The influencer changing the face of Instagram

Our new series Class of 2020 highlights some of the best feature writing by this summer’s journalism graduates from De Montfort University, Leicester. Here, Chloe Martin tells a frank story of a young woman who battled severe acne – and online trolls

Just a little blur here and a quick smooth there and you’re done. Using filters or photo editing apps can be an easy way to hide your skin imperfections in the online world.

But this is not realistic. We are led to believe that all women have perfect skin – they don’t.

Mariah Pearson, from Somerset, is helping to change people’s perceptions of those who suffer with conditions such as acne or rosacea. Mariah’s aim is to counter the fantasy world of unblemished skin that has been created through social media.

She had suffered with acne since the age of 12, but when Mariah turned 20 things started to get more serious when she suddenly developed a severe type called acne conglobata.

“You develop open wounds around the affected area,” she says. “The wounds tunnel under the skin connecting themselves together with their own sinus tracts, which can lead to disfiguring scarring and is extremely painful.”

Her acne was becoming increasingly worse. In May 2019, Mariah was sat waiting for a dermatology appointment, anticipating she would be prescribed a next-level drug to tackle her skin condition. This the moment when her Instagram account, acnetain, was born.

“The handle ‘acnetain’ is a play on the name of the medication I’m on,” says Mariah.

Accutane is the brand name of isotretinoin, a strong medication used to treat severe types of acne that have not been improved by other treatments. It comes in the form of capsules usually taken over a period of one to eight months.  

The drug promises great results for the skin but it comes with a warning. Dry eyes and chapped lips are common reactions to isotretinoin, but it also has carries the risk of rare but serious potential side effects, including stomach pain, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.

“I’d heard of Accutane before my acne was bad, and it didn’t appeal to me because the side effects didn’t seem worth it. Only when it got bad it seemed like a relief,” says Mariah.

 “I had a friend who’d been on it, and she told me some pretty dark things about her mental health, and how it hadn’t been the same even after she finished, so that scared me,”

“The worst side effects I have had so far are dry eyes, and since suffering with social anxiety for my whole life, that doesn’t help either,” Mariah says.

Many people decide to create an Instagram account to keep track of their Accutane journey and to look back at how far they have come.

“I remember searching #accutane on Instagram, and to my surprise I found loads of accounts documenting their progress. I thought that I could do that too,” Mariah says.

Mariah uses her account to record her progress whilst on Accutane, where she shares photos of her journey and talks about how she is feeling that day.

“I was initially scared of starting the account since I had a very severe case and thought I might receive some hate, and my self-esteem was too low at that point to handle any of that. But I took the plunge…and ‘acnetain’ came alive. Ranting about how I really felt on that first post was an amazing feeling,” says Mariah.

After growing massively since May 2019, Mariah’s account now has 8.5k followers.

“I never fathomed that I would reach even 100 followers, let alone 8,000! It started out as a little account to track my progress and somewhere to express my frustration. I guess the authenticity must have really resonated with people,” Mariah says.

But having a large following on social media does come with its downfalls. “You know what social media can be like. People hide behind a screen and can say such horrible and demeaning things they would never say in public,” says Mariah.

Receiving hate from anyone can be disheartening, but when it’s from a person who you don’t know who’s hiding on social media, can make it worse.

“I have received some negative comments, usually in other languages. I knew it was rude as they used the bee emoji, guessing they were implying I got stung by bees,”

“I have also been told I’m too pale/too white, have a massive forehead and I complain too much. But the positive comments usually outweigh the negative ones,” she says.

People who suffer with skin conditions may feel they must edit their pictures to hide their skin imperfections, but we should learn to embrace our differences.

“I really had myself convinced that a selfie wasn’t worth posting if you could see my skin problems,”

“Before I started this account and while my acne was bad, if you looked on my social media you wouldn’t have had the faintest clue that I had acne. I was so good at hiding it. Angles, filters, lighting. I really was an expert of alluding to clear skin,” says Mariah.  

Instagram can be a negative haven of people posting about their perfect lives and skin constantly. “After creating this account and filling my feed with less toxic accounts, I realised just how damaging me hiding my acne was,” Mariah says.

Even though having a following on social media can come with negative aspects, it can also be positive. “Having this account taught me that I’m a lot stronger than I thought,” she says. “When I go back to my first posts, I don’t just see physical progress on my face, but I read the captions and realise my mental progress too.”

Creating an online presence allows you to express yourself and to become more confident. “It also taught me that I can be a leader. Having social anxiety all my life, growing up I was too shy to stand up for what I believe in. But since creating this account I’ve realise I can be the one people look up too, instead of look past,” Mariah says.

Accounts like Mariah’s show people what real skin is like, and it can help others feel more positive about their skin. “I often receive messages from people telling me how much I’ve helped them with their acne. It always makes me smile and feel happy that I could help in some way, no matter how small,” says Mariah.

After being on Accutane for eight months, Mariah can see incredible changes to her skin. “My Accutane journey has been very long, but also very successful. I feel happier now my acne has gone down. Once you live in constant pain for a while you never take it for granted once it goes away,”

“It is one hell of a medication and I’m sick of the side effects now. But I should be finished very soon,” says Mariah.

Going through any type of acne can be tough and emotionally draining on anybody. “Try to hold on and remind yourself that it will get better, it won’t always be like this. Never believe those fads you see online, go and see a dermatologist,” Mariah says.