My lovely friend Beccy sent me this article from Dazed because she knows me incredibly well and knew that I would be enraged by it. In case you missed the story when it was in the news, some businesses and councils in the UK are using pink lights that accentuate acne to discourage teenagers from ‘loitering’ in public spaces.
(The news story originally came from The Telegraph but that’s behind a paywall so…)
This article is from July of this year but there have been conversations about it floating around since 2012. I’m not sure how I missed them, but when I googled the topic only a few articles came up so I guess it wasn’t widely discussed. I think it became a minor news story in July because Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, described them as ‘cruel and demeaning’ and thinks they should be banned.
There are many things to unpack in this story but obviously, considering I talk a lot about skin positivity and suffer with a skin condition myself, the big one for me is the issue of weaponising young people’s insecurity about their skin. By installing these lights as a deterrent, they are confirming the pervasive belief that acne and skin differences are shameful, embarrassing and by using them they are encouraging children suffering to stay at home to hide their skin. Recently I wrote about the #UndesirablesOfInstagram campaign criticising Instagram and Facebook for censoring images of skin conditions and I think all of these issues feed into one central point: this is another example of those with visible differences being made to feel ‘less than’ and humiliated. That grown adults would choose to purposefully humiliate children for something they can’t change is shocking.
Of course, anti-loitering devices are nothing new: The Mosquito (a device that emits a high-pitched noise only audible to those under 25 which some consider a breach of human rights) has been used for years. Some places have even tried piping in ‘uncool’ music to discourage teenagers from loitering (Cliff Richard anyone?).
The word ‘loiter’ is broken down really well in this article and points out that because it’s so vague it can be used (and misused) at will, which I think we see in the use of ‘acne lights’. If young people are doing something illegal while ‘loitering’, they should be treated accordingly but if the issue is literally just that they happen to be young and standing in a place you don’t want them to… that’s not really enough of an excuse to treat them like this.
People seem to have a lot of opinions about how to stop young people loitering, but none of them seem to include taking positive steps to help them. When I was younger my friends and I would meet up to ‘hang around’ because we didn’t want to be at home and we didn’t have anywhere else to go. Countrywide Government funding cuts mean that services aimed at young people are severely lacking (“a 51% drop in the overall number of youth centres…since 2011, and a 42% drop in youth service staff over the same period. Of the councils that responded, 88% had seen at least one youth centre in their area close.“) but instead of focusing the understandable anger and outrage on the Government who are slashing this funding, the focus is on humiliating children? Baffling.
What are your thoughts on these measures? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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