The heat wave hits London. Everything is slow and sweaty.
My mental health state is slowly eroding, although I am trying to convince everyone and myself that I know where I am going. My own body is a stranger to me. The itchy red dots are eating my skin. A kid on the streets called me a Dalmatian yesterday. I laughed, to mask the strange feeling of a void in my chest. The stretch marks are tracing a map on my legs. You did not do me any good. None of you did. But I don’t blame anyone for that. I try to think of that phase as an existential crisis. I need to get to the bottom of the pool, and push to come back to the surface.
Chlorine makes it impossible.
Water. The echo that you hear when your head is fully immersed. The noise of the bubbles exploding after the jump. The sound of screams covered by the heaviness of water. No wonder why John the Baptist has a glowing halo around him, as far as I recall from my grandmother’s biblical monologues.
They say that water heals because it reminds us of the first nine months of our lives, spent in amniotic fluid, kicking the lining of the womb. Swimming and kicking. I need a rebirth.
Quietly, almost like a ceremony, I gather my swimming suit, my glasses and my towel.
I am ready to face the outside world, people looking at my dotty legs, to feel the pitiful sights that strangers give me. It makes me want to dig a hole in the ground and disappear.
The Heath. My romantic getaway, for pique-nique and long Sunday walks. But I am alone this time. It is Tuesday. Or Wednesday, I don’t know, I am floating in my own space and time. But it doesn’t feel good. Rather isolating.
I remember last October, going there, hangover, lonely, sad and bitter. That’s probably my French roots, making me think that my life is a Nouvelle Vague movie.
Now it’s July. I am not hangover. But I am lonely, sad and bitter.
I cross the black gate. There is this pretty light coming through the leaves. Leaves that are cooling down the heat. Further away, laughs and splashes.
A corner on the meadow is calling me.
The smell of wetness brings me back to the past. My own Madeleine de Proust. Maybe instead of a Nouvelle Vague movie, my life would be better in a Maupassant novel. I should give it a think.
Another ceremony. Putting the towel on the grass. Getting out my book. Shift my water bottle to my feet.
No signal, for the best. I won’t bother anyone with my dark thoughts. If I keep being that sour about life in general, I will probably have everyone turn against me.
I get into the water. No one is bothering me with my red dots. No one is bothering anyone with anything.
Where am I?
I think I found the Holy Grail.
Skin is the only physical and visible interface between our inner subjectivities and the outside world. Scars, stretchmarks, veins, wrinkles, tattoos, its surface invites strangers to read its history, our history. We are always on display to others through our Skin conditions, whether we like it or not. Skin bears a deep meaning and is accountable for many dynamics in our identity-making. Shaved, exfoliated, pierced. A colour tone, an imperfection, a crust and our body falls into a specific hermetic normative box.
Although the Skin is a consciously malleable surface, to some extent, it is also a traitor to our deepest traumatic experiences: “the notion of skin memory draws on the work of Didier Anzieu (1989), who argues that the ego is first and foremost a skin ego: ‘the projection in the psychic of the body’.” Therefore, a Skin condition, and especially one with disorders, shows the state of one’s mental health. Hence the concept of “Skinscapes”, the Skin as a site of subconscious expression.
Anzieu, quite bluntly, further reveals that “the irritation of the epidermis becomes confused with mental irritation’ (1989: 32–33)”. In this view, psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis, and all those itchy and swollen epidermic patterns, endorse the role of signals, visual expressions of mental illnesses.
Skin disorders carry a heavy cultural weight as Anzieu explains: “he identifies a confusion of borders and limits as symptomatic of Western culture at the end of twentieth century (1989)”. Therefore, a problematic epidermis reveals the trauma in one’s inner history, both from a micro and a macro perspective. The body’s surface carries the memory of the dysfunctional family and society failures.
It is a vicious circle: those traumatic burdens come and squat on our Skins, embodied in skin disorders, like unwanted parasite, making our bodies even more difficult to live in, stigmatising them in Others’ eyes.
The concept of ‘skin autobiographies’ has been introduced by Jay Prosser: writing the Skin as a cathartic process. This is my visual Skin Autobiography, using my own Skin flaws as an aesthetic source of inspiration. I would also like to call for a wider comprehension of Skin and Body diversity, hoping to awaken a sense of compassion and understanding in the viewers’ eyes.