Finding Beauty Behind the Mask
In an Instagram-driven, appearance-focused society, it's hard to be a young person. It's hard to achieve and maintain a level of self-love that will get you through the day when you're constantly comparing yourself and everyone around you to the highest, most Photoshopped standards of beauty.
The body positivity movement is rightly discussed a lot, with influencers like Alex Light and Jameela Jamil creating conversations about eating disorders and the mental consequences of weight gain, but I struggled throughout my teenage years to find someone to look up to who suffered from acne, like me.
According to the NHS, about 95% of 11 to 30-year-olds experience some form of acne. Of course, the severity of acne varies greatly, with some people noticing occasional mild symptoms and others suffering more frequently with lasting scarring. 95% is a lot; we need to tackle the associated myths so that the majority can learn to love themselves.
I've had acne since the age of 10, and now at 20, I still struggle. Over the years, I've received a lot of comments on it. Most of them have been throwaway, but they were enough to leave me thinking and not wanting to leave the house without a thick mask of make-up, if at all. Nowadays, I feel ready to have these conversations because I've realised there is no shame in having acne or struggling to shift it. It's very natural and extremely common. Where possible, I think we should help others find the beauty behind their own masks, whether these masks are physical layers of foundation and concealer or more mental blocks that shut off how they feel from the world around them.
The first huge myth is that acne is associated with poor hygiene - that if you wash your face, it magically falls off. Once, when talking about the implications of acne on mental health and how I'd been prescribed yet another cream from my GP, my best friend told me she didn't get spots because she remembered to wash her face every morning. She'd seen my bathroom cabinet filled with face washes and products, so she knew her observation was inaccurate as much as I did. But these little comments are the ones that stay with you, eating you away and making you ashamed of the skin you're in. Even if they're not meant as insults, they make you realise you're misunderstood. You know that no matter how hard you try, how many products you religiously cake on, the hours you spend staring in the mirror wishing it to go away, it's useless. You feel that no matter what, you'll have a life of people making instant judgements about you and your hygiene because the first thing they see when they meet you is your face.
According to Harvard Medical School, over-washing the skin can make acne worse, as can the overuse of most over-the-counter products. But peoples' preconceived assumptions (combined with clever product advertising) pressure people into feeling they have to go through it all anyway.
Another myth I heard a lot as a teenager was that acne was caused by a bad diet. As someone who already struggled with body image, as most young people do, this wasn't a helpful message to be exposed to. Healthcare specialists like Bupa acknowledge that a healthy diet improves overall well-being and contributes to improving acne. But they also emphasise that more evidence is needed before diet can be labelled as a cause. Spreading messages of this nature can be harmful – sufferers who are already desperate can be encouraged to start eating in a disordered way. Acne sufferers are prone to other psychological issues like depression, anxiety, and loneliness, so they are vulnerable enough.
In having conversations like these, that address the myths and the facts behind acne, we're normalising it – even though we shouldn't have to normalise something which is already normal. The 95% shouldn't have to feel uncomfortable in their own skin, in the most literal form of the phrase possible.
Until society manages to tackle its misconceptions, there are some ways you can feel better and beautiful. First, remember there's power in embracing acne - the more people embrace it, the less others will be afraid to. I'm not telling you to never buy skincare or concealer again, because that would be beyond hypocritical, but put as much effort into appreciating your natural self as you do your made-up skin. Don't avoid mirrors or airbrush your selfies. You're worth way more, and you shouldn't have to hide. Anyone who tries to make you doubt yourself or encourage you to smother your true self doesn't deserve you.