Three years ago, 24-year-old British makeup artist Kadeeja Khan made a decision that changed her life. After years of desperately covering her acne in thick layers of foundation and posting heavily edited selfies on her Instagram account, she decided to share an unfiltered makeup tutorial that featured, for the first time ever, her bare skin. Naturally, the abuse came flooding in, echoing the bullying she’d received throughout her teens—this time on a global scale. However, for every negative comment, there were hundreds of positive ones.
Galvanised by all the support she received online, Khan realised she owed it to her fans to continue spreading awareness about skin positivity and help end the stigma around acne, racking up 375k fans in the process. “I was tired of pretending I’m this ‘perfect’ person when in reality no one is,” she says. “I never in my life thought I’d feel so happy in my body and myself as I do now.” We caught up with the skin positivity activist about the many misconceptions about acne and why you don’t have to have flawless skin to be beautiful.You’re celebrated online for your confidence and general approach to beauty. Have you always been this comfortable with the way you look?
“No. Growing up, I wished I looked like someone else. I first started getting acne in secondary school. Having people call you things such as ‘pizza face’, ‘nuts’, ‘chocolate’, ‘ugly’, ‘dirty’ or ‘bacteria face’ was really hard. Even thinking about it today hurts me. I used to buy the cheapest foundation—whatever I could afford with my pocket money—and I would put layers and layers of it on, trying my hardest to cover the spots. Of course, it didn’t look good. It actually drew more attention to my skin and the condition it was in. But at the time that’s all I knew. I would wear layers of makeup, powder, foundation, lashes and even coloured contact lenses. I was very insecure in myself. I didn’t want to own who I was or how I looked. If you told me five years ago that I would be showing my true self on the internet to hundreds of thousands of people, I would [have said] you were crazy. I never in my life thought I’d feel so happy in my body and myself.”So what changed your perception?
“I overcame my insecurities by accepting who I was and knowing that I didn’t need to change myself in order to be beautiful. I was just tired of pretending to be this ‘flawless, perfect girl’ when in reality I’m not.”What inspired you to start sharing unretouched pictures of yourself online?
“I was 21 when I first revealed my skin on the internet. I was a makeup artist at the time and I was heavily Photoshopping my images, using the best colours and lighting for the smooth-skin look. My photos literally looked perfect. You would never have guessed I had even one spot on my face. I would get lovely compliments telling me how flawless I was, how beautiful my skin was, how lucky I was to have perfect skin and questions about my secret to flawless skin. Seeing that hurt me. I knew my skin wasn’t like that—far from it. I was tired of being someone else. I wanted to be myself. I wanted to show the world you’re beautiful no matter what condition your skin is in. So I did a makeup tutorial with no filter [or] edit and three years later I’m helping so many people feel beautiful and confident.”What was the reaction to that?
“It was definitely a mixture of comments and opinions. I’ve been bullied throughout my life in person, but this was the first time [I was] getting cyberbullied online. I never knew people could be so harsh over the internet. But the positive comments outweighed the negative. The amount of love I received was so amazing.”How have things evolved since then?
“Since then, I’ve been featured in campaigns for Rimmel London, Makeup Revolution, Boots and many more. I began to represent the norm of having acne, showing the world you don’t need to have the most perfect skin to be in beauty magazines and campaigns, and that the beauty industry accepts people like me.”What is it you want to communicate about acne?
“I want the world to know that acne still can be beautiful. It may not be the flawless glossy smooth skin that we’re used to seeing, but it’s still beautiful. If you have acne, you should embrace it and not hide it. Everyone deserves to be beautiful no matter what condition their skin is in.”What’s the biggest misconception about acne?
“That people who have it don’t clean their faces, or we don’t clean our pillows or our diets are unhealthy. We’ve all been brought up in a world where flawless skin, hair and bodies should look a certain way to be ‘beautiful’, and when people see acne, they treat it like a disease!”How can we change this?
“We can change this by changing how we think [and] changing the state of mind that believes acne is bad. I think it’s starting to be talked about more. People are starting to show their acne-prone skin without the filters and makeup. It’s becoming more accepted than it once was. It’s amazing that people are starting to see that acne is normal.”What practical measures should the beauty industry be taking in order to normalise acne?
“We need more acne models like myself. We need campaigns to show models with real, unretouched skin. We need the beauty industry to show the world that acne is beautiful.”What does beauty mean to you?
“Beauty is being confident in the skin you’re in. Beauty is showing yourself off proudly without edited, Photoshopped images. Beauty is knowing you are beautiful just the way you are. I honestly believe in myself and the person I am. I know my skin and body is not perfect, but I love it anyway. I love me just for being me. I feel most beautiful when I’m being kind to myself and others, wearing no makeup and showing off my beautiful skin.”What advice would you give to those who don’t know how to feel comfortable in their own skin?
“You don’t need to be flawless to be beautiful. Just be the best version of yourself. Be kind to yourself and know you are enough; confidence will follow its way to you!”Also read:
This is how Instagram and Snapchat filters are changing the future of makeup
"Skin is not good or bad; it’s not a point of conversation": Decoding the skin neutrality movement
How to love your body: Your 10-step millennial-friendly guide to body positivity