Issue 12–SKIN FLICKS
We've been told that upon eating from the tree of knowledge, embarrassed by the sudden understanding of their own nakedness, the first humans hid themselves. It's an odd allegory that has been handed down; it seems a strange reaction on the part of our mythical ancestors. Of all the things philosophers have purported to separate man from beast, the first one was apparently clothing. We stepped out of the world of nature and into the world of fashion.
Throughout human history, beyond the sheer utilitarian need for warmth and protection, fashion has retained that initial symbolic characteristic. Our fashion signifies our sophistication; it conveys our culture or religion, our status, and our occupation. This used to be more rigid, but it does remain. "I wonder what he does for a living?" is only asked in jest when someone encounters a person in chef's attire. Similarly, everyone understands the meaning of a yamaka, a burqa, a sari, or even Amish styles. But, for many this function of clothing seems outdated as fashion is used more to promote our individuality, or rather the story we tell about ourselves; it’s something akin to our social media profiles, our likes and dislikes displayed on a t-shirt. Brand names are now used to convey class. Brand managers work tirelessly to manipulate the perception of various logos as signifiers of wealth, taste, and sensibility. Intriguingly, these signals get mixed up when cultures collide in the global fashion marketplace. Traditional styles have for some become costumes, frozen in time, sold to tourists or pulled out for children on special occasions, while they reach instead for the latest trend.
But, let's step back again, to start at that symbolic moment when humans felt the need to cover the body. It is an understatement to say that we've forever had a complex relationship with our physical beings. It is this preoccupation that has been exploited in the exaggerated features of caricatures so often used to demonize “the other,” whether “they” be big-nosed Americans in North Korean pulp fiction covers, rat-like Japanese soldiers in US wartime posters, menacing Jews in Nazi propaganda, or now Muhammad in Charlie Hebdo. But, just as often, we have actively transformed our own bodies for the sake of fashion. In the search for beauty, people have attempted to sculpt themselves in every way imaginable: elites once fattened themselves to convey wealth, models now starve themselves, sun tans were a sign of the laboring classes, then tans became a sign of leisure, people have toned the muscles, the Chinese bound ladies feet, heads have been shaped by boards, necks have been stretched. Bodies have also been cut and pierced, scarred, tattooed, and painted, all in attempts to achieve some aesthetic ideal.
These efforts, often painful or even cruel, prove that the body itself can serve as a mask to obscure our true nature. Our flesh creates false indicators of race, status, or value. New applications of cosmetic surgery and new technologies that turn former handicaps into advantages are all forcing us to reexamine our assumptions about the body, about beauty, and about the nature of humanity. As we head into an age when organic bodies are discarded for machinery, and we totally unmask ourselves as it were, perhaps we will find our true nature. More likely we will simply discover newer, more complicated, and expensive masks.
Welcome to The Post American #12--Skin Flicks. This completes the one-year run that we planned for this publication. We would like to thank anyone who has followed us from the beginning, anyone who may have picked up a copy and browsed or even read an article clear through. And, of course we would like to thank everyone who contributed, put up with our demands and deadlines, and remained friends. Our aim is to continue publishing in some format on a quarterly basis, as well as move on to other publishing endeavors. Contact us if you are interested in contributing in any way, or just continue checking our website for updates.
Issue 12 Cover by Olivia McNair