I have been drafting a version of this blog post for a long time, but yesterday a post on Instagram sent me over the edge and showed me how much this conversation is needed. There is an insidious belief in our society that good skin somehow represents being a good person, or good choices in life. Obviously, anyone with a brain can see that this is nonsense, but I wanted to talk about the moral halo surrounding skin for those who may be perpetuating this myth without thinking.
Yesterday, the amazing P. (@mynameisjustP on instagram) shared this post from Lily Allen: a selfie with the caption ‘clear conscience = clear skin’. For those who don’t get the reference, she was referring to the recent UK election and making the connection between her clear voting conscience and her skin.
I shared the above photo in my Instagram Stories with the caption ‘this pervasive idea that clear skin = good morals or that it means you’re nice /unproblematic is so boring’. I had a lot of responses: many disappointed, a few who had never seen this connection being made before, and some defending her as someone who is usually very kind. This is part of the issue. I don’t think she posted it thinking ‘woohoo I’m going to make some people with skin conditions feel like shit, let’s go!’ But that’s the problem – she didn’t think.
The implication in this caption is that good people are rewarded with good skin. But if we follow that thought through to its ‘logical’ conclusion, that means that ‘bad’ skin is therefore a punishment for being a bad person. However you spin it that’s a shitty, poorly thought-out opinion.
It’s an insult that pops up a lot. I nearly posted a blog post a few years ago when Steve Bannon was Trump’s Chief Strategist. There were so many negative things about Bannon that people could have focused on (so many!), but instead the main vitriol on Twitter seemed to focus on his appearance. Like this Twitter moment made up of 75 ‘hilarious’ tweets commenting on his appearance and often relating it to his bad choices and his inner evil. Or this article from The Tab (titled ‘what’s wrong with Steve Bannon’s haggard face?‘) where – even after a dermatologist says they suspect he has rosacea, the same incurable skin condition that I have – the ‘journalist’ still uses phrases like ‘not a pleasant sight‘ and ‘a man who looks like he eats cigarettes, or was just arrested for drunk-driving a houseboat‘. Making fun of skin conditions is punching down, even if you think the person deserves it. It’s like making fun of Trump’s weight – it’s not just an insult for him, it’s an insult for every single person who looks like him.
Now compare this to the way that ‘unproblematic’ celebrities are treated on social media, with memes like the below popping up regularly. Apparently being a good person means you get smooth, unwrinkled, unblemished skin… I guess I just need to try harder to be a good person and my rosacea will be cured!
(And before people start, I know it’s a joke. Yes, I get the premise of the meme. Please don’t feel like you have to explain it to me. You are missing the point of this blog post. Do not @ me.)
The common phrases we use (‘good skin day’, ‘I used to have such bad skin as a teenager’) already contain morality judgements and I’m trying really hard to break a lifetime of social conditioning by rejecting these terms myself. But we are fed these ideas from such a young age: think of famous baddies in films and you’re likely to picture characters with warts, OTT wrinkles, burns, or scars. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve heard someone in a US sitcom or film describing an unpopular kid and using eczema as a descriptive shorthand for their geek status, alongside glasses and unfashionable clothes. Recently the amazing charity Changing Faces spearheaded a wonderful campaign to try to counteract this issue in the media: The ‘I Am Not Your Villain’ campaign asked the film and TV industry to stop using visible differences as a shorthand for ‘bad’ characters. Due to this campaign, the BFI will no longer fund films that contain a villain with facial scarring.
I know that I’ll get some shit for this post: cries of ‘snowflake!’ and ‘PC gone mad!’ from the Daily Mail brigade. But all we’re asking for is a bit of kindness. Why would you choose to say or do something that makes someone else feel negatively about their appearance? Why would you (knowingly or unknowingly) feed into discrimination against those who look differently to you? Why should your humble brag about ‘good’ skin (which, by the way is more likely to be down to your wealth and privilege than your inherent ‘goodness’. Just sayin’…) be at the expense of someone who has skin that is different to yours, through no fault of their own?
Some rules for life, both online and offline: Engage brain. Consider the feelings of others. Worry about your own appearance and keep your thoughts on how others look to yourself. Be a good person.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post, let me know in the comments or come join the conversation on Instagram.
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