this model wants to #freethepimple

Louisa Northcote opens up about the realities of living with acne and why she wants more people to embrace the skin they’re in.

by Tish Weinstock
24 April 2018, 12:52pm

Having suffered from acne her entire life, Louisa Northcote knows firsthand the stigma attached to having bad skin. Not only did it hinder her modelling career, it also affected her mental health. Galvanised by the body positive movement, a year ago she decided to take matters into her own hands and embrace the skin she’s in. Now she wants to empower others to do the same.

I started suffering from acne when I was a teenager. You’re probably reading this thinking, yeah I had spots too when I was a teenager, but acne is different to getting ‘spots’. Growing up, I was told to not worry and it was just a phase of puberty everyone gets and that it would go away, I would grow out of it. I am now 21 and I am still waiting to ‘grow out of it’.

When I finally realised that my spots weren’t going away I went to the doctor and that’s when acne started taking over my life. From the age of 16 until now, I have tried everything under the sun: antibiotics (three times), retinol cream (which makes your skin dry out so much it hurts and peels), random drugstore products that supposedly target acne. Spoiler: they don’t. I stopped drinking coffee, I was a vegan for 7 months, I even stuck egg whites on my face, seriously -- you name it, I have done it. I wasn’t allowed to go on the pill because my mum suffered from breast cancer. So all that was left was the very controversial drug called Isotretinoin, or as most people know it, Roaccutane. When taking Roaccutane you have to sign a document stating you agree to the terms of the drug and the side effects, which include severe dry lips, in some cases severe depression, and severe birth defects in children, so if you did happen to get pregnant you would have to have an abortion. A lot of times they prescribe the pill with it, which I can’t take -- all that just to clear your skin. In short, Roaccutane wasn’t for me.

Acne wasn’t just affecting my day to day life, it was ruining my career. From the age of 10 I was a model in Dubai, which is where I grew up. Modelling came to a halt when I moved to England at 16 to go to art college and because of my skin. I went to see a few agencies and I had two pretty interested in me, however they said to go away, clear my skin and come back. If only it was that easy.

It was also starting to affect my mental health. I suffered from bouts of depression and became deeply insecure to the point of not being able to go outside -- one, because I didn’t want anyone to see my face and two, because all I did was cry.

I needed to do something -- and I did. In 2017, I made the decision to go on a Britain’s Next Top Model, and the first day included being completely make-up free. I had to expose my biggest insecurity not only to these strangers, but to the world. When it came to the episode being aired, I was terrified I of all the horrible comments I’d get and knew that would make me spiral into a worse place. My solution: I posted a make-up free selfie on my Instagram and wrote a long piece about suffering from acne. Since that day I have had nothing but love and kindness my way, daily messages from girls and boys thanking me for what I’ve done, sending me images of their own skin, asking questions, sharing stories, and guess what -- no trolls!! As soon as I took the initiative to post about my acne before anyone else had the time to say anything, I gained control of the narrative and turned it into a positive situation.

Following that I took an even bigger step, filming raw footage of my acne journey, which I then decided to post on Youtube. I cry a lot btw, but it is real and I wanted to show people who didn’t realise the struggle people with acne go through, and also for the people who suffer like me -- to show that they are not alone. Since then, I have been working with a clinic called SK:N to clear my acne, I have had chemical peels and laser so far, it is still a journey and I am still not at my destination of clear skin, but I have used my acne to help others and show they are not alone.

Growing up I never had someone in the public eye with bad skin to look up to. So I always felt lonely. The only conversation people had about acne was about how to cure it. Even the adverts for anti-acne creams featured beautiful models with perfect bodies and clear skin. Thankfully, I am part of an amazing generation in which people now have the ability to speak out against the status quo, to change the conversation surrounding around acne, and ultimately challenge existing representations of people who suffer from it.

Body positivity is a powerful movement which has led to industry-wide embrace of models of all different body types. It has seen an embrace of people with stretch marks, an embrace of female nipples, an embrace of seeing women with their periods, and now it’s time to embrace your skin, which is why I have created #freethepimple -- a movement that I hope will empower others to embrace the skin they’re in. It’s also a plea to the industry to stop relying on Photoshop and start using models with bad skin. I want to people to see barefaced models with acne walking in fashion shows, on the covers of magazines, in campaigns, and on billboards -- anywhere that lets a girl or boy growing up feeling insecure about their skin know that they are not alone. Now is the time to make that change, acne should not be hidden, it should not be looked down at.

My ultimate aim is to create a platform where people with acne can share their stories, their tips, their highs, their lows and, like me, their make-up-free selfies, so that they might feel as empowered as I am. I want to be able to carry out research on what causes acne, to highlight the best skin products and warn against ones that make acne worse, I just want to do something good for a community of people that spend their life in the shadows. To anyone out there suffering, know that it is just skin, it is not your fault, and that you are beautiful.

If you want to #freethepimple you can find me @lounorthcote.

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

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