Acne Isn’t Skin Deep

by Claire Mullen //

Acne and Advice

As a girl who has struggled with cystic jawline acne for years, I have collected a small pile of unwarranted advice on how to “fix” my face. Society’s expectations for how women should look, coupled with general misconceptions about acne, resulted in a rather painful personal experience for me. My acne journey made me question what it means for a woman to look “presentable” and how harmful “helpful” advice can be.

Not Always Your Period

Growing up, the general notion was that my acne must have something to do with estrogen and my period. Now, there is some basis behind this. During a woman’s menstrual cycle, testosterone levels initially increase, which in turn increases sebum (the oil on your skin) production. Sebum is a breeding ground for P. acnes bacteria, and the immune system responds by sending white blood cells that eventually die and become pus. Ultimately, a pimple is formed.

Testosterone, though, isn’t the cause of hormonal acne in all women. A different hormone, insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), can also be responsible. For all people, IGF-1 spikes during adolescence and young adulthood to aid in bodily growth, maintenance, and development. Besides this, IGF-1 also leads to sebum production, and sebum leads to acne. This is part of the reason why many people suddenly develop acne in their teenage years: because of increased IGF-1. 

However, I was never told this. People only made some vague reference to “the hormones,” as if each of them had identical functions, and how to “fix” my hormones: not eat milk chocolate while on my period, drink more water, and so on. I only learned about testosterone and IGF-1’s impact on acne years into my acne journey through extensive online research. Additionally, cystic acne can be a symptom of hormonal conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), so it is best to discuss acne with a general practitioner and/or dermatologist if possible. 

Ignoring the Problem 

Society’s consensus is that acne is a purely cosmetic issue, but in reality, acne digs deep into one’s personal life and mental health. No one seemed to understand what I was experiencing as a result of my acne: it hurt to wash my face, I became obsessive over changing my pillowcase, and I was adamant about never reusing a face mask in fear that it was contaminated.

I was told to “just cover it up with makeup” but this was problematic for so many reasons. Firstly, it would only irritate and infect my broken skin. Furthermore, acne is not a purely cosmetic condition, therefore it is illogical to treat it solely through a cosmetic approach. It would be nonsensical to tell someone to put concealer over a paper cut, so why would we tell a woman to put it on her acne? Come to think of it, I’ve never heard anyone tell a man to put concealer over his acne. Then again, society deems it unacceptable for men to wear makeup in any capacity. Nevertheless, for women, acne is treated as an urgent problem that must be covered up to look “presentable.” 

What to Tell Someone with Acne

If someone you know is experiencing acne, the best thing to say to them would be nothing at all. If they ask you for skincare tips, go right ahead, but in all other situations, their skin is none of your business. Just as it is rude to give unsolicited advice and commentary on how one “should” dress, style their hair, or otherwise present themselves, we must learn to refrain from commenting on another person’s skin. 

Self-Love is Not One Size Fits All

by Isa Meyers //

The past several years has brought an influx of social media trends, influencers, and a rise of posts dedicated to body positivity. Body positivity focuses on people reclaiming their bodies from the unrealistic (and often racist, ableist, and transphobic) beauty standards that are socially engraved in Western culture. This social movement asserts that people should remain positive about their bodies regardless of what form they take, placing emphasis on the social acceptance of all bodies in a larger social context. In other words, the personal body is political and should be viewed through this lens. 

While this movement has positive intentions, insisting that an individual has to remain positive about their body reaffirms that their body is not necessarily the “right” kind of body. Thus, it affirms that there is something inherently negative about being too fat, too tall, too masculine, etc… Body positivity forces young people to feel bad about not being positive about their bodies all of the time. 

Body positivity, for me, makes me feel guilty when I notice something about myself that I don’t necessarily love. And while there’s nothing wrong with preaching acceptance regarding our different bodies, it’s emotionally taxing to be hyper-positive. We need to stop equating occasional self-criticism with self-hate. Because the reality is that you don’t have to love every inch of your body to still love yourself. It’s time that we stop assuming that self-love is a one size fits all or that self-love entirely relies on appearance.

Recently, the body positivity movement has been critiqued for becoming commercialized. In a recent interview with Vogue, singer, Lizzo, argues that the movement no longer benefits the people it was initially created for. Instead, body positivity has been primarily whitewashed and overtaken by influencers that profit from the hashtag. According to Lizzo: “What I don’t like is how the people that this term was created for are not benefiting from it. Girls with back fat, girls with bellies that hang, girls with thighs that aren’t separated, that overlap. Girls with stretch marks. You know, girls who are in the 18-plus club.” 

Rather than focusing on how the body appears, body neutrality argues that we need to place an emphasis on what our bodies do.

So what, instead, does body acceptance look like in a post-body positivity society? Lizzo argues instead for body neutrality, or body normativity. Rather than focusing on how the body appears, body neutrality argues that we need to place an emphasis on what our bodies do. It normalizes all bodies in a way where body positivity falls short. Leigh Weingus writes in her op-ed that body neutrality’s “goal is to help participants acknowledge that loving their bodies isn’t always realistic. Sometimes, it’s OK to land somewhere in between ― in a more neutral place. Body neutrality is about seeing your body as a vehicle that, when treated with care, can help you move about the world in a way that brings you joy. That’s it. No thinking about how you look, either good or bad.” 

Body neutrality is an attempt to eliminate body positivity serving merely as a buzzword or as a trendy movement to be commodified by celebrities and influencers. Body neutrality offers us a way to accept and love our bodies without equating appearance with worth.