There is a moment in Eighth Grade – Terza Media (2018), Bo Burnham’s film about a socially clumsy 13-year-old teenager and her final week of middle school, in which Kayla is lying on her bed, alone, endlessly scrolling through various social media feeds with theteenage acne – with pimples under the skin & Co. – highlighted by the smartphone light.
It’s not a particularly extraordinary moment, yet it stands out precisely because something like this it is rarely shown on the big screen. Since both in the cinema and on television, middle and high school characters are played by glossy and polished actors, who have long since no longer belonged to what in English they call teenage years, it does not happen often to see the real daily ‘pimply’ reality of teenage skin, or even post-adolescent. But Eighth Grade – Terza Media, as well as other films including Lady Bird (2017), marked a shift in the representation of acne in the media. It was a kind of turnaround. The culmination of something that was already simmering online with the dialogue about body positivity which was finally also touching the topic of leather.
Free the pimple (aka ‘let’s free the pimple’)
In early 2018, activists such as the founder of the hashtag #freethepimple, Lou Northcote, they started forming an online movement for the purpose of de-stigmatizing acne and encouraging people to accept the skin he has. They did this by showing photos of themselves not retouched and in which they appeared without makeup, thus revealing their natural skin, and encouraging those who followed them to do the same. Even celebrities were starting to open up by speaking candidly about their difficulties. Models like Adwoa Aboah, Kendall Jenner e Iris Law, usually seen as untouchable figures of a perfection to aspire to, shared their stories of skin problems. Even Justin Bieber declared “pimples are in”(Pimples under the skin and are not in fashion) to his 142 million followers on Instagram. It was finally time to face the stigma.
Then, in the midst of this new wave of pimples positivity, some beauty brands arrived that tried to translate the debate into products. Brand of pimple patches such as Squish, Starface e ZitSticka arrived on the market in 2019 offering patch with active ingredients and fun shapes, designed to counteract even the most stubborn boils. Definitely different from the sterile and undoubtedly not very sexy treatments of the past. Fighting pimples could now turn into a fanciful gesture, covering them with small stickers in the shape of a flower and star rather than with creams, toothpaste or – if in public – layers and layers of corrector.
“Squish and Starface revolutionized the market, especially for Gen Z”, Says Clare Varga, Head of the beauty area for the trend forecast company WGSN. “It’s not about making pimples cool – even if in a way they can – it’s about making people stop feeling like they have to hide them.” Northcote agrees and says he loves this new trend of playful acne products. “For years, this product category has always had a medical aspect while all the others dedicated to skincare they were cute. Changing approach helped make acne products pretty and cute too”.
A coverage by beauty industry
But, although steps are being taken in the right direction, there is still a long way to go and we need to ensure that the dialogue continues. The ideals of beauty are deeply rooted in both the beauty industry that in our culture in general and perhaps these brands are simply putting a “patch” – after all this is what patch means – on what is the biggest problem, namely what, and who, it is presented as an aspirational in the media. Seeing gorgeous models, in the traditional sense of the word, sporting adorable patches on their face really changes the cultural approach or are we simply trading one unattainable ideal for another? Can brands that sell us acne treatment products also propagate skin positivity at the same time? Are things really changing?
“I get trolled every single day by hundreds of people for the simple fact that I have acne and acne scars,” says the beauty blogger Ayesha Amir. At the beginning of the year, the Instagram account of Anastasia Beverly Hills reposted a video of Amir doing make-up. The post was immediately inundated with nasty comments. The situation has degenerated to the point that the ABH account and its president Norvina had to intervene by asking the followers to be kinder. “We are so used to seeing influencers and bloggers with clean, retouched skin and filters. There is never anyone talking about the other side of the coin, ”says Amir.
