This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
Last week Justin Bieber took to Instagram to announce what he’d all been waiting to hear. “Pimples are in,” he said, pointing to the cluster of spots that were dotted all around his forehead. The whole world drew a sigh of relief. Because, let’s face it, spots suck. Blackheads, whiteheads, ones with no heads, zits, acne, hormonal cysts, spots that burrow under your skin, spots that nestle gently upon it, whatever you wanna call it, those fuckers are a pain in the ass. It’s not even the spots themselves, it’s the bouts of self-hatred, self-consciousness and pure unadulterated anxiety that comes with them. What’s weird though is that no one seems to be questioning it. Well, that is until recently.
Introducing #AcneIsNormal, an online campaign dedicated to stamping out the stigma surrounding spots. Yup, that’s right, at last pimples have been included in growing body positivity movement, and the Biebs is certainly not the first to get on board. Just look at beauty blogger Kadeeja Khan, whose unretouched self-portraits have won her legions of fans. Also flying the flag for skin positivity is 20-year-old photographer Peter DeVito. Sick and tired of the photoshopped perfection that has long permeated just about everything, Peter has taken it upon himself to turn fashion photography on its head. Instead of blurring out blemishes, for the last year or so Peter has been bolstering them in his close up, unretouched portraits of people with acne, accompanied by empowering slogans like "acne is normal" and “love yourself” sprawled across each subject’s face.
Having suffered from acne all his life, Peter knows firsthand the stigma attached to having bad skin. In fact, up until recently, he couldn’t even share a photo of himself online without photoshopping it first. Now he’s basing his entire career on doing the precise opposite. “I’d been seeing a lot of posts about body positivity and self acceptance on social media but there was a lack of visibility for people with acne,” he tells i-D. “So I wanted to create posts for them. I want people to realise that getting acne is normal and that it is nothing to be ashamed of.”
The plan was originally to take unretouched portraits of other people, but what kind of message would he be putting out there if he couldn’t take unretouched portraits of himself? So he decided to take the plunge, photograph himself and share it with the world. The post spread like wildfire, in no small part due to Cara Delevingne regramming it. “It's so wrong that if I had taken that picture of myself, then I wouldn't have posted it,” wrote the model. Which just goes to show how deep-rooted this stigma is.
“Society conditions everyone to believe that they need to have perfectly clear, poreless skin all the time,” says Peter. “Just look at the majority of magazines or advertisements and commercials, they only talk about how to get rid of acne, they never reassure you that it’s normal to get it. This causes people to devalue their self-worth. It’s the same with retouching, it conditions society to create unrealistic beauty standards. When people don’t live up to those idealistic standards, it causes them to doubt themselves and believe they are not enough.”
Recently, however, Peter has begun to notice a shift in how we view, and how we represent people with acne. “Seeing Justin Bieber come out and say, “Pimples are cool” was really interesting,” he says, “because I remember when he was younger and used to do those Proactive commercials. I’ve definitely seen a change for the better. When I was younger, fashion images caused me to have a warped sense of beauty. They caused me to think that only tall, skinny girls and tall, muscular men were beautiful. Now I’m seeing short girls, curvy girls, short guys and brawny men, which has helped me understand that everyone is beautiful. It sounds really tacky, but I think it’s beautiful to be 100% yourself. Being a genuine human is beautiful.”