The Absence of Acne in Pop Culture


According to the NHS, around 95% of people between 11 and 30 in Britain have acne.

95% — let that sink in for a second.

Chances are, you have acne — that could be why you clicked on this article.

I’m also part of that 95%; I’m 30 years old, and I’ve had acne since I was around 14.

I’ve had acne for most of my life, now, and, while it’s definitely better than it was, it’s still visible enough that I feel I have to wear makeup whenever I leave the house.

This is what I take issue with: if 95% of British people from 11–30 have acne, why do I feel I have to cover it up like it’s something that I should keep secret and hidden?

Even with foundation and concealer plastered onto my face, you can still see my blemishes, so it’s not as though it’s a secret I’m even keeping particularly well.

It’s the beauty industry that’s the problem; society is simply reacting to what we’re told: “acne is not normal, acne is bad”.

In a world where the body positivity movement is continuing to grow, where’s the skin positivity movement? It’s there, but it’s struggling.

What about when, in 2018, L’Oréal arranged for an ad campaign featuring beauty bloggers and models with acne?

Sounds great, right?

It never happened.

Instead, the ad was pulled just before the photo shoot, and the booked models were told: “L’Oréal can’t be involved with people with skin issues”, claiming that “regulations” prevented them from working with people with acne.

I don’t claim to know about every regulation that L’Oréal has to adhere to, but I find it hard to believe that regulations would prohibit them from hiring people with “skin issues” as models.

As much as I love cosmetics, and would probably still wear them even if I didn’t have acne, there is something inherently wrong with our beauty industry and the way acne is portrayed.

As with all other industries, the problem lies with money — while there is money to be made from acne ‘treatments’, we will continue to believe that it’s not normal.

The global acne ‘treatment’ market is expected to reach over $7 billion by 2025, benefitting from the photoshopped, filtered, Instagram world we live in.

It seems as though I’ve tried everything to ‘treat’ my acne: retinol, over-the-counter topical creams, top-rated clay masks from Amazon, natural ingredients, exercise, diet changes, drinking more water, even doctor-prescribed Roaccutane, despite its long list of side effects (and my depression, diagnosed by the same doctor).

Nothing makes a difference, and yet I still buy into the myth, because I’ve been brainwashed by the beauty industry.

Acne in pop culture

When I was growing up, I loved to read, and I still remember the first (and only) time acne was referenced in the YA books I was reading: Eloise Midgen in the Harry Potter series.

For those of you unfamiliar with the books, Eloise Midgen was a classmate of Harry’s depicted with severe acne — the only person in a series with protagonists aged 11–17 with acne.

Eloise was the butt of jokes due only to her acne — her one defining characteristic — and was driven to ‘curse off’ her acne while at school, resulting in her nose coming off (later being reattached).

I wanted to be Hermione, but instead, I was Eloise Midgen.

Except I didn’t have magic to rid myself of acne.

I would shy away from cameras, social outings, and people in general because I didn’t want to be seen until I was ‘cured’.

It resulted in intense social anxiety, and at the age of 18, I couldn’t walk into a shop by myself, for fear of being noticed.

The wrong treatment

When I was 18, I was determined to go to university — I loved to study and knew that, if I wanted to live my life, I had to experience it.

I asked my mother to take me to the doctor (of course, I couldn’t go alone) to discuss a more medical way to rid me of my acne so I could live.

After five minutes of looking at my face, in which I barely breathed, and couldn’t make eye contact, the doctor prescribed me Roaccutane.

I was told that the treatment would dry out my skin to the point where I couldn’t wear contact lenses, and would have to revert back to glasses.

I hated wearing glasses — I still do — but I was determined to be rid of my acne.

So I started taking Roaccutane, exactly as prescribed.

Unfortunately, this all happened soon after my grandmother, whom I was very close to, passed away, and I was also going through what was to be a long period of depression, for which I would later be prescribed anti-depressants.

Roaccutane is strongly linked with depression, possibly even suicide, even listing depression as a side effect — and I was prescribed it by my doctor, who knew I was already depressed.

We had no discussion of the mental health side effects, only that I would have to wear my glasses, and it wasn’t long before my depression kicked into overdrive.

For the next three years, I went to university, breaking my trend of staying at home and not being seen; I had no choice, if I was to succeed academically.

Those three years nearly cost me my life.

I loved university itself, relished the learning, reading, and attending classes; it was everything I’d dreamed, but my depression was still there, boosted by the Roaccutane, and I started to feel as though I wasn’t worthy of any of it.

Partway through university, I chose to take myself off Roaccutane; I honestly didn’t think I would survive if I didn’t.

My skin still wasn’t clear, but I felt better in myself — I still avoided mirrors and cameras, but I was determined to make the most of university.

Flash forward a few years; I’m 30, still have acne, but I’m I’m coming to accept the fact that I’ll likely always have acne.

It’s part of my genetic makeup, like blue eyes and blonde hair, so I may as well embrace it, even if the beauty industry tells me I’m wrong.

I don’t think I’ll ever be happy with my skin, but that doesn’t mean I can’t love the person under the acne.

It’s up to us, the acne community, to dictate how acne is perceived by the world.

The beauty industry won’t do it for us, so we have to make acne normal again.

So join me and reach out to the beauty giants, tell them we want to see more normalcy, more everyday people, more acne.

There can be a change — it’s just up to us to see it through.

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