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As we focus on the idea of Progress, Not Perfection during the month of August, we wanted to check in with one of our collaborators, Emily Longdin, who has had a long-term, twisty-turny relationship with her skin. Here, the wise 24-year-old shares her views on the *journey* that is having acne, the realities and non-realities of social media and skin positivity.
ZS: How would you describe your relationship with your skin?
It's developed so much over the years. I've had acne since high school and I'll be turning 25 in a month—that's a long time. A long time to never wake up breakout-free, a long time waking up every morning and feeling for any new lumps and bumps.
I used to have such a bad relationship with my skin, blaming it and its condition for how well I was and was not doing, and basing how well my day would go purely on whether I considered myself having a good skin day or not. But now I've grown up, I've had my eyes opened to how normal acne is amongst all ages, and my feeling towards my skin has flipped a full 180 degrees. I love it now, truly love it. Yes, I wish for it to be breakout-free, of course I do. But I have unconditional love for myself and in turn my skin, regardless of how it is behaving. It is mine, it protects me and I protect it.
How do you think Instagram has impacted how you feel about your skin?
To be honest, my IG page only became a skin diary in the last 6 months (so basically the beginning of lockdown), and the impact of the accounts found from doing so makes me completely forget any and all the negative impact it used to have.
Previously, it was a lot to take. Everyone looked so flawless, literally not a pore in sight—let alone acne. You can tell yourself you know it's filters; you know it's editing—but that doesn't change what you're seeing day in day out. I didn't post a single picture for a good year and even when I then did, it was of plants, my surroundings, friends and family. It was a tough world and I feel for anyone entering it.
Now? Oh my word; what a change. Everyone is so open; so honest. I've learnt to follow such an amazing group of people, even when you feel low about your skin, you're never alone. I've never felt more comfortable and so utterly and completely accepted in all my life. You can fall into such a rabbit hole of accounts and self love you kind of forget there's the 'other side' of social media.
Do you think society's approach to acne and other skin conditions is changing? how?
I would absolutely love to say yes and I think it is for those who want it to, or rather need it to. I can see people who are struggling with acne now accepting themselves and having had a complete mind shift that you know, it's actually not taboo to talk about? It's not gross and there is a conversation to be had. Suddenly, even within my own family and friends, it can be talked about without it being this serious conversation or super embarrassingly awkward. It's just conversation.
However, I'm not sure how far it extends yet because I see comments online, or receive DMs from people outside of this really lovely bubble who honestly do find acne so appalling and even disgusting to be 'showing off'. I don't get mad, no matter how upset I am, because it's coming from [a place of] misunderstanding or them just not being exposed. I can kind of get that, I can imagine I am them. I try my best to explain why acne is actually very common using facts and figures, then why their comments are hurtful and quite frankly unnecessary. I don't know why as humans we are so open to sharing our distaste with strangers over the internet, when my having acne doesn't in any way interrupt anyone else's life.
I hope there is a balance and society is becoming more and more accepting of skin conditions and not being so afraid of them. I've seen changes already, and I just hope it's a sign of more to come.
We love how you experiment with different looks and styles. How important is it to be more than just a Skin Positivity account? What do you hope to communicate to your followers alongside the fact that no skin is "normal"?
It's important because you're asking people to treat having a skin condition as completely normal, and trying to show that you're not defined purely by your skin. So, you need to show it by still living the life you wish the younger version of you could be proud of.
You don't have to wait for a clear skin day to wear a cute outfit, or wait until your acne has cleared to do fun things with your hair. The first time I dyed my hair pink I thought, my word, this highlights my skin, laughed a little to myself and then reflected on how much I just enjoyed getting my hair done. I got so bored of having all these ideas about my style and look but not feeling like I deserved it yet, or that I could pull it off because of my skin. I was constantly scared of being compared to others around me who wore the same kind of things but without the acne. But that was just wasting my own time and my own freedom. Being constricted in your own mind with these arbitrary rules.
I just hope accounts like mine mean less and less people stop wasting their time comparing and start being who they have always wanted to be now. If you're always waiting for something before you do anything, you'll always change what that something is.
What's something you wish people would understand about acne?
It's not vanity to not want to have acne anymore. Having acne is so much more than just 'not feeling pretty'. It hurts, it's painful and mentally, it's so astonishingly draining. To boil someone's experience down to vanity is condescending and off the mark.
When you have acne, you have to make a conscious effort not to think about it, to remove yourself from mirrors and to actively show up. You get called brave for going out without makeup on and strangers feel like they can offer you advice in a public space. Acne almost becomes part of your character, "oh yeah, Em with the spots." The first time you overhear that, it almost hits you physically. I cried quite a bit that day. It's so much more consuming than just feeling like your haircut doesn't suit you, so please be kind and aware.