The first person to Strip was an artist. He sat in the gallery for weeks, a drip piping in pain relief, a glazed look in his eyes that people mistook for rapture. Of course, it went viral. Critics applauded his commitment. His passion. Twitter crashed under the pressure. Soon everyone was doing it. Flayed supermodels on the runways, a dazzle of nerves. Popstars singing from skinned lips. Hashtag groundbreaking. Hashtag next-level.
The newsreaders were grim in the beginning. They thought it was dangerous. Risk of infection, they warned our living-rooms. Danger of death. We did it anyway. The young ones first. Then our mothers, our fathers; our teachers and vicars. Skin was so 3005.
The first years were the best. It was freeing, being the same on the outside as everyone else. Yes, it hurt, but that was the point. We were used to suffering. Now we had claimed it. Pain in the name of progress.
Of course, there was panic in the fashion houses – no one wanted labels now, no-one needed clothes. Then they adjusted, started churning out plastic suits for infection control. Then came the suits with gilt on the cuffs. The ones with peacock-feather collars.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. My grandfather said that all the time. He said he’d seen it all. Three wars, the race riots, reproduction laws. They lived longer back then, but they lived worse – I saw him wither, slack in his chair. Liver-spotted. Slow-witted. Who wanted that?
Stripped is the new normal. The youngsters don’t know any other way. Those reckless kids. No gratitude for what we’ve given them. Us, the pioneers. Who did it first. Lately I’ve been hearing rumours: young thrill-seekers rolling in salt on the weekends for a buzz. There would have been none of that back in my day. It was better, then. Every generation says that, but it was.
Cheryl Pearson is the author of two poetry collections (Oysterlight, Pindrop Press, 2017, and Menagerie, The Emma Press, 2020). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in publications including The Guardian, Mslexia, Frontier, The Moth, and The Interpreter’s House, and she has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her short fiction has been published in TSS, Longleaf Review, and Confingo, among others, and she was shortlisted for the Costa Short Story Award in 2017. She lives and writes in the Peak District National Park.