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TikTok's 'scar girl' doesn't care if you think her scar is real or fake

Annie Bonelli said even though she's experienced negative attention online, she has also grown a sizable platform that she hopes encourages people to “embrace their scars.”
Annie Bonelli
Annie Bonelli, dubbed “scar girl” by many TikTok viewers.Courtesy of Annie Bonelli

For nearly two years, Annie Bonelli, dubbed “scar girl” by many TikTok viewers, has been questioned about her facial scar. But in recent months, the curiosity around her scar has reached a fever pitch, with people online trying to decipher if the long, linear mark on Bonelli’s cheek — which has changed in shape, color and length over time — is real or fake.

Videos under the hashtag #ScarGirl have garnered over 359 million views. Many users have taken the discussion further by creating #ScarGirlExposed TikToks, racking up a total of 26 million views as of Thursday evening. Some of these creators have made frame-by-frame breakdowns of her videos, with several accusing Bonelli of using makeup to darken her scar. Others have started to post makeup tutorials and TikTok filters mocking Bonelli’s scar.

I feel like on social media people get so comfortable, especially with influencers in general, to make comments on things because they don’t always view them as real people. Like, I’m a real person.

Annie Bonelli, nicknamed 'scar girl' on Tiktok

Although she doesn’t believe these reactions are “correct,” Bonelli said she has “thick skin.” She understands that the backlash is an outcome of posting on social media every day. 

“My parents always told me, ‘Don’t say things about people’s bodies, don’t make comments about other people, don’t say things about what other people can’t control,’” Bonelli, 18, told NBC News. “I feel like on social media people get so comfortable, especially with influencers in general, to make comments on things because they don’t always view them as real people. Like, I’m a real person.”

Brooke Erin Duffy, an associate professor of communication at Cornell University, said the interest in Bonelli’s scar is an example of “authenticity policing” on social media. Authenticity policing occurs when people continuously scrutinize a person’s self-presentation as fake or deceptive. Audiences are drawn to influencers who seem “authentic” and become outraged when they feel like a creator is creating content for the wrong reasons. 

“It also speaks to a lot of the ways in which, not just women, but influencers are treated,” Duffy said. “What do you want to do when you attack someone on social media? There’s just this recurrent critique that they are faking it somehow. They’re faking their success, they’re faking their looks, they’re faking their career. And so much of that is tied into the larger culture of social media, where people are trying to suss out what’s real and what’s performed in these spaces.” 

Bonelli, who goes by @wtmab on TikTok and has over 750,000 followers, said she avoided addressing her scar until recently when people became more interested in it. 

"When people were noticing and they were getting curious, I still wasn’t bringing anything up about the scar because I didn’t want that to be me, like, who I was," Bonelli said. "Because it’s not who I am. So I think it honestly just sparked more curiosity with people."

Despite her attempts to address the rumors around her scar, she has been met with ire and skepticism by some users in the comment section of her videos. Over time, Bonelli said she's accepted that “you can’t please everyone.”

“I’m continuing to live my life, especially in spite of the hate,” she said. “There’s people that are always going to say something, and I shouldn’t let that faze me.”

Bonelli said she got her scar in March 2021 when she was 15 years old and a junior in high school. She declined to share specific details because “it’s just a very personal subject.”

“Looking in the mirror, sometimes it can be hard because I know exactly where it’s from,” Bonelli said about her scar. “But at the same time, I feel like in a way it’s empowering. It’s like, you know, I got through that.”

The scar began to fade after a few months, which is clear in several of Bonelli’s TikToks from June 2021. However, Bonelli said the scar worsened after she attempted to use a topical treatment to fade her initial scar in late 2021. She said she got a chemical burn from the topical, which created a new wound on top of the scar. 

“It was bubbly and bloody and gross,” she said. “... That turned into a new wound on top of it, which is why [the scar became] significantly longer, because I just sloppily put it on. I wasn’t thinking that I’d have a reaction like that, but also my skin is really sensitive so I probably should have taken it into account.”

Bonelli said she didn’t get her first topical treatment from a doctor and she delayed seeing a medical professional after she received a chemical burn.

“I was so petrified by it. I also just have a big fear of doctors and stuff,” she said.

She said she started seeing a dermatologist in August 2022. She said her doctor is putting her on a new treatment to fade the scar. Bonelli declined to share records of dermatology appointments with NBC News.

“Scars can come in all different colors, all different shapes and sizes, and they can change throughout healing, especially when further injury is done to them,” Bonelli said. “The issue is people don’t understand there was like two separate injuries, which is really more why people are stuck on it.”

On Jan. 11, Bonelli made a video wiping her scar with makeup removers on camera to prove the scar’s authenticity. In her caption, she shared that she got her first scar from a “cruel situation” and explained her second injury from the topical treatment. 

But the video did little to change her doubters’ minds. Some commenters under her videos demanded that she “scrub it really hard” to prove it’s real. Others insisted that scars cannot darken or change shape in the way Bonelli’s cut appears to have done. 

Dr. Tina S. Alster, clinical professor of dermatology at Georgetown University, said that wounds generally heal with some redness and the scar fades closer to a person’s skin color with time. Scars can heal darker or lighter, depending on the circumstances of the injury or treatment. Alster declined to comment specifically on Bonelli’s scar.

“If the scar is exposed to sunlight or is otherwise injured by friction or another trauma, the scar could turn darker in color,” Alster wrote in an email to NBC News. “Some scars turn lighter than the original skin color 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) that can lead to color fading.”

Amid the criticism, Bonelli has also 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. Even skeptics have spoken out against the amount of hate in Bonelli’s comment section, saying that others have taken the scar debate too far.

“you guys are so mean for literally no reason why do you care so much,” one commenter wrote. 

Regardless of what people think about the scar, Bonelli chooses to think positively about her situation.

The intrigue around her scar has given her a sizable platform, and she said she has received supportive messages from people who have had similar scars and experiences. She wants to continue to encourage people to embrace their scars, and in a TikTok, she previously said she hopes to use her platform to advocate for domestic violence awareness and body positivity.

“Even if the whole like physical scar, like that whole aspect dies down, my message still is there, because not everyone has physical scars,” Bonelli said. “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 in the future to carry forth my message, which I’m really looking forward to.”