Annie Bonelli, dubbed “scar girl” by many TikTok viewers, has been questioned about her facial scar for nearly two years. But in recent months, the internet has been buzzing with speculation about whether the long, linear mark on Bonelli’s cheek — which has changed shape, colour, and length over time — is real or fake.
More than 359 million people have watched videos with the hashtag #ScarGirl. Many users have expanded on the conversation by creating #ScarGirlExposed TikToks, which have received a total of 26 million views as of Thursday evening. Some of these creators have broken down her videos frame by frame, with several accusing Bonelli of using makeup to darken her scar. Others have begun to mock Bonelli’s scar with makeup tutorials and TikTok filters.
Bonelli claims to have “thick skin,” despite the fact that she does not believe these reactions are “correct.” She understands that the backlash is a result of her daily posting on social media.
“My parents always said to me, ‘Don’t say things about other people’s bodies, don’t make comments about other people, don’t say things about what other people can’t control,'” she says. NBC News spoke with Bonelli, who is 18 years old. “I feel like on social media, people get so comfortable making comments on things, especially with influencers in general, because they don’t always see them as real people. As if I were a real person.”
The interest in Bonelli’s scar, according to Brooke Erin Duffy, an associate professor of communication at Cornell University, is an example of “authenticity policing” on social media. When people constantly scrutinise a person’s self-presentation as fake or deceptive, this is referred to as authenticity policing. Audiences gravitate toward influencers who appear “authentic,” and they are outraged when they suspect a creator is creating content for the wrong reasons.
“It also speaks to a lot of the ways in which influencers are treated, not just women,” Duffy said. “What do you want to do when you make a social media attack on someone? There’s just this recurring criticism that they’re faking it in some way. They are faking their success, faking their appearance, and faking their career. And a lot of that is related to the larger culture of social media, where people are trying to figure out what’s real and what’s staged in these spaces.”
Bonelli, who has over 750,000 followers on TikTok as @wtmab, said she avoided addressing her scar until recently, when people became more interested in it.
“When people started noticing and becoming curious, I still didn’t bring up the scar because I didn’t want that to be me, like, who I was,” Bonelli explained. “Because that isn’t who I am. So I honestly believe it just piqued people’s interest.”
Despite her efforts to dispel rumours about her scar, she has been met with ire and scepticism in the comments section of her videos. Bonelli has come to accept that “you can’t please everyone.”
“I’m continuing to live my life, even in the face of hatred,” she said. “There are people who will always say something, and I shouldn’t let that bother me.”
Bonelli stated that she received her scar in March 2021, when she was 15 and a junior in high school. She refused to provide specifics because “it’s just a very personal subject.”
“Looking in the mirror can be difficult at times because I know exactly where it came from,” Bonelli said of her scar. “But at the same time, I feel like in a way it’s empowering. It’s almost as if, “You know, I got through that.”
After a few months, the scar began to fade, as evidenced by several of Bonelli’s TikToks from June 2021. However, Bonelli claimed that the scar worsened after she attempted to fade her initial scar with a topical treatment in late 2021. She claimed that the topical caused a chemical burn, which resulted in a new wound on top of the scar.
“It was bubbly, bloody, and gross,” she described it. “… That resulted in a new wound on top of it, which is why [the scar] became significantly longer, because I just sloppily applied it. I wasn’t expecting such a reaction, but my skin is extremely sensitive, so I probably should have anticipated it.”
Bonelli claimed that she did not receive her first topical treatment from a doctor and that she delayed seeing a doctor after suffering a chemical burn.
“I was terrified of it. “I also have a huge fear of doctors and stuff,” she explained.
She stated that she began seeing a dermatologist in August 2022. She stated that her doctor has started her on a new treatment to help fade the scar. Bonelli refused to provide NBC News with records of dermatology appointments.
“Scars can come in a variety of colours, shapes, and sizes, and they can change throughout healing, particularly when further injury is done to them,” Bonelli explained. “The problem is that people don’t realise there were two separate injuries, which is really why people are stuck on it.”
On January 11, Bonelli filmed herself wiping her scar with makeup removers to prove the scar’s authenticity. In her caption, she explained how she got her first scar from a “cruel situation” and how the topical treatment caused her second injury.
However, the video did little to persuade her detractors. Some viewers of her videos demanded that she “scrub it really hard” to prove its authenticity. Others contended that scars cannot darken or change shape in the way that Bonelli’s cut appears to have.
According to Dr. Tina S. Alster, clinical professor of dermatology at Georgetown University, wounds generally heal with some redness, and the scar fades closer to the colour of a person’s skin over time. Depending on the circumstances of the injury or treatment, scars can heal darker or lighter. Alster declined to comment on Bonelli’s scar specifically.
“If the scar is exposed to sunlight or is otherwise damaged by friction or another trauma, the scar may darken in colour,” Alster explained in an email to NBC News. “Some scars become lighter than the original skin colour if there is more injury to the melanocytes (or tanning cells) or if there is a deeper (or more involved) injury that leads to fibrosis (skin thickening) and colour fading.”
In the midst of the backlash, Bonelli has received some support from fellow TikTokers, including musician Nessa Barrett and lifestyle creator Reagan Baylee, who frequently discusses her own “facial difference” on the app. Skeptics have also spoken out against the level of hatred in Bonelli’s comment section, claiming that others have taken the scar debate too far.
“You guys are so mean for literally no reason,” one commenter wrote.
Bonelli chooses to think positively about her situation, regardless of what others think about her scar.
The interest in her scar has provided her with a large platform, and she has received supportive messages from people who have had similar scars and experiences. She wants to continue encouraging people to embrace their scars, and she previously stated in a TikTok video that she wants to use her platform to advocate for domestic violence awareness and body positivity.
“Even if the whole physical scar, like that whole aspect fades away, my message is still there, because not everyone has physical scars,” Bonelli explained. “Everyone has scars, people have mental scars, emotional scars, like I want to broadcast that to the world, that no matter what, you should be proud of your scars. And I have a lot of plans for the future to spread my message, which I’m really excited about.”