The Power of Stories
How storytelling calls us to strengthen our inner lives.
Skin has been a thing that you’ve weirdly been told to cover.Louisa Northcote
Model Louisa Northcote struggled with her acne for years. At age 10, the English adolescent began her early career modeling for various fashion lines. Then, as Northcote tells it, puberty struck, and as though overnight, her once perfect skin was ravaged by acne breakouts. In her portrait of life as a teenage model with a flawed complexion, Northcote paints a difficult picture blighted by the indignities of rejection and judgement. Many of the agencies that once expressed interest were now reluctant to retain contracts because of her ‘bad’ skin. Between the rejections and disparaging remarks, Northcote felt undesirable. Years of negative attention also conditioned her instincts to conceal her skin’s imperfections. “‘I would never go out without any makeup on,” she says, “I wouldn’t even see my friends without any makeup, I would try to avoid my family without it”.
In 2017, the then 20 year old model secured a place in the 12th season of Britain’s Next Top Model. To her private horror, the first task on the show required contestants to expose their bare, makeup-free skin. “My biggest insecurity was to be exposed in front of strangers,” she recalls, “and I knew how cruel people could be on the internet”. By this Northcote references the vitriol of internet trolls responding to Beauty influencer Em Ford’s viral 2015 video, “You Look Disgusting”. In the self-taped recording, blogger Ford shared images of her skin without makeup. “WTF is wrong with her face” wrote one internet viewer, “I can’t even look at her,” chimed another.
Before the television episode aired, Northcote took the pre-emptive step to post a makeup free selfie on Instagram branded with the hashtag #freethepimple. In doing so, Northcode utilised the idiom of self-exposure to confront problematic attitudes on female beauty. In her activism, Northcote is earnest in her attempt to make the unseen seen, and to argue for a more inclusive perspective on female beauty.
Photographer Sophie Harris-Taylor’s series Epidermis celebrates just this. Beautifully conceived with a remarkable dignity, Harris-Taylor is fully present with her female subjects who pose completely bare-skinned against a single backdrop. “My hope is that slowly, we will lose the stigma and be able to discuss the challenging emotions related to your skin,” says the photographer. For Harris-Taylor, her series is a counterpoint to the anxiety that surrounds the idea of female perfection. “Skin is the first thing that people see,” says Harris-Taylor, “so it should be something that people can be confident in”.
Since launching her online movement, Northcote has seen hundreds of other women inspired to share their own makeup-free selfies. Through the outward form of solidarity, Northcote is hopeful that this will be the start of meaningful change.
Louisa Northcote is a model and body positive activist. Founder of the #Freethepimple movement, she contributes regularly to discussions of female empowerment and using social media as a force for good. Follow her story @lounorthcote
Sophie Harris-Taylor is a British photographer, born in 1988 in London, where she still resides. She received both her MA and BA (Hons) in Photography from Kingston University. Harris-Taylor is renowned for her images created exclusively with natural and ambient light sources, which lend her work an unusual softness and depth. Visit her site here for more information.
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