7 feminist reasons to watch the British teen drama “Skins” before American TV ruins it

If you’re not a fan of British TV show Skins yet, it’s probably time you become one. The popular teen drama is about the make the leap across the pond, and loyal fans are worried—understandably, I think—that MTV will destroy everything that is great about the show.

New York Magazine has already compiled a list of 8 reasons you should watch the original before the American premier in January and Flavorwire offered 10 things MTV should do to ensure they don’t completely screw it up.

Here’s my own list of 7 reasons feminists should watch Skins

1. Skins is written and acted by actual young people. And it was also born out of an intergenerational dialogue. The idea for Skins was hatched when 20-year-old Jamie Brittain challenged his dad Bryan Elsley to pitch an idea for a show that wasn’t “boring and middle-aged” and instead do a “teen show that just for once really has some edge.” His dad took the challenge, hired his son as the co-creator, and brought together a team that includes TV veterans and novice writers—most of whom are the same age as the characters on the show—in a “mentor-and-newbie laboratory.” So if the dialogue seems authentic and the youth slang rings true (I can only assume it does since the British-isms are like a foreign language to my American ear), it’s because actual young people wrote it. The actors are also real teenagers. In fact, every two seasons the cast is almost entirely replaced to ensure they remain the same age as both the characters they play and their audience.

2. Guys and girls are friends on Skins—sometimes “just” friends, sometimes not. The series explores the internal dynamics, friendships, and romances of a tight-knit group of friends made up of guys and girls. They spend a lot of time crushing on each other, dating each other, betraying each other, lusting after each other, or having sex with each other. But sometimes they are just being friends. I know, right? Guys and girls talking to each other about their problems and turning to each other for support! Even when they are not in a relationship! Relatively rare on teen TV shows; pretty damn normal in real life. And Skins manages to give opposite-gender friendships the recognition they deserve, even while acknowledging the constant hum of sex that permeates these 18-year-olds’ lives and complicates their relationships. And it does get complicated: Sometimes two friends need to sleep together to realize they love each other just as friends; sometimes a straight guy and his lesbian friend share a kiss because they’re feeling so damn lonely; sometimes a lesbian offers to sleep with her guy friend so that he can finally lose his virginity. But Skins doesn’t shy away from that fluid line between friends, lovers, and even enemies–and always upholds friendship as the greatest good.

3. The gang is a veritable mosaic of diversity. In addition to a mix of genders, the group of friends includes an assortment of races, religions, classes, and sexual orientations. It’s true that, to the extent that there are any main characters on Skins, they tend to be straight and white. But the format of the show—in which each episode of a season focuses on a single character—helps ensure that each character’s story is fleshed-out and the diversity doesn’t seem tokenizing. Whether it’s realistic is another matter; the creators have admitted that, in the real world, the differences between the friends might prove to be a greater source of tension. The show does touch on some of the potential conflicts—one storyline explores a Muslim character’s struggle to reconcile his faith with his love for his gay best friend—but overall it paints a pretty rosy picture. As co-creator Bryan Elsley notes: “It aspires to a certain way of being.” And it’s definitely a way of being worth aspiring to.

4. Guys’ friendships are complicated. Not only are guys friends with girls on Skins, they’re also friends with other guys—and they do more than play sports and smoke pot together. Sometime they actually talk—even about their feelings for each other! In fact, in many ways, Skins explores the complexities of male friendships even more deeply than female ones. And it certainly debunks any myths about girls having more drama in their relationships than guys. The guys of Skins are bursting—with love, competition, loyalty, insecurities—and are constantly trying to figure out how to express themselves. It isn’t always easy, but, thankfully, guys are allowed to tell each other “I love you” on Skins and actually mean it.

5. There is no moralizing. And no glamorizing. This, of course, is what made Skins ground-breaking—even by British standards. And for American viewers like me, it might be hard to even imagine. Seriously, I had to watch it to really grasp what it looks like when a show presents teen drinking, drug use, and sex as parts of life that are morally neutral—neither inherently good nor bad. As they note at Flavorwire, “…the implication that any kid who consumes any kind of illegal drug does it because they’re deeply messed up is tired, unfair, and plain wrong.” And Skins has none of it—drug use is ubiquitous. But it isn’t glamorized. And it certainly isn’t consequence-free: characters sometimes drink too much, they overdose, they abuse drugs. But the show never turns these mistakes into simple cautionary tales or moral lessons. And the really bad things that happen in Skins—and there are a lot of them—are as random and senseless as they are in real life: a bus that comes out of nowhere, a friend’s illness, a parent’s sudden death.

6. Teen sex is portrayed with nuance and respect and without hand-wringing and slut-shaming. The lack of moralizing extends to sex as well. And there’s a lot of it in Skins. Some sex is between couples, some is between friends, some is between strangers. Some is emotionally fulfilling, some isn’t. Some is physically satisfying, some isn’t. The girls are just as likely to have casual sex as the guys, and the guys are just as likely to want a relationship as the girls. (Suffice it to say, Skins doesn’t buy into any myths about oxytocin.) Perhaps even more importantly, in Skins, characters of both genders have both committed and casual sex at different times. Kinda like in real life! And because neither guys or girls are defined by their sexual behavior, that’s not at all strange. Skins recognizes that a girl who’s been having lots of emotionally meaningless sex can still get chills when she touches the hand of the boy she’s falling for. As Samhita wrote yesterday, “We all have feelings and we all like to fuck…Deal with it.” And Skins deals with it quite nicely.

7. There is an unplanned pregnancy, you guys! I don’t want to completely spoil this storyline for you, so I will just say that the pregnant teen does not automatically have the baby without even considering the evil A-word. And that alone makes Skins more realistic than about 98% of the mainstream American shows that have ever portrayed an unintended pregnancy.

Fingers crossed that some the best aspects of the British Skins find their way into the American version—but I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, you can catch up on the original on Netflix.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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