What Is Skin Positivity?

Becky Banham
By Becky Banham,
updated on Apr 17, 2020

What Is Skin Positivity?

There’s a growing social movement that’s championing skin in all its blemished nakedness. It’s encouraging people to rethink and cut out the shame that can come from having less-than-perfect skin

In a social media-driven world that prioritises perfection on screen, many of us can feel pressured to hold ourselves to conventional beauty standards. Thanks to the powers that be – makeup, lighting and photo-editing tools – it’s possible to erase any visible sign of ‘imperfection’.

However, for people struggling with skin conditions, this culture leaves little room for their sense of self-worth. It can, understandably, affect the way you feel about how you look.

The link between appearance and mental health

Each year, 13 million people in the UK visit their GP with a skin complaint. Yet, despite the huge number of people affected, there’s a culture of shame around skin conditions, particularly acne. Although teenagers can (and do) face stigma of their own, there are different social factors at play when you have skin problems later in life.

The impact on our wellbeing is vastly underestimated. In a recent survey by the British Skin Foundation, nine out of 10 dermatologists agreed that not enough importance is placed on the psychological effects of skin conditions.

However, thanks to a growing social media movement, there’s an alternative outlet that can help you to feel comfortable and confident in your own skin. Step forward skin positivity.

The movement took off in 2015 when vlogger Em Ford posted a video called You Look Disgusting online. It revealed all the daily trolling comments she received about her acne. Five years later, the video has had more than 32 million views.

The movement has gained so much traction that it’s now going beyond acne. It’s sticking two fingers up to the stigma, abuse, and embarrassment that can stem from a myriad of skin conditions – rosacea, eczema and dermatitis, to name a few.

To find out more, I spoke to Sarah Perkins, a skin positivity vlogger and creator of Skinstory – a journal that helps you to track patterns between your skin, and potential triggers.

“It’s almost impossible to go through life without experiencing some form of skin condition,” says Sarah. “And, thanks to the shame that comes with a visible skin condition, it’s more than just a physical condition. It affects your emotional wellbeing and confidence, too.

“Social media plays a huge part in this movement, and the more people that post their bare-faced selfies, the wider this message is spread.” And it really is a growing movement – at the time of writing, there are more than 50,000 posts tagged with #skinpositivity on Instagram.

More than a hashtag

Scrolling through these posts, I’m blown away by the amount of support that’s present. It’s more than just a hashtag, it’s a community. “Social media allows you to connect with others going through a similar time with their skin,” says Sarah. “It’s taught me that my old insecurities about my skin are shared by so many.”

One frequent topic in the captions and comments is acne medication. It seems that this is also a place for people to learn from one another. When I ask Sarah about this, she tells me that, for a while, there seemed to be two camps: those who only believed in the natural approach, and those that went for medication. There was something of a divide in the community.

“But, from speaking to thousands of others online, it’s clear that no two people have the same experience with their skin. And, for me, a combination of the two (and a serious dose of self-love) has been a game-changer,” says Sarah.

I think that’s the crux of the movement: self-love. Skin positivity isn’t about changing the appearance of your skin, it’s about changing the way you see your skin. Because your happiness shouldn’t rely on how good your skin is looking each day.

This isn’t a movement reserved for the realms of social media, though. Nor is it solely for people living with skin conditions. “To me, skin positivity is for anyone. Our attitude towards others with skin conditions needs to change, and that can be done by everyone,” says Sarah.

Perhaps the biggest influencer of skin positivity is the beauty industry – brands that can choose imagery showing ‘real’, unedited skin. Certainly, in the last few years, real skin has become more visible in advertising campaigns. Brands such as Urban Decay and ASOS have committed to using unretouched images to promote their products and, this year, Mattel unveiled a new Barbie doll with vitiligo, in a bid to broaden the diversity of its range. But there’s still a long way to go.

Until the rest of the world catches up with these trailblazers, the onus is on us to champion examples of skin positivity. So, try to buy from brands that promote diversity, and call-out those that aren’t doing enough.

And, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from this movement that I want you to take away, it’s this: to love yourself, no matter what your skin is doing today. The most important thing is that your self-worth is not at the mercy of your skin.

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