If it’s true that art imitates life, we’ve certainly come a long way in terms of how we, as a society, feel about our acne.
In honor of National Acne Positivity Day, we’re taking a trip down memory lane: marking some of the most important acne moments in pop culture — from classical art, to movies, to social media, and more.
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Acne in the olden days
Although acne has been documented by scholars and physicians for millennia, the condition historically hasn’t been portrayed much in the arts. Shakespeare did once describe a thief’s face as being full of “bubukles, and whelks, and knobs, and flames ‘o fire.” And there is a sixteenth-century painting called The Tax Collectors that features a man with acne scars.
Does that mean that hardly anybody had acne in the olden days? Nope: it just means that the artists of the time knew they needed to leave out certain imperfections if they wanted to get paid by their wealthy patrons. Airbrushing, indeed.
Marinus van Reymerswaele, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Acne on the silver screen
For the better part of the past century, acne was managed in the movies in one of two ways, depending on the character. The heros and heroines had “perfect” skin (usually accomplished in the makeup chair), while the villains often had facial flaws. Which brings up a recurring cultural theme: acne has historically been associated not just with unattractiveness, but with downright undesirable traits.
Some of the more modern examples include the cult classic movie Grease, which features a rival gang leader nicknamed “Craterface,” on account of his severe acne scars.
Then there’s the now-controversial Harry Potter character, Eloise Midgen, whose acne was so bad, she was not only ostracized — she tried to cure it with a curse, and ended up losing her nose.
Acne breaks out
It wasn’t until recently that the tide began to turn in favor of featuring real skin, thanks to a growing contingent of popular personalities — typically social media creators. This includes our founder, Dr. Pimple Popper (dermatologist Sandra Lee, MD), who by the end of 2017 had amassed 2 billion views on YouTube. Other creators on the network, like model and esthetician Cassandra Bankson, had become popular for candid acne stories and tutorials. That same year, the movie Lady Bird showed off Siaorse Ronan’s acne scars, and the Internet went nuts, praising the “revolutionary” decision.
By 2018, the acne positivity movement was in full swing, complete with its own hashtag, #freethepimple, courtesy of activist and creator Lou Northcote. Real skin bloggers like Kali Kushner and Em Ford gained loyal followings for posting their acne journeys, while celebs — including Cara Delevigne, Kendall Jenner, and Justin Bieber — used their platforms to raise awareness.
Acne pops up everywhere
Fast forward to today: there has been a distinct cultural shift in the way we look at — and talk about — acne. We have a National Acne Positivity Day (September 1), along with many online communities and personalities promoting natural skin. People are becoming increasingly more aware of the impact acne can have on quality of life, which helps both health care providers and the general public become sensitive to the issue.
So what’s ahead on the acne positivity front? According to Dr. Lee, having a positive attitude towards your skin is important — but so is taking action to promote skin health. “I started SLMD because there were so many people in the Dr. Pimple Popper community who were dealing with skin conditions like acne. I knew I could help them, even if they couldn’t get to see a dermatologist. That’s why I launched my Acne System. I know firsthand how taking care of your skin can be incredibly empowering.”
Integrating the Integumentary System with the Arts