Skin positivity and a workplace revolution!

‘Young’, ‘inexperienced’, ‘unable to take care of herself’, ‘lack of hygiene’, ‘less professional’…

As a 40-year-old with acne scarring on my face, these are the stereotypes which follow me. Whilst immense strides have been made for skin positivity on social media, the mainstream media and corporate world lag painfully behind. Consciously, or subconsciously, many people still associate the appearance of clear skin with competence and success.  
I write this blog with trepidation and anxiety. I have never openly discussed my facial scars and the impact on my self-esteem and confidence, particularly on my career. However, my goal is to enable the conversation to move forward. Skin comes in all different textures, colours, and conditions – why shouldn’t our workplaces reflect this?
Amongst adults, the effects of acne and scarring can be devastating and the psychological impact cannot be ignored or underestimated. This is partly because it is no longer expected at this age, it is not ‘the norm’. Like any skin condition, there is stigma that surrounds it. It’s important to highlight that skin acceptance does not mean not treating your condition - I see a dermatologist to manage the scars, not to banish them.
In recent years, I have leaned into the skin positivity movement on Instagram, content that is relatable and honest. Seeing photos of skin with texture, unedited, without filters and hearing stories of vulnerability. It is a powerful community that supports each other. This support has enabled me to take huge strides in my social life, to prioritise relationships and conversations, focusing on friends and family who accept me for whom I am. I am content on the school run, confident at social gatherings and feel free to be my authentic self!
However, this can be more difficult at work where first impressions and appearances can be linked intrinsically to the perception of ability. There have been comments over the years which has reaffirmed that acne scars are sometimes viewed negatively, an attitude that an individual with a skin condition cannot lead themselves, let alone others. There have been times where I have wanted to hide away and not draw attention to myself. In the work environment where visibility is key, this can lead to being overlooked and a sense of not belonging.

“I look like a teenager!” is what I am often told by my adult patients. They report being mistaken for being younger, and generally feeling as though they are not being taken as seriously in the workplace as their peers with clear skin. They feel that unless they can finally clear their skin, they can’t do this presentation or put themselves up for that promotion. They worry that others are focused on their skin and judging what it looks like while interacting with them.”

- Acne and its effects on adult sufferers - Dr Penelope Pratsou, Consultant Dermatologist. 

As I smile at the work photographer, I am reminded that my journey to skin acceptance is not quite over. I use makeup as both a sword and shield, assisting me to feel confident in work situations and also distracting me from my own self judgement. What version of myself am I comfortable to show with colleagues? Time will tell.

For those with skin conditions, texture and scars are an innate part of our identity. They are distinctive, enable us to lead with empathy and show compassion. There has never been a better time for a workplace skin revolution! I ask leaders of organisations, are you ready to embrace it?


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