‘Skins’ and the unattainable lifestyle

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Like many of us, I spent my school years watching Skins obsessively. The mid-2000s style, bubbly electronic theme tune and hedonistic attitude appealed to me and my friends, who spent our early teen years stealthily swiping cans from our parents’ fridges at parties. I came to accept that my college years, like the characters on screen, would be full to the brim of drug-fuelled raves, intense relationship drama, and staying out every night till the sun came up.

Needless to say, college turned out to be the biggest disappointment since we turned up to secondary school expecting a St Trinians lifestyle. At college, on one of our lunch hours spent in the art building with a Morrison’s meal deal, doing last-minute coursework, one of my friends said, ‘Well, this is nothing like Skins’.  And they were right. Perhaps many of us spent our school and college years chasing an unachievable ideal, the rugged, edgy lifestyle peddled by the programme we all admired so much. 

There is no clear-cut answer to how problematic this programme is for teenagers. Characters such as Cassie, the thin, dazed, eccentric girl was, to me at least, a warped caricature of a teenage eating disorder. Her illness was glamourised to the extreme; she appeared two-dimensional, with quotes such as ‘I didn’t eat for three days so I could be lovely’ becoming a popular staple on Tumblr at the time, arguably telling young girls already struggling that they were on the right path to becoming as ‘lovely’ as Cassie.

I am aware though, that some found this representation refreshing, in a time where mental health was much more taboo than in 2021. Perhaps it is too harsh to call this portrayal problematic, though I would argue it to be certainly inaccurate. Refreshing? Yes. Honest? Certainly not. 

At college, on one of our lunch hours spent in the art building with a Morrison’s meal deal, doing last minute coursework, one of my friends said, ‘Well, this is nothing like Skins

Skins and mental health have a precarious relationship. In this glimmering, dark realm, illness makes you mysterious, desirable, alluring. As a teenager struggling with my mental health, I was confused. Was there an attractive way to be mentally ill? Mine certainly did not make boys flock to me, as they did to Effie on screen. Mine did not make me exciting or adventurous to be around.

The Effie persona many of us have tried (and failed) to emulate, that of the cool, uninterested girl, the bad influence, does not seem as appealing to me the older I have gotten. As a feminist, I find the portrayals of young women in Skins interesting and thought-provoking, though I am not sure what the writers of the show were trying to prove by using Effie’s trauma and illness as a seeming catalyst for her sexuality throughout the show.

Effie is troubled, and left seemingly without guidance for most of the show, leading to her bad girl image. Her characterisation does not ring true – she is a muse, a plaything for the men in the show. 

Skins was so appealing partly because of its hilarity. The dichotomy of the free, party lifestyle, against the raw and embarrassing scenes of sex and coming of age were something unseen on television before. Characters were forced to face up to the consequences of their unthinking actions. Mistakes were made, and made again.

This offered so many of us much-needed escapism, a colourful retreat, however alien it appeared to our own lives. And it did tackle real issues – virginity, sexuality, family breakdowns and heartache. But it is important to consider that while the show provides great entertainment, it is not the truthful, raw portrayal it claims to be. I love this show, but I have to admit, with the over-reliance we have on media representation, it is still problematic for vulnerable teenagers trying to explore their identities. 

Image: Scorpions and Centaurs via Flixr

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