows, it can have a huge impact on your self-confidence and sense of self-worth.
Wait, an 18-year-old artist, suffers from cystic acne, which means she gets large, painful breakouts below the surface of her skin. “I felt discouraged and ugly and unlovable,” she says, of a particularly bad period. Which is sadly the kind of feelings shared by many sufferers.
Shields, a 25-year-old office worker, has had acne for as long as she can remember. She says: “There was never a time where I wasn’t picking or popping my latest pimple. I found make-up when I was around 13 years old in an attempt to cover them.”
Wait can’t explain what spurred her to first post an un-Photoshopped selfie, but what she does know is why she’s continued to do so. “Soon after I first posted, I was flooded with comments about how brave I was,” she says.
“Some people started saying it was inspirational, and that’s when I realised it was bigger than me. This was something the world needed to see. People were tired of hiding their faces and people were tired of being told that acne made them ugly (which it doesn’t!).”
Shields started her blog a year before her wedding, to document the progress of her acne. She says: “My skin blog was a journey to get clear skin, but it turned into something more. The more I posted, it became a journey of acceptance for me as a whole – not just my acne.”
Women we see on TV and in magazines tend to have flawless skin – this unfortunately is the beauty standard that we’re held to. However, most people don’t have perfect pores and a dewy glow, so it’s really brave that Wait and Shields are showing off their skin in all its natural glory.
Wait says: “I have received so many messages from people all over the world who were inspired to go make-up free, and they sent me their own acne selfies.” However, not everyone was so positive.
She adds: “Some people didn’t like it, and even though I was getting so much love and support, it was hard to ignore the negativity. I got so much acne advice from strangers who knew nothing about me or my skin or the steps I was taking to get rid of my acne. Some people said it was just a marketing ploy, and many people sent straight up rude and hateful things.” Instagram does have tools in place to prevent bullying or threatening behaviour on the platform, but it’s difficult to eliminate all negativity.
Shields has been a bit luckier with the reaction, and says: “I have only ever received positive reactions from my skin posts.”
Even though there are some internet trolls who don’t appreciate seeing acne positive posts, Wait is determined not to let them get her down.
She says: “I think it’s super-important to share unfiltered photos showing your acne. There is not a single person on this planet with 100% perfect skin — except maybe newborn babies — so why are we held to that standard of perfection? Why is there so much importance placed on us to look perfect, even though that is never humanly possible?
“It’s important to be real with yourself. There’s a beauty in every single one of us that is so unique and yet we all mask it up behind creams and foundations and concealers, so we can all get that ‘perfect’ skin.”
For Shields, posting selfies of her skin helped her learn a bit more self-love and acceptance. Like Wait, she continues to do so because she hopes she can help inspire others to embrace their “little quirks that society or social media tells us isn’t the norm”.