Over the last few months, women worldwide are gaining the confidence to wipe away layers of makeup, embarrassment and shame that they have held onto for years. Taking over the internet and social media, bare faced, and boldly confident, a new ‘pimple positive’ attitude is transforming women’s lives. In a world where perfection seems to be the ultimate goal is embracing our imperfections the new skin trend?
From the dry ice of the 1910s, lasers of the 1960s and K-beauty of the 2010s, treatments for skin conditions like cystic acne, psoriasis and rosacea have existed for decades. The now $2 billion dollar a year industry represents just a portion of the extensive lengths sought to conceal skin often labelled as imperfect, ugly and undesirable. With more recent trends of space age LED lights, corticosteroid injections or ‘high frequency’ facials we feel the need to go to drastic lengths to erase any hint of our ‘flaws’.
Throughout her career, photographer Sophie Harris-Taylor has gained an insider’s view of the extreme lengths gone to in order to create the appearance of “perfect skin”. “Skin is the first thing that people see, says Harris-Taylor, “ so, it should be something that people can be confident in”. For many of the commercial projects she has worked on, it’s has been considered standard procedure to remove blemishes from the skin of her subjects through an time-consuming process of digital retouching.
The Ugly Side to Perfection
Even as social media gives rise to body positivity movements, celebrating those who don’t conform to the mainstream ideals of beauty, many of those living without smooth, blemish free skin still feel the need to conceal their true faces. Many express express feelings of isolation and shame for not conforming to the ‘clear skin’ ideal often looking to expensive treatments and lengthy makeup routines to help them cope.
Testifying to the effects that these skin conditions have on individuals’ lives, Harris Taylor recalls how ‘There are women that I’ve shot who had crippling anxiety because of it and couldn’t leave their house without makeup to come to my studio. They had to put their face on, then take it all off and put it back on to leave again.’
Louisa Northcote, one of the subjects featured in Harris-Taylor’s series, had struggled with her acne for years. Having started her modelling career aged 10, she developed the skin condition as a teenager and quickly noticed that many of the agencies that had expressed interest in her were now reluctant because of her ‘bad’ skin. As a result, she sought to do all she could to conceal it. ‘I would never go out without any makeup on. I wouldn’t even see my friends without any makeup, I would try to avoid my family without it’
After securing a place in the 12th season of Britain’s Next Top Model, Northcote was terrified to discover that the task in first episode required contestants to put on a nude bodysuit, pull back their hair and expose their bare skin. ‘My biggest insecurity was going to be exposed in front of strangers’, she recalls, ‘and I knew how cruel people could be on the internet’. Beauty influencer Em Ford’s viral 2015 video entitled ‘You Look Disgusting’ is just one example of this. The beauty blogger documented the comments she received after sharing images of herself without make up, such as ‘WTF is wrong with her face’ and ‘I can’t even look at her’. The clip revealed the barrage of hate that individuals in the spotlight can become victim to when they uncover their untouched faces.
Before the episode aired, Northcote decided to take the narrative into her own hands. Taking to social media, she posted a makeup free selfie and invented the trending hashtag, #freethepimple. The move has now inspired hundreds of other women to share their own makeup-free selfies and stories and the hashtag has been celebrated as a much needed step towards breaking down the way we perceive non-flawless skin. While expressing that she is extremely happy to be a part of this movement, Northcote admits that it is strange that such discussions have never happened before, especially in light of the mental health and body positivity movement that has gained such great traction in recent years.
At the start of the year, Harris-Taylor decided to create a dialogue for those marginalised. Capturing the faces of women living with a variety of conditions, her photography series Epidermis gave individuals the opportunity to strip away the layers and sit comfortably as their authentic selves.
Speaking on movements like #freethepimple and the images created by Harris-Taylor. ‘My hope is that slowly we will lose the stigma behind being allowed to have challenging emotions related to your skin and being able to discuss it.’
Sophie Harris – Taylor is a London based photographer, for her project ‘Epidermis’ she shot over 20 portraits of women with varying skin conditions. Her aim was to break down the stigma often surrounding these conditions and to celebrate the diversity of the women she photographed.
Follow her work and collections @sophieharristaylor
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