Real Talk: I Photoshopped My Acne For Social Media, and I Regret It

Courtesy of Fjolla Arifi
Courtesy of Fjolla Arifi

I remember seeing the first tagged photo of myself that my best friend posted on Instagram. The two of us, standing in our middle school cafeteria smiling as we captured a moment embellished on her Instagram forever. Despite the happiness I felt as we posed, an overwhelming feeling of shame washed over me as I stared at my bumpy, hyper-pigmented, freckle-filled skin with the only thought in my mind being, "How do I untag myself?"

I opened my first Instagram account when I was 13, simply posting pictures of friends and family during the beginning of a digital era. As the app gained popularity, it surged throughout my middle school and high school experience. I hid when friends took out their phones, and the people I followed shifted from close friends to popular influencers that filled my feed with clear, flawless skin. Textured skin caused by my hormonal acne became my biggest insecurity as I searched for a new regimen.

Every day before school, my 13-year-old self began a routine that lasted several years. I started applying foundation and concealer over my acne, covering every pimple, zit, and my overall hatred for my skin. Although the coverage disguised my skin, pictures picked up on each bump layered across my forehead, nose, and chin. Eventually, the makeup began to irritate my acne even more. However, the fear of others seeing and judging my skin lingered, resulting in full-face coverage for the next four years. Despite following a strict skin-care regimen filled with retinoids and tea tree oil, my hormonal acne remained and worsened before starting my junior year.

Courtesy of Fjolla Arifi

As I began learning how to cover my acne more naturally through YouTube videos, I stumbled upon a photoshop tutorial. The video showcased a step-by-step outline of using the online tool to remove acne and scars and smooth skin. I instantly became drawn to editing and retouching my pictures, desperate to look similar to the Instagram influencers and beauty ads I was used to seeing on my feed and in store.

For the first time in years, I was confident in the photos I was posting. Editing a few pictures turned into editing every picture I posted. I felt accepted as comments praised my clear skin and people asked for my skin-care routine. "Accutane, other retinoids, oils, masks, and infinite products I've tried for years," I wanted to comment.

I had just continued the cycle of promoting unrealistic skin in the same way that beauty advertisements did.

Instead, a feeling of guilt washed over me as I started to gain followers. I no longer felt ashamed of my skin. I felt ashamed for the false beauty standards I was continuously promoting. I didn't want others to feel embarrassed of their skin the way I did growing up, viewing filtered photos and yearning for an unattainable version of myself. I realized that I had just continued the cycle of promoting unrealistic skin in the same way that beauty advertisements did.

As I started to gain popularity from my makeup looks and tutorials, I slowly started to showcase my real skin — no smoothing, removing zits and blackheads, and editing out spots on my face. Instead, I began to normalize my skin condition publicly. For the first time in years, I posted an unfiltered, unedited, authentic version of myself. The judgment from others I feared to receive turned into acceptance and appreciation that I had never expected. I began to look up to other beauty influencers like @emmachamberlain, @sleepyyou, and @artdr3am for posting their real skin despite the unwanted pressures of social media. I also followed brands like Squish Beauty that promote authentic, acne-prone skin throughout their campaigns. Thankfully, more and more ads are no longer retouching beauty imagery. How are we supposed to live up to these expectations when they're not real?

Acne is normal, therefore, we need to normalize it. My self-confidence and self-worth go beyond my skin and what society deems imperfect. I still struggle with hormonal acne in my early 20s, but I have accepted that my acne will come and go. It will no longer control whether I decide to wear makeup, go out, or take pictures. I don't need to edit my photos to have a sense of control over what others think of me. Instead, I've grown to love my authentic skin — clear or with acne.