by Sudha Hamilton
Our skin is our single largest living organ and it literally defines who we are. Without our skin, we would be a skeleton in a puddle of blood and that would take some getting used to, I imagine. Skin is often derided for being at the surface of things and thus incorrectly labelled superficial – so skin deep – but what this elastic covering achieves for our anatomical structure is more than just a tidy appearance. Skin breathes and like a baboon’s bottom its colour and appearance indicates our state of health – it is a barometer for all to see, of our moods, our level of hydration, our age and whether we are succumbing to disease.
We look outward in our search for beauty in our lives, we are conditioned to look out and not within, to seek beauty and meaning in romantic love, Art and nature. Beauty that inspires us to love or perhaps to begin the journey to find our heart, and meaning – to find meaning in that same quest for love or is there meaning in beauty itself? Much of our seeming obsession with appearing beautiful is, I think, the desire to be loved for who we are. As Louise Hay writes, “Our skin represents our individuality. Skin problems usually mean we feel our individuality is being threatened somehow. We feel that others have power over us.” I always think of adolescence and the eruption of skin problems at this time as a great example of this.
Our skin makes us uniquely who we are and no other. To touch another’s skin is an intimate act and usually the preserve of mothers and lovers. Skin to skin. The feel of your beloved’s skin is very important – it must feel right to touch for things to proceed from there. How one feels inside one’s own skin is another way of conveying the emotional response to one’s own existence. It is funny that we describe someone as ‘skinny’ when they in fact have less skin than someone who is not so svelte, but perhaps we are referring to them having les fat beneath their skin. Still we call someone a fatty when they have more fat but linguistically ignore the need for the extra skin to stretch over that fat. Skinny latte for me please.
Skin is portrayed in myth as often about magical powers, like the dragon’s scaly skin being impenetrable or the healing powers of the snake shedding its skin as renewed life. Skins were our first clothing in ancient times, to keep us warm and perhaps also to take on some of the properties of the slain animal – bear skins, sheep skins, fox, wolf, mink, cat, dog, buffalo, rabbit, kangaroo………..Shaman still today, wear skins of their totemic animal when performing rituals. When the beautiful white swans descend down to water, they remove their feathered skins to become frolicking naked ladies and if you can steal their skin they will follow you home and be yours forever – according to the myth that is.