While they appear comfortably seated in the safety and security of their own homes, the subjects of Michelle Sank’s series In My Skin are anything but settled. The young men and women portrayed here – including a few who identify as transgender – have spent much of their youth working through a deep disconnect of their bodies.
The portraits are visually classic in their environmental depiction but very fragile in content. What is the through-line between those who have suffered from anorexia to those who obsessively body build to those who have felt they have been ascribed the wrong gender all their life? “A sense of nonacceptance of their body image,” writes Ms. Sank from her home in the UK, “but at the same time a sense of empowerment at having made changes.”
Much of Ms. Sank’s work has centered around young people and “the different issues they experience within the societies they live in.” Ideally, we would say that the broader media’s ability to disseminate information has made us more informed, perhaps more empowered, and more empathetic towards people from across the globe. Unfortunately, it is the same media’s insistence on sameness, an impossible “everlasting” youth, and consumption that have – more than informing – squashed a sense of individuality that should be celebrated as we come of age.
What’s in the water?! Where are all these extremely young people getting this idea that they need to be something else or that they are not ‘enough’?! (I am speaking here mostly about the cosmetic changes, not those involved in the more gender-oriented metamorphosis).
“These images are about young people under 25 in the UK who are challenging their body image. I am looking at those who have had or are considering having cosmetic surgery in order to become more acceptable to themselves and achieve their ideal of being ‘beautiful’. Social consensus in Western society today is particularly focused on physical beauty and achieving and maintaining the “perfect” face and body. Intertwined with this I am also documenting body dysmorphia as young people try and conform to this social expectation resulting in eating disorders and body transformation. Lastly I am documenting transgender youths and the struggles they have [living] in a body they were born into but have no affiliation with.
“I think that young people today are more susceptible to what is expected from them through a never-ending exposure to different media sites. The pressure on having the perfect look is constantly promoted through magazines, television, online sites, pop idols, fashion industries etc. I feel more than ever it is about being loved and accepted through how one looks at a very young age.”