Skin as Repository

'Forlorn' machine embroidery by Rebecca Harris

Skin as Repository is a arts based research project that forms part of Obscure Objects of Obesity.  Alongside the artworks paper and poster presentations were given at multidisciplinary conferences around the UK and the paper can be read on this link.


This illustrated paper describes an ongoing art-based research project which investigates the materiality of fat female skin through the medium of textiles. In weight-gain, arguably no other organ is more physically altered and visually modified than the skin. Flesh, viscera and bones reside relatively undisturbed as the mass of the body grows around. As the fat swells beneath the skin, the body transmutes towards the discursive fat person. The stretch-marks are the indices to what the skin endeavours, or endeavoured, to contain. With dramatic weight-loss, often following bariatric surgery, skin becomes a phantasm for the body it left behind, a stark reminder of the undulating cascading fatty borders between self and the world. ‘New’, socially acceptable bodyresides within the flayed skin of ‘old’ (fat) socially unacceptable body and thus leading to further surgery to ‘normalise’ the body.My practice-led research is inspired by Groven’s et al recent study of female weight-loss surgery patients who adjusted to the intestinal changes, but, compounded by the social gaze, the excess skin was problematic as the body was coded as ‘new’ and ‘old’ (Groven, 2012). My reading also focuses on Benthien’s cultural study of the skin, who argues that the female body is both a container and surface as her body is ‘other’ to the paradagmatic male and her skin is the concealing veil which is coded with her femaleness (Benthien, 2002). Drawing on analogies between skin and cloth, both functioning as surface and concealment, I seek to disembody the stretch-mark and scars by rendering them on the surface of the cloth as embroideries.