Perfect365. Facetune. YouCam Perfect. The relentless rise of the selfie has brought with it a legion of apps with skin-smoothing filters, each one designed to airbrush your complexion to perfection.
But there is a flipside. Just as the online body-positivity movement has been able to slowly affect a broader cultural shift, even motivating brands and designers to be more inclusive, skin positivity is following suit.
Women are opening up about their acne or burn scars or psoriasis on Instagram and YouTube, raising consciousness and understanding along the way. Let us introduce you to the women who are keeping it really real.
“Vitiligo can be as beautiful as art”
Ashley Soto, 22, @radiantbambi
Ashley Soto discovered she had vitiligo (a condition that causes the skin to lose colour in blotches) when she was 12, and quickly learned it was incurable. “All I wore were long sleeves and trousers,” she says. “Jumpers and leggings became my security blanket.”
Eventually she found a way to dispel the shame about her condition: she turned it into art. “One day I started tracing the vitiligo spots on my arm. I thought, ‘Wow, it’s like a little map,’” she says.
“I ended up tracing my whole body and posted it to show people that vitiligo can be beautiful.” She was overwhelmed by the response – the image was re-posted thousands of times. “People were messaging me and tracing their own vitiligo,” she says. “Posting about it has given me inspiration and changed the way I look at other people, too. Every time someone stares at me for a little too long, I don’t automatically think it’s something negative. I’m more understanding.”
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“I no longer need makeup to feel confident”
Sophia Ridlington, 23, @sophiaridlington_mua
At 17, Sophia Ridlington started getting flare-ups of her psoriasis (a chronic condition that can cause skin cells to build up in scaly patches), especially when she was stressed or the weather was cold. “Stress is the worst cause for me and because I suffer from an anxiety disorder too, flare-ups are very common,” she says. Moisturising with coconut oil helps, but Sophia started camouflaging her psoriasis with makeup because she felt pressure to hide it. “It was a tough time: I heard I was disgusting every day, and it really affected my confidence,” she says.
It was sharing a before-and-after shot online that finally shifted her mindset. “With each picture I posted, my confidence grew,” she says of the support she received from fellow psoriasis sufferers (who often hashtag selfies #psoriasiswarrior or #getyourskinout). Connecting with a global community helped Sophia use makeup-less as a defense mechanism and more as a tool for achieving her career goals: she’s now a makeup artist. She’ll happily give advice on how to cover flare-ups to followers if they ask, but says, “I no longer feel the need to cover up all the time. Now I see makeup as a form of expression.”
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“It was amazing to realise I wasn’t alone”
Cassandra Bankson, 25, @cassandrabankson
For those who have to contend with acne, the struggle is real. It’s not just teenagers; the number of adults in the UK seeking treatment for acne has increased by 200% and, while there’s a whole industry devoted to treating and covering it up, many women are no longer trying to hide it. YouTuber Cassandra Bankson is one of them. She first got severe acne as a teen, “People would tell me I was hard to look at; I never wanted to be near a mirror.”
She had seen more than 20 dermatologists before going online to find solidarity, making a YouTube video showing her makeup-free face as well as the products she used to cover her breakouts. “I didn’t look at the comments for maybe four months, I was so terrified of the reaction,” she says. “But when I finally logged on, people were being so kind, telling me I’d inspired them. One woman said I’d helped fix her marriage because she’d been afraid to take her makeup off in front of her husband. All of a sudden I was surrounded by people who knew what I was going through.”
Cassandra’s complexion has improved since she started her channel, a change she partly credits to her diet (“first I cut out dairy, then went vegan”). But that’s not what has given her confidence. “Once I started loving my skin online, even when it was covered in acne, I was able to start loving my image offline too. I went out without makeup and didn’t care. This community showed me I’m beautiful.”
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