Have We Forgotten What Skin Looks Like?

In the glossy pages of our favorite magazines and across the shimmering screens of our TVs and smartphones, a question lingers in the air, subtle yet persistent: Have we, in our quest for picture-perfect beauty, forgotten what real skin looks like?

By Simone Sydel6 min read
Pexels/Leeloo Thefirst

Pores, zits, lines, and other "imperfections” seem to no longer have a place in a world where every scroll, click, and swipe bombards us with flawlessness. So, it's understandable how experiencing these things can make you uncomfortable with how you look in real life.

But do our imperfections truly make us less, or have we strayed so far away from reality that anything other than airbrushed perfection can make us feel like we are the aliens that don't belong?

The Evolution of Women's Skin in Media

Rewind just a decade and a half, and the portrayal of women's skin on TV and in media was remarkably different. Enlarged pores, shiny foreheads, smile lines, and skin texture – these were not seen as flaws to be hidden or imperfections to be scrutinized or obsessed over. In fact, they were barely given a second thought.

Why, you may ask? Well, it was the different approach to how we perceived beauty and the fact that signs of aging or skin texture weren't overly focused on, and women on screen looked more like the women we saw in our daily lives – relatable and real.

Now, we all know that celebrities have always been expected to maintain a certain level of youth and beauty as they're constantly in the public eye. It's partly what sets them apart from the rest of us. But dare we say that the expectations were far more reasonable, and the final result rarely went beyond good skincare and great makeup?

Fast forward to today, and the landscape has dramatically changed. High-definition technology and sophisticated special effects ushered in an era of visual beauty far beyond traditional makeup and lighting. Digital retouching in post-production has become a norm, where visual effects artists use advanced software to manipulate the footage and give the impression of physical perfection in every frame.

Digital retouching in post-production has become a norm, where visual effects artists use advanced software to give the impression of physical perfection in every frame.

These techniques allow filmmakers to not only remove temporary imperfections like zits or dark circles that any human being would get after filming for 14 hours but also alter more permanent features, such as wrinkles, skin texture, and even the shape of the face through a process that involves carefully adjusting the color and texture of the skin, removing the unwanted imperfections, and creating an overall more polished look.

In fact, the co-founder of Lola Visual Effects, which is the company behind Brad Pitt's reversed aging in the Benjamin Button movie, Edson Williams, has said that, as a specialist in invisible cosmetic effects, his ultimate goal of doing his job is when the viewer leaves the theater thinking their favorite actor has perfect skin and no body fat.

This not only allows vain actors, celebrities, and other media stars to maintain a desirable appearance beyond their natural capabilities but also says a lot about how routine and sophisticated the level of digital alteration has become and the effect it has on us, the consumers. To put it bluntly, we will either not notice that what's being shown to us isn't real or get used to it to the point where it skews our perception of what people look like. So, it's no wonder that real, untouched skin appears to be a foreign concept that weirds us out when we notice it in an older movie or a show.

So, with pores becoming non-existent, wrinkles being smoothed out, and seeing an occasional pimple feeling almost alien to us, is this stark departure from what most of us really look like in real life responsible for beauty standards that are not just unrealistic but also unrelatable, and a source of debilitating struggles with self-image for many?

The Shock of Real Skin

In an eye-opening TikTok, Gal Rafael (, a wellness and weight loss coach, explains how, while watching The Hills, an early 2000s reality show, she found herself unexpectedly fixated on the skin imperfections of Lauren Bosworth and Lauren Conrad during a casual bar scene.

"I found myself distracted by their skin, which was totally beautiful, but seeing texture was so new to me ‘cause I'm so used to the Kardashian effect," Gal explains before mentioning that the sight of real girls with smudged makeup and the occasional pimple, without hair extensions, struck her as oddly different.

Gal contrasts this with Selling Sunset, a more recent reality show where the women, despite being older, exhibit flawless skin without a wrinkle or enlarged pore in sight.

This stark difference not only highlights a troubling trend of endlessly chasing perfection but the fact that our eyes have become accustomed to seeing digitally smoothed skin, to the point where encountering natural skin texture feels like a jarring shock.

But the problematic nature of this phenomenon doesn't end there. In fact, this shift in our perception of beauty and normalcy has affected millions of people, especially young women, who are becoming more scared of aging than ever – kids as young as 9 years old slather their faces with expensive skincare products and 10-step beauty regimens that are likely to wreck their skin barrier before they even experience puberty pimples.

In addition to that, a disturbing number of studies have found an association between body dysmorphic disorders, which are mental health conditions where a person spends an abnormal amount of time worrying about flaws in their appearance, and social media usage. Teenagers and young adults, who are particularly vulnerable to this – and coincidentally spend the most time on social media compared to any other age group – are constantly exposed to images of "perfection" that have been digitally altered and filtered to the point where what's in the picture is simply impossible to achieve in real life. This constant exposure has had a detrimental effect on the self-esteem and body image of many, leading them to compare themselves with unrealistic standards and feel inadequate in their skin.

