Last summer, a video titled “YOU LOOK DISGUSTING” went viral across social media. The video was directed by beauty blogger Em Ford, better known as MyPaleSkin on YouTube. Many of Ford’s tutorials specialize in working with acne-prone skin, and she is very open about her own struggle with adult acne. In the spring of 2015, she began uploading pictures of herself on social media without makeup. The video that followed details some of the comments she received. As she appears on screen barefaced, the comments follow. Words like “gross”, “ugly”, and “horrible” fill the screen, eventually leading to the titular comment “You look disgusting.”
The video then cuts to her applying a face full of makeup. Concealer, foundation, bronzer, and false lashes are some of the products she uses to transform her appearance. Suddenly, the comments are overwhelmingly positive. She’s called stunning, gorgeous, and beautiful, among other things. But even this is short-lived, and the negative comments return. This time, they’re even more hurtful, with one person stating that she “still looks like shit.” Another one refers to her transformation as “false advertisement.” Somebody claims it is the reason they have trust issues. Finally, she is called “disgusting” once again.
With that final comment, Ford begins wiping off her makeup. As she does this, the screen is filled with comments, ranging from individuals of all ages, who also struggle with acne. They reveal stories of bullying, frustration, and even suicidal thoughts, as a result of their skin condition. But not all these comments are sad; some even say that their skin does not define who they are. They speak of learning to love themselves and how makeup provides them with confidence. She is called beautiful in her natural state, and the video ends with a simple yet powerful statement: “You are beautiful. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Not even yourself.”
To some people, this three minute video might be shocking at most. Yet as someone who struggled with cystic acne for nearly five years, watching it is somewhat of an emotional experience. Starting in the eighth grade, I began getting big, painful zits all over my face. I hoped a steady regimen of face wash and toner would chase them away. Instead, they got worse and spread to my chest and back. I also gained somewhere between twenty to thirty pounds during this time, which only aggravated the condition. By the time I was sixteen, I had forgotten what my face looked like without the zits. I couldn’t even remember my original skin tone, because now all I saw was a blotchy red mess when I looked in the mirror. As you might guess, my self-esteem was relatively non-existent during this time.
However, one thing that made me feel better was makeup. Though I was (and still am) no expert in cosmetics, I eventually learned to cover up my imperfections enough to face my peers. Yet when I used makeup to cover up my blemishes, it led to a “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” situation. No matter what I chose to do, I was either seen as fake or a slob. I felt caught between what made me comfortable versus what others wanted me to look like; the problem I was, I could never tell exactly what they wanted of me. People who knew I wore makeup lectured me on how bad it was for my condition, as if I didn’t know which products did and didn’t work for my skin by then. On the other hand, they were also quick to point out the discoloration, big red bumps, and oily skin and let me know how unattractive it was.
Eventually, salvation came in the form of my generous aunt, who took me to a dermatologist. Like me, she had struggled with acne as a teenager and was worried about permanent damage to my skin. My dermatologist subsequently put me on a regimen of not one, not two, but FOUR topical medications and some antibiotics (which were eventually switched out for birth control). I also managed to lose a little weight during this time. As my skin cleared up, I began to crawl out of my shell. I started taking more risks and expanding my social circle. I didn’t hide every time somebody pulled out a camera. People were now fawning over my complexion, when months before, the only compliments I got were about my personality. Even today, my friends from high school still comment on my skin’s drastic improvement. I still get the occasional breakout, given my insatiable sweet tooth and oily skin, but they are nothing compared to what I used to endure.
Despite the turnaround, there is some lingering insecurity. My view of makeup has changed along with my skin. Throughout my adolescence, I viewed it as a means of concealing, not enhancing. As a result, I never bothered to learn anything other than covering up. Now that my skin is clear, I find myself at odds once again with my appearance. This time, the problem isn’t with what’s on my face, but rather, what isn’t. In the age of Kylie Jenner lips and the contouring craze, I feel overwhelmingly plain. I own three makeup brushes which I’m still not sure I’m using right and I can never recreate any of the looks from YouTube tutorials. I have been told numerous times how I’d look really pretty if I “just put in a little more effort.” On the other hand, people tell me there’s no need for makeup, because “guys like natural beauty.” And just like before, I am caught between what I want and what is expected of me. Yet I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter. I choose to wear different levels of makeup depending on my mood, and not to satisfy anyone else’s desire. I also go natural on days for the same reason.
With that in mind, YOU LOOK DISGUSTING me realize how toxic the “fake vs. natural” dichotomy can be for individuals struggling with acne, other skin disorders, or low-self esteem. Call me a killjoy all you want, but those “take her swimming on the first date” memes aren’t all that funny to me. Not just because I once dreaded swimming for the same reason, but because they reinforce some pretty immature beliefs. If someone (regardless of their gender) cannot accept what you look like without cosmetics, then perhaps they are not the kind of person you need in your life. People who wear makeup, whether to conceal or enhance (or both), should not be attacked for doing something that gives them confidence. The same goes for someone who opts out of wearing makeup. These choices have no bearing on anyone else’s life other than their own, and there is no need to bring someone down who is only trying to bring themselves up. In the end, what truly makes a person beautiful is not the absence or presence of makeup, their ability to believe they are, in spite of what they are told.