Skin Positivity Is Only For Pretty, White Women – Let's Make It More Inclusive

photographed by Rochelle Brock
Whatever you think of selfies, it's pretty hard to avoid them on Instagram. But alongside the obligatory #selfie hashtag, you might have noticed #SkinPositivity sneaking its way into some captions.
If the name doesn't give it away, the skin positivity movement basically sticks two fingers up to the stigma, abuse and embarrassment that can stem from myriad skin conditions and issues that affect more or less all of us at some point in our lives – from adult acne (which, according to new research, is widespread among women over 25) to rosacea, eczema and dermatitis, to name a few.
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Skin positivity is a global movement, with everyone from celebrities to dermatologists, models and influencers jumping on the bandwagon. Being positive about our skin is a brilliant thing. Why should we hide away and let these conditions, whatever they might be, get the better of us? Skin positivity is about reducing the shame around them and showing the world that, although some people might be bothered about the family of spots that have set up camp on your forehead, you aren't. So why do I find the campaign so difficult to believe in?

A quick search of the #SkinPositivity hashtag on social media throws up a sea of pretty, symmetrical and mostly white faces.

A quick search of the #SkinPositivity hashtag on social media throws up a sea of pretty, symmetrical and mostly white faces. Sure, they might feature a smattering of cystic acne or deep scars here and there, but the rest is infuriatingly immaculate and most certainly not as diverse as you would expect. When skin positivity gained traction in the press earlier this year, with models and beautiful influencers being called brave and courageous for going makeup-free and ditching the filters and Photoshop, I thought about contributing to the thousands of pictures on social media with a selfie of my own. I've experienced acne on and off since I was 11 years old and very recently developed atopic eczema on my eyelids, which leaves my skin visibly parched and red raw. But as I scrolled through Instagram for caption inspiration, I was met with high cheekbones, perfectly plump lips and fair skin and hair, and I felt as though I didn't fit the bill. There's nothing wrong with any of those things, but there is a flaw in the movement. As it stands, it seems that less than perfect skin is only really welcomed and celebrated within binary, socially accepted genres of beauty.
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It is also hard to ignore the distinct lack of ethnic diversity within the skin positivity campaign as it is now. Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist and author of The Skincare Bible: Your No Nonsense Guide To Great Skin suspects that one of the issues is that BAME communities, especially south Asian individuals, aren't open about showing vulnerability and addressing personal or mental health issues in general. "It's not part of our ethos or culture," Dr Mahto, who often posts pictures of her acne on Instagram, told R29. "I think that revealing perceived flaws is something we see less of as a result – people don't want to show their 'weakness'." So what can be done? "I think we could definitely do with more voices from all aspects of life," said Dr Mahto. "That includes diversity in community, age, shape – everything." She pinpoints YouTuber and beauty blogger Kadeeja Khan (who refers to herself as 'The Acne Girl') as a positive influence among ethnic groups. Khan – recently dropped from a L'Oréal campaign due to "skin issues" – often posts pictures of her acne and talks candidly about how it affects her mental health, opening the way for more women of colour to contribute to the movement.
She recently wrote on Instagram, "Social media can be a good & bad place. You can wake up in the best mood ever & click on someone’s profile to feel like complete crap. [...] Many of us fall into this trap of feeling less worthy & less valuable," before encouraging her followers to swipe across to see her previous Instagram posts. "I would extremely photoshop my images, smooth my skin, make my features pop & most of all HIDE my true skin texture, acne," Kadeeja continued. "I would get messages daily telling me 'your soo lucky' [sic] for the makeup techniques, skin, features etc... All of those compliments came from a photoshopped app. I was tired of pretending to be someone I wasn’t. Someone with amazing features, amazing makeup & amazing skin. I dropped that lie of a life to help & share positivity. It’s not okay or right. I want people to feel great in the skin their in... whatever the texture or condition is. We should all feel beautiful & celebrate our uniqueness. Love yourself."
Of course, absolutely everyone is entitled to use their voice, and it's brilliant that people are embracing their skin in all its glory. Some even say that it won't be long until the skin positivity movement finds its way into magazine editorials, campaigns and adverts, normalising active acne, scars and other skin conditions. But until this movement is wholly inclusive – spanning all races, ages, backgrounds and gender – I don't think it can make a truly positive impact.
We have a long way to go, but I'm optimistic we'll get there.
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