By Rebecca Drew


THIS WOMAN says strangers STARE at her after STRESS caused her acne to TAKE OVER HER FACE – but rather than hide it, she WORKS IT.

Illustrator and former au-pair, Mariia Bilenka (22) from Kiev, Ukraine, struggled with acne as a teenager but just put it down to puberty and was certain her skin would eventually improve, which it did.

But in Autumn 2019 whilst she was working as an au-pair in Germany, Mariia’s acne flared again to the worst it had ever been in her life. Mariia doesn’t exactly know what caused her most recent acne flare but thinks it could have been down to the stress of work and living away from home which she found difficult to adapt to.  She started to feel lonely and broken as her skin got worse.

KIEV, UKRAINE: Mariia as a teenager suffering from breakouts. MDWfeatures / Mariia Bilenka

One day Mariia discovered the acne community on Instagram and soon realised that she wasn’t alone and she plucked up the courage to share a bare-faced selfie of her own with the world. Since doing this, Mariia has been inundated with messages of support from people who say that they’ve been inspired by her.

Mariia admits that she used to apply filters to her Instagram pictures to give the illusion of having perfect skin but she knows that this isn’t a reflection of real life and the outpouring of support she’s received for her natural pictures has helped Mariia to not stress about the condition of her skin and has given her a more optimistic outlook on life.

“I started to get acne at the age thirteen or fourteen years and everyone tried to convince me that it was just because of puberty and it would be gone. But I am almost twenty-three now and still have acne, so this story has lasted almost ten years already,” said Mariia.

KIEV, UKRAINE: Mariia started sharing bare faced selfies with the world after discovering the acne community on Instagram. MDWfeatures / Mariia Bilenka

“During that time I don’t remember a time of having good skin but it wasn’t as bad as it is now that’s for sure. When I was in Germany I was hugely stressed which meant my skin got worse rapidly. It was in the worst condition it had ever been in my life.

“At that time I was almost alone, my family was far from me, only my friends could support me in my difficult situation and I was feeling really lonely and absolutely broken, not only because of my skin but also because I really wanted to come back to Ukraine.

“I don’t know how but I found the power and motivation to go outside every single day, even having big issues with my skin.

KIEV, UKRAINE: Mariia admits that she used to use filters on her pictures to give the illusion of perfect skin. MDWfeatures / Mariia Bilenka

“I started to write about acne positivity and loving ourselves almost a year ago, when I didn’t have so many breakouts. When I saw people on Instagram with severe acne I’ve always wanted to support them because they were so strong posting pictures of their true skin condition.

“When I shared my skin story with the Instagram world, I wanted to highlight that our health condition should be our privilege and it really matters. I got so much support from people I don’t know but whom I am very thankful.

“Every day many amazing people would write me some nice words or they share their skin stories how they healed their skin or that they are in the process of it. It’s just incredible how they motivate me to stay strong.

KIEV, UKRAINE: Mariia hopes to be able to inspire and support others through sharing unfiltered pictures of her skin. MDWfeatures / Mariia Bilenka

“The Instagram hashtag #acnecommunity shows that you are not alone with your problems, and when you need to find love and support, the #acnecommunity helps you.”

Whilst she has not received any negative comments about her skin, Mariia has had to deal with being stared at when she is out and about.

Stress and thinking negatively about herself are both massive triggers for Mariia’s skin, she shared her words of advice to others.

KIEV, UKRAINE: Mariia hopes to be able to inspire and support others through sharing unfiltered pictures of her skin. MDWfeatures / Mariia Bilenka

“Frankly speaking, I have never received any negative comments about my skin, maximum just some curious stares or strange looks and I am so thankful for this. All the negativity which I have ever received about my skin was usually only from my own thoughts,” said Mariia.

“I used to apply filters and Photoshop to my skin before but I am so glad that nowadays many people, including celebrities, started to share their ‘real’ photos. There are good days. There are bad days. But instead of covering our skin with makeup and filters all the time, let’s do something that will really make you feel better; a conversation with a good friend, writing what you are thankful for, watching an inspiring movie or support from the #acnecommunity.

“Please don’t stress, health trouble usually occurs because of it – acne does too.

KIEV, UKRAINE: Mariia’s skin in November 2018 (left) vs December 2019 (right). MDWfeatures / Mariia Bilenka

“There is nothing more important than our health. If something or somebody doesn’t make you happy – leave it/them.

“If you are already dealing with acne, remember that stressing and crying all the time never helps.”

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