Empathy is said to be found by walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. But what if you could walk a mile in a stranger’s body instead?
You might learn to appreciate the different curves of their skin, the scars, moles and features that make their body unique. You’d recognize their idiosyncrasies, too: asymmetrical features, body parts shaped by genetic conditions and life experiences.
At Houston’s Health Museum, visitors can get as close as possible to inhabiting another person’s body by putting on skin suits molded from silicone, latex and other materials.
“Bodysuits” are part of the museum’s new exhibition “Body as a Work of Art: More Than Skin Deep,” on view through Jan. 11.
The garments are the brainchild of artist Sarah Sitkin. Wearers put them on over their own leotards, leggings and such and “turn into” another person, prompting reflections about identity, beauty and, hopefully, empathy. They look like humans in the nude — with wrinkles, freckles, flabby skin, hair, breasts and the like, all captured in exacting detail and creating an eerie experience for those who step into them.
But you don’t have to turn into someone else to think more deeply about what the body means in our beauty-obsessed society. The exhibit also includes portraits of people with genetic conditions such as a form of muscular dystrophy and black-and-white photographs of scars.
There’s also a lab that provides an opportunity to consider the effect of social media on body image. Studies of tools such as Instagram and Facebook have found social media usage to be correlated with body dissatisfaction and eating disorders. The lab combines chances to take selfies with information on how to use social tools responsibly.
Harder science abounds, too, including a display devoted to how ribosomes produce proteins in cells.
Can’t make it to Houston? Check out the museum’s website: thehealthmuseum.org/bodyart.