Skin Shaming is This Decade's Most Unaddressed Image Issue, And Here's Why It Needs to Stop Right Now
Aestheticians and wise aleck celebrities often state that the effects of your lifestyle show up on your face, if not your waistline, smile, or average time spent in REM sleep. The assertion is mostly true: alcohol is dehydrating, too many UV rays cause wrinkles, and a saccharide-rich diet is thought to induce both aging and acne. However, sometimes a spot is just a spot, regardless of what percentage of your finances are funneled towards monthly laser resurfacing sessions or chemical peels, and the celebrities who insist that everyone can achieve their level of luminosity are often those with a facialist and dermatologist on retainer. Despite years of devotion to clinical trial summaries and in-depth discussions with every manner of skincare specialist, my face is still an unruly wild child — and I have the scars to prove it. Moreover, the imperfections that dot my visage are also an invitation for criticism from both acquaintances and strangers. It's called Skin Shaming, and next to Fat Shaming and Slut Shaming, the derision is amongst this decade's most damaging for one's body image.
Much like the Celine Nano, the Mansur Gavriel drawstring bag, or a pair of Christian Louboutin Pigalle Pumps, glowing skin is in high demand this year. On Marc Jacobs' Spring 2015 runway, models wore nary a dash of cover up or swipe of mascara, letting the natural beauty of each take center stage. Beauty is more focused on how your skin appears under your makeup, yielding countless active serums to erase signs of aging and lotions to cure even the most stubborn cystic breakouts. And the #IWokeUpLikeThis movement rewards women who appear flawless on rising in the morning, no cosmetics necessary.
As a woman with sensitive, combination skin and a smattering of Californian freckles, my mornings aren't spent seeking the best Instagram filter for a quick snap with the iPhone, but rather deciding if today is a minimalist or maximalist day for makeup. Even if my skin were as dewy as Kate Bosworth's, I imagine I would still find myself reaching for a tinted moisturizer or a luminizing highlighter; though I see both sides of the great cosmetics debate, I see makeup as an innovative art form in addition to a solution for my bespeckled skin. Lo and behold, when I choose to go with minimal makeup during a particularly stressful week, I become the unwitting target of disparagement from all sides.
I'm sure I don't help my case when I subconsciously rub my brow whilst researching at the computer, or running a finger over a sore in hopes that it will fade within the hour. New York City's grit is not a substance which should be combined with already temperamental skin. However, to walk into a public arena with little makeup has proved traumatic in the past, and as someone who extensively studies the skin and its natural processes, I'm here to say that "bad" skin is not a lifestyle choice I or anyone else possessing it chooses, and to recriminate someone for it is little better than calling someone fat or unattractive.
My first overt encounter with skin shaming came two summers ago, when I frantically scheduled a facial to counteract a line of bumps across my cheeks which appeared to have sprung up overnight. While my diet wasn't pristine and my sleep had been mediocre at best, it was the stress which likely did in my skin; I was between jobs, a dear family member was ailing, and I was in a floundering relationship at the time, not to mention a tense living situation which resulted in an abrupt move several months later. My skin, intelligent organ that it is, could tell I wasn't at my most vibrant. After securing a last-minute reservation at Sothys Spa in midtown, I felt certain my skin woes would be alleviated.
The moment I entered the room with my aesthetician, I was bombarded with a barrage of negative comments. After removing my makeup, she clucked her tongue at me and whispered, "You must change your lifestyle and what you eat. Your skin is suffering. Do you drink excessively? Do you sleep? I have seen nothing this bad." An hour later, I had been lectured on every facet of my lifestyle which my aesthetician knew nothing about. I had been instructed to stop my hard-partying Manhattan lifestyle, which I felt obligated to tell her I didn't actually lead, and to "stop stressing." In my humble opinion, telling someone to stop stressing in a time of particular strain, is akin to instructing them to stop breathing. I left feeling emotionally broken down, and immediately sprinted into Sephora, where I tearfully purchased several months worth of supposedly miracle-working products for congested skin.
Two similarly reprimanding facials at unrelated spas later, and I had begun to rehearse a speech preceding each facial describing my skin as consistently troubled — even when it wasn't. My spa experiences were complemented by a peppering of public opinions which were equally damaging to my confidence. One beauty representative at a high-end department store in the city asked if I had been in the Hamptons and received mosquito bites; another sympathetically nodded her head and said, "I've had poison oak, too, you poor thing," and as I stood in the elevator for the gym one day and ran my hand over a patch of contact dermatitis I received from a not-so-successful product trial, a woman behind me hissed, "Do you have shingles or something?" I began to wear makeup everywhere, piling it on layer after layer and blending like there was no tomorrow. Any comment about the state of my skin, however vague, resulted in a prickling at my eyes that I blinked away and dealt with later. An emotionally trying year had given rise to physical ramifications, and I had resigned myself to a constant stream of insults based one one superficial feature.
Luckily, the past months have produced some skincare breakthroughs for my apparently formerly disfigured skin, but I remain on the offensive. Why was my skin such a source of contention for others? How is telling someone they must have no self respect based on one exterior feature considered an acceptable form of dialogue? My rueful conclusion is that in 2014, soon to be 2015, any minute surface flaw in a woman is considered a sign she is lacking in some significant way, that she must not be industrious or wealthy enough to attend to her appearance. I strongly disagree with the notion. Twenty-first century women are running the workplace, the home, and their recreational activities with efficiency that makes my head spin, so if one of us is riddled with stress-induced hives or a towering papule in the midst of everything, such flaws should be viewed as the occasional side effect of productive — and, most of all, satisfying — lifestyles. Megan Trainor may be discussing the derriere when she sings "Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top," but the same logic applies to one's skin. Hopefully, 2015 will be the year when a pimple or two aren't considered detractors from one's worth as a human being.
Images: Tyler Atwood; Giphy