With so much media focus on bikini bodies, beach bodies, cellulite woes and eating disorders, it's easy to believe that being thin and fit is a beauty anxiety women have always had to deal with. In fact, clear skin has a longer history of cultural obsession.
As Dr. Hugo Schwyzer writes for Healthy Is The New Skinny, "Teen girls in the 19th century didn't worry about their weight; they never wrote in their diaries about how much they hated they thighs or hips or legs or tummies. But they did write about one familiar worry: their complexion."
Back then, covering acne wasn't easy. Makeup was for whores. Literally. Prostitutes wore makeup; good girls from good families did not. And that's not all, writes Dr. Schwyzer:
19th century doctors and pastors believed that acne was a public, outer sign of private immorality. They thought sexual fantasies and masturbation caused acne in both boys and girls. The idea was that if you "sinned", your face would give you away.
Now, we have things like concealer, foundation and microscrubbing face wash (not to mention Photoshop), but there's still a lot of shame and angst surrounding having pimples. Acne is natural and common, yet celebrities talk about zits in Proactiv commercials with the gravitas of someone in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Even though people with blemished skin have can't help having the condition — and have done nothing to deserve it — they are often targets of bullying and suffer low self-esteem.
We've made some progress — no one thinks your zits make you a sinner anymore — but in many ways, we remain an intolerant society, with incredibly strict standards of beauty. Because while you might find an overweight actress on the cover of a magazine flaunting her curves, you certainly won't find one with zits.
The Body Project: Acne, the One Consistent Fear [Healthy Is The New Skinny]