Skin shaming is real and just as harmful as the quest for the perfect body. Here's how to counter it.
As the editor covering the beauty beat at Well+Good, I spend my days testing out new products, poring over new studies, and talking to experts, all to help readers get glowing skin.
But here’s my secret: No matter how careful I am, I still get pimples (just like 85 percent of the population, which deals with hormonal breakouts, cystic acne, or straight-up monster zits on the reg). I’m doing everything “right”—I’ve cut triggers like dairy from my diet and follow a beauty regimen that would make a facialist jealous—and yet, they still appear.
For a while, I couldn’t help but feel ashamed; every pimple was a sign to the world that I was a failure, both as a beauty editor and as a healthy person. In other words, I was skin-shamed—and I know I’m not alone.
“Most of the time, it’s not the fact that we have a new zit that’s depressing; it’s the fact that we have an actual ‘imperfection’ staring us right in the face,” says Priscilla Tsai, the founder of organic skin-care line Cocokind who struggles with hormonal acne herself. “It’s an upfront reminder that we aren’t perfect, much like the feeling of not fitting into your favorite jeans feels. Being face-to-face—literally—with these imperfections can consume us and make us feel really down.”
The truth is that your acne may not ever go away, so trying to achieve “perfect” skin is akin to the quest for a “perfect” body—it’s not idealistic, it’s detrimental to your self-esteem, and it sets an unfair standard. (And it can make things worse—stress acne, anyone?)
And there are some big names leading the skin-acceptance charge. This past October, Lena Dunham took to Twitter to post, “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, hormonal acne is IN.” (It got nearly 100 comments from people lauding the realness she just dished and echoing her sentiments.) At a time when filters make everyone on social media seem like they have enviable complexions, it’s refreshing to hear a more realistic truth.
So I’ve decided to banish skin-shaming from my life in 2017—and I invite you to join me.
Here’s what you need to know about taking a hard look in the mirror…and being cool with what you see.
Who’s ready for a skin acceptance movement?
Much like your body type, your skin type isn’t something you can control. “Your skin has less to do with external factors than [it does] genetics,” says Tsai. In other words, just like you can’t control your height, you shouldn’t feel so let down if you’ve always got a blemish sprouting on your chin.
“Anytime we ‘fight’ something, it creates more suffering,” says Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW, and psychotherapist. “That’s why I think that acceptance is key. Fighting our reality often causes us to feel even worse. Not only that, but we’re taught by societal beauty standards that things like acne or cellulite are ‘unattractive.'”
The one thing you can always count on is that your pimples are temporary. There isn’t a zit that doesn’t eventually go away (though it can sometimes feel like forever). “Patience can be a really difficult thing when it comes to acne,” says Tsai. “Nowadays, I think I’ve experienced it all with my skin, so I know it’s going to go away.”
Dare to go bare
In light of the trend of more women ditching their makeup for the natural look, the idea of not wearing makeup even when you have pimples may sound too bold—yet it’s not unheard of.
“Women are expected to maintain the ‘perfect illusion’ through Instagram and conceal their pimples,” says Neta Elam, co-founder (along with her brother Elad) of clothing brand Urban Sophistication, which makes a seriously cool sweatshirt that says “Free the Pimple” (Dunham rocked one on Instagram back in 2016). “For us, what really matters at the end of the day is feeling comfortable in your own skin, whether that’s with or without makeup. I believe that people who accept their acne and don’t feel the need to cover it up [helps to] empower others who feel obligated to cover theirs.”
It’s a sentiment that Rollin echoes: “Being a powerful woman is ultimately about being able to sit with your experiences of vulnerability. I have seen more of a trend of women going out barefaced and confident, and this inspires others to embrace themselves fully—perceived flaws and all.” Plus, as Tsai notes, “The truth is, other people aren’t really seeing your pimples—you’re the only one who zeroes in on them.”
Healthy skin vs. perfect skin
Though the path to a clear complexion can be frustrating, one thing’s certain: If you’re doing everything you’re supposed to—including eating the right foods, managing stress, and incorporating beneficial ingredients into your beauty routine—you’ll have healthy skin.
And that’s really the most important thing. “There’s no product that can substitute for a healthy lifestyle,” says Tsai. “The topic of skin care is really about your health.”
Besides, there might be some good to come out of your breakouts—just ask Tsai. “The truth is, Cocokind wouldn’t exist if I didn’t have acne,” she says. “It was my skin-care journey toward getting healthier skin that led me to create this brand. I have a lot to be thankful for with acne.”
So next time you feel a pimple brewing, try to be easy on yourself. I know that I will. As Dunham recently said in an Instagram story: “In some cultures, aggressive cystic pimples in twin chin locations are a harbinger of great luck!”
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