Although Amir and other bloggers like her promote the cause of representation of acne, in most media mainstream the pimples continue to be completely hidden. The vast majority of the beauty and fashion images we are exposed to feature the same models with the compact and pimple-free skin, even when those same models openly admit they have them. And this despite acne is one of the most common and widespread skin problems. According to the British health, the NHS, 95% of the population between 11 and 30 and 50 million people in America suffer from it. And although in recent years there has been an increase inacne positivity – to date, #freethepimple has around 16,000 posts on Instagram – this coincided with the era ofnaturally radiant complexion inaugurated by brands such as Glossier and Milk Makeup.
“In recent years, the perfect skin with dew effect it has become the symbol of the beauty industry by leading people to focus on hiding and covering rather than addressing the problem, ”says Varga. “Even in the era of self-love and body positivity, people still feel embarrassed and insecure when it comes to the rash and surroundings. Despite advances in understanding the causes of acne, they persist common places die-hards who attribute it to lifestyle, hygiene or improper eating habits, assuming it is something self-inflicted and that could be solved with some good practice wellness”.
The culture of shame
This culture of embarrassment and even shame is supported and perpetuated not only by those who appear in advertising campaigns – or rather by those who do not appear – but also by the type of language related to acne and pimples used by many brands in the beauty sector in packaging and in marketing. “Traditional skin care products use terms like ‘pimple’, ‘imperfection’ and ‘blemishes’ interchangeably“Says Starface founder Julie Schott,” which reinforces the idea that boils are bad and skin ‘pimple-free’ is good. “
In this scenario of acne shame and insecurity, it’s refreshing to see brands like Starface, but also ZitSticka and Squish, normalize acne through visibility and a open and optimistic dialogue. But this wave of brands skin positive it can be the bearer of a confused message. There isn’t one discrepancy between the ethos that wants us to accept our flaws and love our skin and the purpose of a brand which is, ultimately, to sell products to cover and get rid of pimples?
“I suppose it is worth noting, at this point, that treating a boil does not mean that we should be ashamed of its appearance”Say Robbie Miller and Daniel Kaplan, founders of ZitSticka. “There are reasons beyond the aesthetic factor that can make people feel less comfortable with a pimple, such as pain button of a cyst, for example ”. According to what we are told, most people have days when they can leave the house with a face full of pimples without any problems and have others where they would do anything to get rid of them. The brand was created to assist their customers in this second category of days. “The point is that sometimes it’s a problem and sometimes it’s not. The stigma can only fade when we take note of the entire spectrum of possible realities ”.
There are those who hit the mark
Although words are always simpler than actions, ZitSticka is really moving from words to deeds. The brand recently launched a countryside immortalized by the photographer Ashley Armitage, with models who actually had acne which, amazing to say, is still a novelty in advertising for acne products. Armitage was given full freedom to hire people with different types of leather and show them in a celebratory context. “This was one of the first services I attended where we were able to highlight natural skin,” he tells us. “Make-up artist Shideh Kafei didn’t cover any pimple and we didn’t touch up the skin during post production.
“We wanted to show what pimples, boils and rash are absolutely normal”, Continues Armitage. “There is this rhetoric that pimples only come to teenagers in their developmental age – the ‘clumsy phase’ if you like – but that’s not the case at all. I am 26 years old and I continue to have acne breakouts. It was nice to be able to engage friends and peers, all people in their twenties, in a campaign that shows their skin in a way natural e normal”.
It’s realistic services and campaigns like this one – which really show people with acne to promote acne products – that will make the biggest difference in the industry, Northcote tells us. “The image is always that of a girl with makeup splashing water on her face. But where is the acne, I wonder? We need to be able to see more real skin. Skin ‘I editatium ‘ must be in “.
Going forward, this kind of representation must be able to extend to the entire beauty sector. All brands, and not just those dedicated to acne, they should show models with pimples and rashes in their campaigns. Northcote, Amir and Armitage all agree that this will change the acne dialogue in our society. “It would be really wonderful to open a magazine to watch a service and find you a model with acne to pose absolutely nonchalant”Says Armitage. Because, while celebrating pimples when the occasion permits is great, it’s a change of cultural perspective deeper than normalization of acne which will allow the sufferer to be relieved of feelings of shame or anxiety.