Skin is the barrier between ourselves and outside world. It is a water-proof layer that protects us from heat and cold. It is a communicative layer that sends signals. Most and first of all, it is the outmost frontier of ourselves and where our eyes are lay upon. Skin is how they see me. Skin is how I see myself. Because of this, skin is always under pressure, from inside and out, to be perfect. This project was to question the meaning of beauty by focusing on skins that are considered imperfect, how they are seen and thought.
A portrait of a Leukoplakia
Leukoplakia/ vitiligo started to develop on Megumi’s face some years ago. At first, it was not very visible and she did not notice for a while. But it grew whiter, and she suspected the summer sunlight. She went to a dermatologist after months, and the doctor said it was too late to find the reason why it was started. They could have tried a laser surgery but it did not guarantee any cure, so she gave up.
Now she has a whiter spot around her right eye, and some hair in the area is also white. Recently, she was walking on a street, and an old lady saw her face and said “sick!” And a couple of kids said “look at her!” To each other. She can’t feel much confidence in this kind of occasion. Sometimes she wears make-up to cover the spot. One of her friends advised her to use mascara too. She admires Korean girls’ make-up skills.
When I asked her what she thought was perfect skin, she answered “skin with a lot of moisture”, and showed me some photos of a Japanese TV star whose skin she thought was perfect. She was a middle-aged woman with a characteristic mole, and her skin looked really well-moisturized.
This beautiful girl had always been big. She could not get used to the way people look at her. There were friends, but some would only pretend to be friends and say bad things behind. In Brazil – where she is from – it is thought that fat people are fat because they are lazy and irresponsible.
She kept gaining weight until her health was threatened, and finally had to get an operation to reduce her stomach. She had to go through many doctors and tests to have the operation, and one of them proved that she was gaining weight because of insulin problem. Even if she has just the same amount of food as others, her body would process and save more energy. Since there was no cure for this, she had to control her diet.
After the operation, she lost a lot of weight and her skin became flaccid in result. She decided to go on another surgery which was to remove the unnecessary skin. Her doctor warned her about the scar she was going to get, but she thought it would be better than having left over skin. Now, she has several scars including the ones through her armpits and along her underarms. She does not hesitate to wear short sleeve tops and tries to ignore people who say the scars are ugly. For her, the body shape is of more concern than the scars. She can be proud of her scars because they show that she tried hard to improve her life.
I asked her what she thought was perfect skin, and she said “healthy skin, without any pain.”
Maria has some light-brown birthmarks she was born with, and a long scar around her left-side torso which is from an operation she had as an infant. All over her back are some darker moles. To me, her skin looked like an unknown constellation – stars, nebula and a comet.
I wondered how she felt about the relationship between her face where the skin is always exposed and the hidden parts of her body. She said she used to be more concerned about her moles on the face but is now comfortable, with herself in whole. She thinks that keeping them is better than having a boring face.
This is my birthmark called port-wine stain or nevus flammeus. Simply, it is my blood vessels you can see through my epidermis. It started as a small red spot on my left knee, and mum discovered it when she was giving me a bath. She tried to wash it away, but of course it wouldn’t disappear. Soon, it started to spread all over my left side leg. It doesn’t hurt, it isn’t infectious, it makes me look different. My birthmark and I had a tough time and still do sometimes, but we’re in a good relationship.
Fay has two different kinds of birthmarks, one on the back of her neck and the other on her left side elbow. The one on the neck is not very visible and can be easily covered with her long hair, so she (or the parents) had never been concerned much about it—although it tingles occasionally. She seemed very confident to present the small one on the elbow. To show it, she lifted her hand with her arm stretched, instead of turning around or lifting her elbow. I felt this gesture was very important. Fay called this one ‘my cloud’ which, to me, looked like an expression of self-esteem. On fay’s pale skin, it was floating like a cloud-shaped stain of chocolate milk.
Sojung Kim McCarthy 2011