Additionally, while body dysmorphic disorders certainly have the potential to become severe on their own, the constant pressure to achieve perfection has pushed young people more than ever before to resort to extreme measures like cosmetic surgery, which can have harmful long-term effects on their physical and mental health and can, unsurprisingly, lead to an obsession with constantly altering their appearance.

The "Kardashian Effect"

We can't talk about the changing perception of beauty and the impact on our collective mental health without mentioning the Kardashian-Jenner clan and the undeniable influence that A-list family has had on today's beauty standards. So much so that the "Kardashian Effect" has become a cultural phenomenon and a term used to describe the trend of women trying to emulate the sisters' appearance with over-the-top beauty procedures and enhancements.

Known for their heavy makeup, relentless post-production editing, and carefully curated social media posts, the Kardashian-Jenner women have not only set the bar for what's considered beautiful and desirable in today's society but have also changed the way people present themselves both online and offline.

However, despite having access to teams of people always there to turn them into the best versions of themselves, the KarJenners don't seem immune to the pressures they helped create. A notable example is Khloé Kardashian's reaction to a photo that was mistakenly posted online a couple of years ago. The unposed and unedited bikini picture led to her famously threatening legal action in her bid to get the leaked photo scrubbed from the internet, a move that confused many people as she looked nothing less than stunning in the snap – albeit slightly more human than her usually heavily filtered and manipulated posts.

This incident led to her opening up about the struggles of "not ever feeling perfect enough," which provoked mixed reactions from her fans. Some took to X to rightfully express both disappointment and empathy for her struggle, while pointing out how the Kardashian family has had an enormous role in the perpetuation of impossible beauty standards, of which they themselves appear to be victims.

This situation highlights a critical aspect of the Kardashian Effect: the paradox of promoting unattainable beauty standards while struggling to meet them. It also raises questions about the authenticity of the images we consume daily and the psychological impact of chasing an ever-elusive ideal of perfection.

The Need for Normalization of Natural Skin

Instead of being shocked by natural, "imperfect" skin, let's focus on acknowledging that the only shocking part about all this is that we have slowly become unaccustomed to real skin.

We have had it hammered into our minds that the standard is to aspire to be poreless, even though our pores play an essential role in keeping our skin healthy, that wrinkles should be prevented at all costs, even though they're a part of our biology, and that a zit is something to be embarrassed about, even though it's actually a sign that our immune system is working hard to fight the overgrowth of bacteria that could potentially lead to infection if undetected.

We must acknowledge that the digital world is not reality and work toward creating a healthier relationship with both our bodies and beauty standards instead of trying to convince ourselves and everyone who scrolls through our social media profiles that we are perfect.

And who knows, maybe in another 10 years, we'll be looking at the Kardashians with shock at how unrealistic their beauty standards were, rather than striving to emulate them.

The people you consider perfect may have themselves fallen victim to the pressure of unrealistic beauty standards.

For now, we can start by looking up to celebrities, who, although looking "perfect" is a huge part of their job, have also taken a stance against worshipping unattainable beauty standards. Celebrities such as Ariana Grande, who recently made waves with remarks on regretting the cosmetic procedures she underwent before her face was even fully developed and embracing the natural aging process, or Courtney Cox, who said she didn't realize how strange her face would look before undergoing cosmetic procedures, can be great examples, as they promote self-acceptance and embracing natural beauty after experiencing the mental and physical downsides of altering their faces.

On the other hand, Kylie Jenner, who has outwardly denied getting cosmetic surgery and using filters and photo editing, has seemingly taken a step toward accepting accountability for participating in the promotion of toxic beauty ideals, saying, "All of us just need to have a bigger conversation about the beauty standards that we are setting," in season three of The Kardashians.

And while we are left to see whether this shift in thinking is genuine or just a publicity stunt, any move toward embracing natural beauty should be encouraged, regardless of the intentions behind it.

So the next time you're scrolling through social media or watching your favorite show, remember that what you see on screen isn't reality and that the people you consider perfect when it comes to their physical appearance may have themselves fallen victim to the pressure of unrealistic beauty standards and the seemingly endless perpetuation of these issues.

Remember that some of them truly regret the decisions they made to achieve that "perfection" and that many are likely aware of the negative impact their portrayal has on society, whether they choose to speak out about it or not.

Closing Thoughts

At the end of the day, the reality is that no one likes flaws, and this is why we have become influenced to see what's on TV or social media as desirable.

But, isn't not liking flaws the perfect excuse to stop focusing on them? What if, instead of working hard to hide our imperfections or even harder to accept them, we stop giving them so much attention?

We are certainly not advocating for giving up your skincare routine or completely abandoning the use of makeup. In fact, taking care of your skin and feeling confident in your appearance can positively impact your mental health. But it's also important to recognize the potential harm in constantly striving for perfection and instead focus on other, more productive ways to spend our time and energy.

Maybe it's time to shift our focus from wanting to look perfect to being grateful for being healthy and feeling happy in our own skin, and appreciating the changes that come with every stage of life. After all, perfection is never the key to happiness, and chasing it can, more often than not, leave us feeling miserable and unfulfilled.

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