By Chiugo Akujuobi
Many won’t believe what I’m about to say; however, I truly believe that everyone is beautiful in their own way. It’s cheesy, it’s cliché, but that doesn’t erase the adage’s truth. Beauty standards fluctuate, transform, and detour given the time period, the continent, the country, the city, the culture, religion, ethnic group, and general phase of humanity we occupy. Before the end of the Japanese Meji period, teeth blackening or ohaguro (お歯黒) was seen as beautiful. Today, US beauty standards call for glaring white teeth. Our human standards are often arbitrary, and those who don’t fit these standards are not creatures of odd.
To put it simply, we live in a society and make this stuff up as we go. So I ask you all: why shouldn’t you believe that you’re beautiful even with your cystic acne, hormonal bumps that crop up before your period, and whiteheads that decorate your face during an important event. Why can’t you believe that your so-called imperfections aren’t meant to be a part of you, meant to be left unchanged?
I recognize that I move through the world as a conventionally attractive person. I also recognize that no amount of conventional attractiveness can shield me from the hole that is unhealthy self-esteem. I’ve suffered (and still do) at the hand of the insecurities sustained by my acne’d skin. The perceived quality of our skin can diminish our self-regard. Once you’re in that mental space, it’s immensely tough to claw your way out. Due to this, I attempt to shovel my way out of that hole via occasional $195 acne facials. In my adolescence, I used stripping Noxzema Anti-Blemish Pads, benzoyl peroxide face washes, and Clean & Clear Acne Spot Treatments. I am not above the pressures of society and I never blame anyone for altering their bodies in order to exist in the world a little easier.
We all at times dreadfully heed the bombardments of skincare regimes and acne fixes we face (pun intended, *ba-dum-tss*). Nevertheless, in my professional opinion, as someone who’s struggled with acne for all of their post-pubescent life, I can assure you all that our brains often amplify our fears of judgment. I have observed that human beings are, thankfully, incredibly self-centered. Our attention spans have shortened. Most people are fretting or rejoicing over the events occurring in their lives. People do not care. They don’t. And if they do, I advise that they get a life worth fretting and rejoicing over.
I’m not naive to the realities of life, so I won’t sit here behind my computer screen and tell you all to stop caring about what people think. That’s quite literally impossible as human beings are social animals and inherently seek belonging. I propose that we stop caring “so much” about what people think. In my selectively non-conformist life, I’ve found that people tend to actually like you more when you decide to say and do what they wish they could say and do. By not applying your nightly acne spot treatment to your skin, tired and dried out from the constant prodding, you’re unintentionally living the dream of thousands, maybe millions of people. By refusing to paste $60 concealer over your hyperpigmentation scars for your stroll through Target, you exist as a hero in someone’s world.
This manifesto is not to say that beauty standards don’t matter. It isn’t easy to live in a society that would shun you for not living up to their standards. The consequences of looking different are not arbitrary. Far from it. Appallingly, in the US, people who are considered attractive are more likely to get hired when compared to applicants who are deemed unattractive according to social standards. Rather, this soapbox moment serves to say that those standards need not matter as much as they do. We can choose when to follow them and when not to. We have much more power than believed in defining who we are, in how we want to be perceived, in how our societies are shaped.
In the grand scheme of things, Acne Studios won’t close their store doors in your face because of your acne, your genuine friends won’t uninvite you because of your blackheads, your loving family won’t exile you to the deserts of Namibia because of a breakout.
Change the world by being your authentic self–at least on your Instagram stories. My friends, I bellow from the hilltops of selective non-conformity: put Facetune down and revolt against societal standards. Embrace your breakouts and make them “fashion”. I began with a cliche, so I will end with a cliche: dare to be different.
I firmly believe that a lil acne ain’t neva hurt nobody!
I started modeling because I didn’t see any models gracing billboards or TV screens with acne. That observation simply angered me. Society has deemed people ugly because of a couple of spots they can’t control. I’ve long reconciled with the fact that I will probably never be signed to a modeling agency nor have I really tried because I know how obsessed this industry is with clear skin. Instead of waiting for someone to tell me that acne does not write me off from being a model, I took to Instagram to validate that fact for myself and others. I communicate my commitment to normalizing acne in the fashion industry by not editing my acne out of photos. Acne IS normal and should be recognized as such. Through my posts, I exhibit to the world that acne can decorate your face and you can still declare yourself as beautiful.
Chiugo Akujuobi (they/them) is a non-binary, Nigerian multi-hyphenate with talents that span modeling, fashion styling, digital art, architectural photography, drawing, dance, copywriting, essay writing, poetry, and content marketing strategy. Their eccentric creative works, focused on identifying the beauty in every being, landed them on the August 2020 cover of OutSmart Magazine, Houston’s premier LGBTQIA+ publication. The recent Scripps College graduate and micro-influencer has produced and written a multitude of socially-conscious photoshoots and copy for Jil Dever, Kiehl’s, Adore Me, Parade, and multiple social justice organizations.