Kendall Jenner owning her acne at the Golden GlobesGetty Images

‘Acne positivity’ will make you love your spots

Radhika Sanghani

The Instagram body positive movement has been going strong for several years now. It has helped people across the world embrace their body shapes, stretch marks, stomach rolls and thunder thighs.

But there’s one physical attribute that’s only just starting to get its share of social media love: acne.

Acne is commonly seen as a teen affliction, but a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found 54% of women over 25 had acne, while in the UK, a study of 92 private dermatology clinics found a 200% rise in the number of adults seeking specialist acne treatment in 2015.

Acne can be an issue for men and women well into adulthood. It doesn’t just affect appearance; it can impact self-esteem and confidence levels. It can cause people to isolate themselves and even trigger mental health problems. Take it from someone who knows.

But now, a growing number of people have decided to stop feeling embarrassed by the clusters of spots creeping up their faces and have started to own their acne instead. With the hashtags #acnelove, #acnepositivity, #acneisbeautiful and, #acnedoesntmakeyouugly, they’re sharing unfiltered, unedited photos of their acne and they #justdontcare.

Kendall Jenner is leading the movement, after posing with her acne on the red carpet at the Golden Globes. "Never let that s*** stop you," she wrote.

She's not the only one celebrating her spots on social media. “Covered in acne and still looking cute,” says Victoria on Twitter.

“You should never be ashamed or insecure about your acne because it’s completely natural and you’re stunning with and without it,” says crunchylleaf on Instagram.

“Acne doesn’t make you ugly,” say Lydia Van on Instagram.“Everybody gets spots. I’m stressed and I broke out. WHO CARES? I’m still a badass bitch from hell.”

All of their messages are accompanied with honest selfies of the raw red marks on their faces.

To someone like me who developed acne as an adult and can’t stop obsessing over how bad it looks, these attitudes seem incredible. It never would have occurred to me that someone would ever want to actively show the world their spots - that anyone would think (let alone say) something like, “Why would you be ashamed of your spots. You can slay with those mother******* on your face, rock them as if they were a new pair of jeans or something” – a comment from LoveYourAcne, an account dedicated entirely to "accepting skin" and being "a positive place for acne".

Acne is almost universally seen as ugly. Acne-ridden skin is ‘problem’ skin. Spots are ‘before’ pictures in skincare advertising. A clear, flawless face is the standard beauty goal. Models, actors, TV stars – they all have clear skin. And if they don’t, they use make-up and lighting and airbrushing to look like they do.

Over the course of sharing these photos, I’ve learnt for the first time in years to accept my skin.

Hannah Jamison

Most of us will never have considered the possibility that “acne doesn’t make you ugly,” let alone heard the message that red, bumpy spots can be beautiful. But it’s one that dozens of young people – predominantly women – are trying to spread, whether it’s with the occasional #owningmyacne post, or an entire account devoted to #acnepositivity. Even YouTuber Zoella has joined the movement, with her vlogs about acne and how "spots are normal".

Hannah Jamison, 25, regularly posts photos of her acne on her Instagram page. On the eve of her wedding day, she shared an image of a recent breakout:

“I’ve suffered with acne for as long as I can remember,” she explains, “and over the course of sharing these photos, I’ve learnt for the first time in years to accept my skin. Now I want to show people that acne does not alter who or what I am. I want to prove it’s okay not to wear make-up – I can feel like myself just as much as when I am covering up my skin.”

Sharing photos of my skin without make-up makes me feel empowered because I am embracing something that society has taught me to cover up...

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith, an 18-year-old student, has an account dedicated to ending stigmas and embracing self-love. “Sharing photos of my skin without make-up makes me feel empowered because I am embracing something that society has taught me to cover up: my acne,” she explains. “It can be scary to share photos that I’m not completely confident about, but my fear is less than my desire to show others that ‘bad’ skin is nothing to be ashamed of.”

After a while, this message really does start to sink in. I was mortified by the sudden arrival of spots when I was 26, and though I never covered them with make-up, I used to hate looking at them.

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Yet after seeing women embrace their spots on social media, I’ve realised that while I might not be able to change my skin, I can change my mind-set.

Beauty standards are so arbitrary – in the Georgian era, white faces and powdery hair were desirable, while facial scars are beautiful to the Ethiopian Karo tribe. Who's to say that acne isn’t beautiful? Someone who epitomises this attitude is Bryony Bateman, who has suffered with psoriasis for years. This skin condition causes serious flaking and scarring, but she refuses to see it as ugly, regularly posting pictures and telling us, “I really like the white patches and I love my body with its scars.”

“I think it looks like little cherry blossoms,” she says.

I don’t think I’ll ever see my spots as beautiful blossoms. But I don’t have to fight my acne so hard. In fact, all I can do is try to stop it ruining my life. Thanks to #acnelove, I’m slowly starting to accept it. Whenever I feel bad, I remember the messages on Instagram: “Acne doesn’t make you ugly. Everybody gets spots. Who cares?”

This article was originally published on 22 November 2017