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Skinspirational: A Show Accurate in Both Teen and Drama

Madison Loughlin

August 27th, 2020


Most adolescents devour voguish, glossy teen dramas. The average teenager is enlightened from watching Gossip Girl’s Blair Waldorf parade around in $500 Jimmy Choos and habitually degrade her “best friend.” Ostentatious homes, high school students portrayed by twenty-seven-year-old actors, quixotic dialogue, and torrid romantic affairs are motifs consistently woven throughout 21st-century teen dramas. In combing through Netflix, I’ve glimpsed the romanticized teenage experiences depicted by The O.C., Riverdale, One Tree Hill, and countless other young-adult television series. Luckily, I’ve also uncovered a hidden gem: Skins.

Skins, which aired in January 2007, chronicles the lives of a group of hedonistic teenagers in Bristol, England. Each episode captures a different character’s tumultuous quest for happiness, purpose, and a sense of core identity. Skins holistically explores a host of issues--teen pregnancy, sexuality, gender, divorce, substance abuse, depression, eating disorders--and reveals the explicit truths about teenage life.

One of the earliest episodes follows Jal Fazer, who is an accomplished musician and diligent student. The director of Jal’s school summons Jal to her office. The director states that she’d “like Jal to do a couple of interviews” to “celebrate an amazing achievement for a girl of [Jal’s] background.” The director’s racist stereotypes persist when she gives Jal a fraudulent checklist of ways in which the school has “assisted Jal in overcoming her handicaps.” Jal’s school attempts to take the credit for her accomplishments and belittles her diligence, but Jal defies her school director; Jal decides to reply with “no” to every question asked during her interview.

Much of the controversy surrounding Skins is attributed to its portrayal of vulgar language, sex, drug use, and alcohol consumption. However, these elements prompt young viewers to extrapolate conclusions about their ethical codes and social relationships. Although the show may not be completely immune to clichés of teen media, Skins is distinguished by its psychological dissection of the characters and exposition of wisdom that appeals to teens in the midst of their real-life coming-of-age journeys.

One protagonist from Skins in particular, Effy Stonem, is depicted as being aloof and reserved. As the show progresses and Effy develops into a centralized character, it is revealed that in coping with her parents’ separation, she is snowballing into a state of depression and withdrawing herself from emotional needs. Effy repeatedly rejects authentic love and, instead, engages in mindless actions—such as doing drugs—to seemingly alleviate her pain. It is said that Effy’s “got so much love in her heart, but the thought of letting it out, showing her cards, scares her to death.”

Another aspect of the imbuing nature of Skins is the cast, composed of both professional actors and real-life teenagers selected from open auditions. Series 1 of Skins included Dev Patel, who was nominated for an Oscar and appeared in Slumdog Millionaire and Lion; Daniel Kaluuya, who gained acclaim for his main role in Get Out; and Hannah Murray, who received a BAFTA award for her enactment in HBO’s Game of Thrones. On Skins, Dev Patel portrays Anwar Kharral, who struggles to reconcile his religious background with his best friend’s sexuality. Hannah Murray depicts Cassie Ainsworth, who suffers from anorexia nervosa and suicidal ideation. Daniel Kaluuya portrays Posh Kenneth, who attends the same school as the main characters. Kaluuya also co-wrote some of the episodes.

Skins incorporates humor, heartbreak, realism, and originality while never trivializing the complexities of being an adolescent, or even just a human. I empathized with many of the characters, and as the protagonists reformed their outlooks on life and as their narratives became more tangible, I found myself reflecting on my own values. Skins particularly resonated with me because it emphasizes the importance of cherishing mistakes and refusing to dwell in the past –– vulnerability is crucial, and if one does not have the key to a question, they must have the integrity to acknowledge that wrongness and interrogate their beliefs. Having eclectic experiences and encounters, a well-rounded lifestyle, and the willingness to diverge from one’s opinion are the foundations for becoming an insightful learner.

Overall, Skins is an eye-opening, atypical series that is crucial for anyone wanting a break from the redundant plot patterns of teen TV. Skins’s themes of friendship, identity, mental health, and love are timelessly relevant to anyone who has ever had to navigate the disturbing waters of adolescence.

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