Instagram influencers are normalising real skin, hallelujah.
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What is skin supposed to look like? Do you know? If you were to consult Instagram, you would think it should be perfectly smooth and poreless, with no blemishes or wrinkles to speak of. On some level, we know this isn’t the truth, but that hasn’t stopped the falsehood burrowing into our brains. I don’t know about you, but I’m so used to seeing photos of putty-smooth skin that I get a shock when I notice that someone hasn’t edited out their pores or redness. Should that be there? Is that normal? It’s hard to tell, sometimes.
While we’ve more or less accepted FaceTune as part and parcel of social media, a growing number of Instagrammers are fighting back against the filters. The #SkinPositivity movement champions real skin in all its forms, and want to shake off the stigma and embarrassment that can stem from skin conditions like acne, rosacea, and eczema. It also aims to normalise wrinkles, pores, hyperpigmentation, and texture, and remind the world that what unretouched skin looks like.
One of the early adaptors of #SkinPositivity was influencer Em Ford (@mypaleskinblog), whose 2015 viral video ‘You Look Disgusting’ detailed some of the horrible comments she had received about her acne. “I wanted to create a film that showed how social media can set unrealistic expectations on both women and men,” she explained at the time.
“[As] a society, we’re so used seeing false images of perfection and comparing ourselves to unrealistic beauty standards that it can be hard to remember the most important thing – you ARE beautiful.”
The skin positivity movement has blossomed in the five years since Em’s video, resulting in a new wave of influencers and celebrities who are open about their perceived ‘flaws’. Kim Kardashian regularly shows the world her psoriasis flare-up0s, while here in Ireland, Rosie Connolly has spoken out about her struggles with acne.
Beauty influencer Jen Morris (@jen.morris) has suffered from atopic dermatitis, a condition that causes red and itchy skin, since she was a child. Since her late teens, it’s appeared “almost exclusively” on her face, something she’s self-conscious about. “I would have open sores on my face and eyes and it really affected my self-esteem,” she tells STELLAR. “Stress made me flare-up, so if I had an event or god forbid, a disco, the stress of a potential flare-up would bring on a flare-up.”
She used to avoid posting on Instagram when her atopic dermatitis was at its worst, but after one particularly bad flare-up, she felt she “didn’t have a choice” but to get real with her 30,000 followers about her skin issues.
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“I had a really bad flare-up to the point that the skin had actually cracked in the crease of both my eyelids,” Jen says. “I came on to Instagram Stories to explain why I hadn’t been posting for ages and I broke down. Now, I’m not one to cry on IG Stories but it was like something came over me and I was sharing this with my friends. I continued to post and tell people about the struggles I was having with my skin and it was really cathartic. The amount of responses I got was overwhelming, especially from people who were in the same boat. It was at that moment that I decided I was going to try and resolve my issues with my skin and document my findings.”
It’s no coincidence that this new openness around skin issues has coincided with a period of enormous growth in the skincare industry. The global skincare market was valued at nearly $135 billion in 2018, with analysis firm Trefis estimating that it will reach $180 billion over the next few years. While the makeup giants are feeling the effects of an oversaturated market – Anastasia Beverly Hills reported a 30 percent drop in sales in the first quarter of 2019, while Kylie Cosmetics saw a 62 percent decrease in revenue in 2018 – the hunger for skincare has only grown.
The average consumer’s knowledge of skincare has grown, too. Whereas before you had to go to a beauty counter to learn about a product, now you can go online and read any number of reviews. You can look up information on active ingredients. You can watch YouTube videos of people sharing the results of a particular serum.
Pretty packaging and fancy scents don’t dazzle us anymore – the products have to work.
Corinna Tolan, owner of Monica Tolan Beauty & Skin Clinics (monicatolan.com), says her clients are now much more clued-in about skincare. “Only yesterday, one of my Instagram followers sent me a message – and she was right – about the Vitamin A content in a product, that it would have been destroyed by light coming through the bottle,” she says. “I feel sorry for anyone in the industry that has one of my followers coming into their clinic, because there’s a good chance that they know more than them. They realise that skincare should actually make physical changes in the skin, so they want to seek that out.”
Instagram is reflecting this change in outlook. The super-glam, heavily filtered looks of a few years ago seem dated – the new cool is all about seeming ‘effortless’ inspired by skincare brands like Glossier and Drunk Elephant. Users flock to ‘skinfluencers’ for in-depth product reviews and advice on specific skin complaints. By scrolling through the carefully constructed shelfies of millennial pink products and images of dewy, blemish-free skin, you could say that we’ve traded one impossible beauty standard for another.
This is why skin positivity is important. It acknowledges the fact that ‘perfect’ skin, skin that’s devoid not just of spots or dry patches but wrinkles, pores and texture, does not exist on this earth. It shows us that we’re not alone in our skin issues, and it’s possible if not to embrace them, to accept them as part of being human.
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For this message to truly sink in, the world has to loosen its grip on filters and FaceTune. Jen has followed the lead of UK makeup artist Katie Jane Hughes, who makes a point of not editing out her pores or skin texture before posting her looks online. “I definitely use FaceTune along with other apps to make my images look vibrant and crisp, but I’m really into close-ups where you can see some pores and imperfections,” she says. “I just hate the thought of someone looking through Instagram and feeling like crap, when the person they are looking at has edited their image to within an inch of its life.”
All this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t seek out treatment for skin conditions. But if you are having a bad skin day, or week, or month, know that it is totally normal, and you don’t need to hide yourself away. “It’s all about self-love,” says Jen. “You shouldn’t be defined by a skin condition you can’t control.”
The makeup artist extraordinaire has normalised showing pores and skin texture on the ‘gram.
The beauty YouTuber does full Insta-glam, without filtering or editing out her acne.
Lex posts about dealing with rosacea, a skin condition that leaves her face red, hot, and irritated.
Photographer Peter shoots beautiful portraits of people with ‘imperfections’ like acne, scarring and hyperpigmentation.