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Ten Years: A (Belated) Tribute to U.K. Skins and Figuring It Out

In a three month late cheers to the airing of the first U.K. Skins, “Tony” aired as the pilot for the British teen drama Skins. In a decade that was glossed over with regrettable pop culture moments, the rise and fall of low rise jeans, naughty political scandals, and a wave of entrancing teen dramas- growing up a teen was strange, as it always is. Skins rose to the top as a controversial look into the lives of intimate groups of characters, replaced biennially. How each generation of characters only lasted for two seasons is a reminder of the ephemeral nature of adolescence. Skins ran for a strong 6 years, showcasing generations of teenagers in Bristol, South West England. In comparison to other teen shows in the early 2000s such as Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill, Skins did not clean up its depiction of adolescence, portraying it for exactly was it was- confusing, sometimes bland, misguided, and shining a beacon of light on all of it. It did not go out of the way to showcase a moral at the end of each story; But sometimes the violence, foul language, and shock puts the viewer in a place of reflection stronger than any set lesson could.

The characters were never anything that we would aspire to be, but they were truthful. You would find a soft spot for a show that you could not watch around your parents. There is nothing pretty about drama based about drugs, toxic relationships, and crime; there is something even scarier about finding yourself in these characters. Skins showcases generations that are emotionally dependent on each other while exploring dysfunctional families, eating disorders, body image, vulnerability, mental illnesses, gender, sexuality, death, pressure, substance abuse, and hopelessness. And each generation felt almost far removed from the last, ending with the first generation growing up to be adults. Adults through the course of the show seem distant from the lives of their children which is easy to relate to on both sides of the fence. Adolescents with parents are caught up in their own dramas or fantasies, those who lack model parental figures that are set up by ideals, and those who are so overbearing that they miss the realities of their children.

Complex characters take the stage for Skins; some of the most powerful seem to be the ones who are strongly detached from themselves. In the first generation of characters, Cassie Ainsworth showcases something magical in being so distant and dishearteningly truthful. It’s hard to pinpoint Cassie’s troubles in the ways she responds to her parents and the role of her heavy insight walled in by soft commentary on otherwise average high school crushes. Cassie’s character struggled with an eating disorder, which is unfortunately too relatable to some, to find control of herself in her surroundings, and is also a way to maintain attention when she needs it. Cassie is an example of the ambitiousness of Skins, framing her in minutes of utter silence and film leak effects, leaving for open interpretation and relation to the character. Of course, any assumptions made about this character or any character beyond surface level is ridiculous because part of the appeal of Skins is its ambiguity and statement on the cryptic value of teen life.

What is disarming about Skins is how we can easily find ourselves in the characters and narcotic worlds they reside in, all from the comfort of the stability we may have. Characters like Cook, who are subversive, unstable, and drawn to finding thrill in being numbed out by a toxic chain of relationships and lack of parental figures, find a place in our hearts. The juxtaposition of characters that seem un-kosher in the same story line is all too real; Skins prided itself with its integrity and its ability to showcase how drastically different the experiences that define growing up can be between generations, and between the UK and the US. However at the same time, it places a universal common ground of feelings and thought-provoking reflections on our wondrous yesteryears. Well what defines adolescence?Skins redefines the mentallity that the “All American” high school experience exists. There are lives outside of the stereotypical private school soap opera and fleeing bedrooms in the nighttime. While being washed up with crowds of Nirvana t-shirts or mourning over the downfall of flip flops and bootleg jeans does hold every adolescent under its arms the same way, feelings of excitement and fleeting confusion can. It also puts those who are not involved in drugs, “Skins” parties, and recklessness in a place of introspection. It is important to understand the parallels of generations in a world of culture that changes mind-numbingly fast. Skins, in retrospect, stands as an anchor made of mirrors- standing still for those who choose to analyze themselves by pulling from 8 characters at a time. Although the foul language spewing out of the characters’ mouths requires a heavy dosage of liquid dish soap, and watching it in the same room as your parents is a plea for a heavy lecture, there is something comforting about quietly having a common understanding in this short time of differentiating between growing, and growing up. As Skins ends, we are reminded of the end of the age, but fall into the same troubles that we began with- now, just a little bit older.

(Originally written for, revised for the Affinity Magazine)

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Kelly Chen
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Kelly is a teen artist and writer from NYC, currently attending Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. She is vocal about the Asian American community, urban adolescence, and social effects of changing demographics in music. Kelly is a fashion forward punk rocker just trying to integrate functions in Calculus and sing songs about the Periodic Table of Elements in Chemistry.

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