The body, the face, the skin, have all come into the attention of early and foundational eco-feminist theorists precisely as matters of design – of both recognizing and creating, spotting and envisioning these affordances of life-being. Affordances here mean possibilities of embodiment, so our designing goal is finding and supporting those possibilities that better lead to an experience of being at home in the world. The skin foremost became a privileged site of intervention. As early as 1991, Donna Haraway asked: “Why should bodies end at the skin, or include at best other beings encapsulated by skin?”⁴ In her foundational work, beautifully entitled Volatile Bodies, Elizabeth Grosz also suggests that porosity is an axis through which we are of and in the world:
“The limits or borders of the body image are not fixed by nature or confined to the anatomical ‘container,’ the skin. The body is extremely fluid and dynamic, its borders, edges, and contours are ‘osmotic’ – they have the remarkable power of incorporating and expelling outside and inside in an ongoing exchange” ⁵
There is an intricate relation of constant and vital transfer between the inside and outside of the skin. The skin itself is an active site of trans-corporeality. That this vital openness is sometimes lethal is something that we recently became awfully aware on an unexpected large scale. The skin pertains to the material reality as much as it pertains to a symbolic imagery of artificial separation. This is a matter of design – one that has been designed on scraps of habits and prejudices of old philosophies.
Is then the Anthropocene a tactile experience? Inasmuch as the skin is this active, “osmotic” site through the body’s enmeshment with the world, then, yes, the Anthropocene is an epidermal matter of concern and design. Rosemary Garland-Thomson, feminist theorist writing on disability studies, offers us a suitable way of thinking about corporeality in the Anthropocene, as an ecology of relations. As she notes: “all bodies are shaped by their environments from the moment of conception. We transform constantly in response to our surroundings and register history on our bodies. The changes that occur when body encounters world are what we call disability.”⁶
The skin is embroiled in climate change as a relational form of eco-sickness. This is a sickness that inhabits both human and non-human bodies, revealing their entanglement and co-dependency. We inhale the world; from the oxygen we need to survive mixed with other chemical parts that might hurt us, to numerous shed fragments of skin, as well as a multitude of micro-organisms.