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Why we need to see real skin

It's time to join the skin positivity movement

In recent weeks Jameela Jamil has been using her social media platform to end face filters. Alongside this, hashtags such as #filterdrop, started by influencer Sasha Louise Pallari, have been trending, but dropping face filters is only one aspect of the skin positivity movement. Many of us want to start seeing real skin again, in all its unedited glory. When was the last time you saw real skin online? I am talking about acne, scarring, psoriasis… everything regarding skin that is often concealed from Instagram. 

Image Courtesy of Sasha Louise Pallari via Instagram @sashalouisepallari

Talking about skin, I am referring to more than a bare face. Make-up and beauty campaigns are renowned for editing makeup to look better on the skin, which gives an unrealistic expectation of the product. There have been countless times where I have seen a concealer advertised online, bought it and applied it, only to blame myself and my skin for not looking the way it did in the advertisement. In these instances, it important to see how makeup sits on real skin, and make people aware that there is no product that will match the appearance of edited photos in beauty campaigns. Recently, Kylie Jenner made a point of posting an Instagram selfie to show her real skin wearing makeup, and though the Kardashian and Jenner family are not known for the natural look, it was important to see an unedited version. This was documented evidence that the Kardashians have pores, too.

The skin positivity movement has highlighted the importance of seeing real skin and representing skin conditions. “I think it’s important to see real, unedited skin so that people feel at home in their own bodies. If all we ever see is filtered and edited skin it’s very easy to have a warped idea of what skin actually looks like and you start to see problems that aren’t even there because you have a perception of skin that doesn’t exist and is impossible to achieve”, says Issey Gladston, a photographer who has shot and modelled for skin positivity campaigns Behind the Scars, Epidermis and BARE.

She says: “Maybe I’m biased as a photographer, but I think that a great way to challenge perceptions surrounding beauty and skin is to create empowered imagery of people with non-retouched skin. A lot of the time when we see skin that is unedited or not completely smooth it is framed as the before, as an issue and this changes how we perceive our own skin. Whereas if unedited skin was photographed in a way where it was celebrated and seen as beautiful this would help to change these unrealistic standards of beauty as we would begin to divorce being beautiful from adherence to these Eurocentric-patriarchal beauty standards.” Thanks to photographers like Gladston, in the past few years there has in an increase in the representation of real skin on social media, including eczema and psoriasis, which initially was not as represented in the skin positivity movement. 

People are not at fault for editing, as it is the beauty standards that have set unrealistic expectations of skin. As well as this, face filters often portray Eurocentric beauty standards. Jameela Jamil recently used her Instagram platform to call this out, posting: “F*** these crazy filters, they are racist in their presumption that a tiny Eurocentric nose and light eyes and a skinny (often lighter) face is the ultimate standard of beauty. F*** how much they degrade women’s right to age or look tired. Of course we are f***ing tired.”

This is vital to address, and is the reason why many people believe Instagram filters should be regulated, as they erase diversity. Gladston says: “I was reading an article that was talking about how filters and the surgeries they inspire also lead to the homogenisation of women’s faces. This idea not only freaked me out but it made me sad for all of the diverse beauty that is erased as a result of this process. But when we talk about these things it’s still important to remember that the enemy is the Eurocentric-patriarchal beauty standards we live under, not the women who have the procedures done.” 

Image Courtesy of Jameela Jamil via Instagram @jameelajamilofficial

For many, following the skin positivity movement has raised awareness about the level of deception created through editing. Sophie Martin discovered skin positivity accounts during lockdown. She says: “It is important for everyone to be exposed to real skin not just people who suffer with skin issues or struggle with body confidence. Editing is creating a false sense of reality and a beauty standard that is unattainable within our society.”

She continues: “Showing real skin as often as we see edited skin would help break this cycle. Younger people are more impressionable and may not have the awareness of surgery or photo editing and this is resulting in more mental health issues and self-esteem troubles at younger ages than ever before. Not only do I feel like this is important on social media and in beauty campaigns, but I also feel like this topic is important to address in schools with more and more young people having the access to the internet at such a young age and it can be so damaging.”

Overcoming the influx of editing and face filters can be achieved on an individual level.  Martin says: “Everyone is a victim of Instagram in the sense that most people will admit that they only post themselves in their best light or once they have edited their photos. Everyone is responsible for challenging these perceptions.”

Martin outlines some tactics we can all adopt: “You can monitor your following on Instagram, you choose who you follow and you can make conscious decisions to follow people that make you feel good as well as avoid following people that could make you feel not so good so I think that we could all reconsider how we use social media. I would definitely like to stop using filters, even though me and my friends are not influencers it all contributes to exposing people to real skin and real faces whether you have 60 followers or 1 million so I think we can all promote skin positivity by normalising our untouched skin.”

We all love a face filter that guesses our horoscope or turns us into an animal, but the beauty filters and editing apps which change our faces are damaging. Not only are they confined within a particular idea of beauty, but they can change how we perceive ourselves.

Gladston agrees: “In the future, I would love to see more representation of a diverse range of skin conditions in the marketing from all brands, not just brands that specifically deal with these conditions. Not in a tokenistic way but if these brands offer products that are suitable for people with conditions why not include them in the marketing.” Through this, we can champion seeing real skin and in turn normalise this representation.

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