I never looked like the teenagers I saw in movies. Sure there was a period where I was a mean girl and I definitely felt clueless, but there was always one standout difference between me and the typical Hollywood teen. Growing up, my skin was far from flawless and no matter what the movie, the time period or the actors, I never saw a young woman with acne on screen. That is, until I saw Lady Bird.
Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, which currently has a well-deserved 100 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, is a coming-of-age story starring Saoirse Ronan as an artsy high school senior, growing up in Sacramento, California in the early 2000s. The film, now playing in theatres across Canada, is considered a serious award contender this season; but it’s already a winner in my mind for Ronan’s super real depiction of a teen girl.
In an interview with Racked, Ronan pointed out that though she typically hasn’t had problematic skin, wearing heavy makeup for shoots was making her breakout. Her makeup artist Jacqueline Knowlton suggested that instead of covering up her bumps and spots, they use this as an opportunity to showcase what teen girls actually look like—and Ronan agreed.
“I just felt like it was a great opportunity to show someone as they really are at that age. Because most young people do get bad skin! And I don’t think that’s something you get to see much,” Ronan told Racked. “Growing up, a lot of of the teenage girls I saw in movies and TV shows were played by these fully formed 30-year-olds with great skin.”
After seeing the film, many viewers tweeted their appreciation for Ronan’s decision to go fresh-faced for the film.
One of my favorite things about Lady Bird is that Saoirse Ronan had acne. The characters in most teen movie/shows do not have a single pimple, which is HELLA unrealistic
— Larrrrrrrrry (@Larissaexplainz) November 20, 2017
As a person with terrible skin, I appreciated Saoirse’s acne not being covered up in Lady Bird.
— viv (@dressedlikedusk) December 8, 2017
I dont think ive ever seen a movie where the protagonist is a teenage girl and she has acne?? Of all things this stood out to me about ladybird
— nico (@uwublogger) November 19, 2017
And it’s true, nearly all of the teen faces we see on screen are blemish-free—despite the fact that in reality, the majority of teens deal with acne. (I certainly did/still do, and I have the scars to prove it.) According to the Acne and Rosacea Society of Canada, 90 percent of teens experience some form of acne. And yet, the only time I remember seeing celebs talk about having problematic skin was in Proactiv commercials, and even then, it was with the intent to sell a solution.
Body-positive blogger Dana “Hotpants” Suchow made a video recently about the lack of representation of skin problems on screen, and the side effect that it has on the audience. Like me, Suchow grew up with acne and typically wears a full-face of foundation to hide her blemishes, coverage which she strips away in the video.
“There’s no representation of acne or skin issues anywhere, and so what that does is that makes us feel completely alone,” she says in the YouTube video. “We literally feel—if you have a skin issue—you feel like there’s something wrong with you because everyone else in the world has clear skin. That’s not true.”
Suchow says that characters like Lady Bird help combat the misconception that acne is a problem that can hold you back. “Having representation and seeing someone doing what teenagers do, falling in love, fighting and living life is necessary because life is going to happen whether you have clear skin or not, and if we keep saying that we can’t live until we are perfect, then we are going to be striving for that until the day we die, and we’ll never experience life,” she says.
The body-positive blogger also highlights that not only does Lady Bird showcase a character with less-than-perfect skin, but the film also doesn’t turn Ronan’s acne into a talking point. Instead, the film simply allows Lady Bird to exist just as she is—zits and all. And to Suchow, that speaks volumes.
For her part, Ronan says that she hopes that Lady Bird will help those with problematic skin feel seen.
“I hope it helps young people—and anyone who struggles with their skin—to connect with the character,” Ronan says in the Racked article. But really, I think it does more than help audiences connect with Lady Bird. It helps viewers who, like me and Suchow, don’t exactly wake up #flawless feel a bit less flawed.