Surplus through loss

Representations and physicality of unintentional skin surplus

Call for papers

The envelope of the body has this difference with the envelope which girdles our organs that it contains it more or less tightly according to several factors: age, accidents of the life or under the effect of practices or changing hygiene of life. This envelope can become deformed, shrink, stretch and not return to its initial size. This change can be voluntary and sought (body art, …) or involuntary (accident, lifestyle, …), it can be related to diet, sport, or old age. For example, with advancing age and the associated loss of collagen and therefore elasticity, the daily work of gravity inexorably distends the skin (Vigarello, 2008). Similarly, a sudden loss of weight does not give the skin enough time to retract naturally, thus causing a surplus that falls off, as is the case with large, muscular bodies. The gender component is also important in the apprehension of this excess. Women concerned by pregnancy or subject to dietary restrictions are apprehensive about the potential creation of an abdominal apron. Men also see their bodies being transformed, some say feminized, by the creation of sagging breasts due to the reduction of pectoral muscles or pectoral fat. The self-image, of this wrinkled body, is particularly affected (Le Breton, 2003) and beyond that also transforms the psychic construction (Anzieu, 1985).

How can we imagine that an excess results from a loss? How is this excess of skin induced by a loss experienced by individuals? How does the skin that traces the biographical history become a memorial marker of the past? How do gendered perceptions influence the acceptance or apprehension of this excess skin? How does this extra skin handicap and stigmatize in everyday life (Goffman, 1975)?

This issue of La Peaulogie thus questions the representations and the physicality of this excess skin when it is due to a loss of mass or for any other reason but not intentionally. She thus concentrates on the excess by the loss when this one is located in accidental configurations. It is not, therefore, a problematic oriented towards intentionality. Anthropologically, the representations concerning intentional additions and withdrawals do not necessarily correlate with compensation for imponderables (Zbinden, 1997). The use of the surplus through the gap, the void, and the devices that fill it is different from that of the overflow (Le Breton 2002). This issue will approach this problematic of the surplus of skin in a multidisciplinary optics, is convened thus the glance of the various human and social sciences.

Ghislaine GALLENGA, coordinator of the thematic issue

Proposals for articles can be in line with one
of the following axes or propose a new orientation.

1-Loss of mass

The mass can be fatty or muscular. People in an obese situation who lose very quickly sometimes up to 70% of excess weight in one year after bariatric surgery are potentially confronted with this excess skin (Marcellini Fortier, 2014), to the point that the anticipation of it can be a brake to the operation (Perera et al., 2019). Similarly, bodybuilders, sumo wrestlers, and more generally high-level athletes at the end of their career or sport encounter the same problem of excess skin related to muscle mass loss (Perera, 2017).

How can this excess skin be a reminder of the failure or end of a sports career? How can skin gain be seen as a failure or a side effect that would counteract efforts to lose mass?

2-Loss due to an accident

Health and biomedicine are areas where this excess skin also occurs. This surplus can be seen as a victory over a personal struggle or as a repair of an injustice in the case of an accident. Does this change the way we look at this skin? How in the case of life’s accidents, burns for example (Dubuis 2014), does the treatment add a surplus that can be seen as an additional stigma? Conversely, in the case of illness, a reconstruction after a mastectomy for example (Fortier, 2020), would this excess skin not be given a positive valence?

3-Loss of the surplus

Excess skin, whatever its origin, once it has settled is almost irreversible. The consequences are not only social or psychological, but also concern health and hygiene. The rubbing, the folds of skin and the maceration of the skin between these folds are the main causes of the problem.

Between acceptance and refusal of this surplus, a whole field of possibilities emerges (Andrieu et al., 2008). How do we normalize our bodies (Gilman, 1999)? Whether it is a question of reconstructive or aesthetic surgery, intensive sports practices, the use of creams or girdles, how do we accept or remedy this excess? What do we do with it? How do we live with it?

Anzieu D., (1985), Le Moi-peau, Paris, Dunod, 254.

Dubuis A., (2014), Grands Brûlés de la Face. Épreuves et Luttes pour la Reconnaissance, Lausanne : Antipodes, 350.

Andrieu B., Boëtsch G., Le Breton D., Pomarède N., Vigarello G., (2008), La peau. Enjeu de société, Paris : CNRS Éditions, 344.

Fortier C., (2020), Seins, reconstruction, et féminité. Quand les Amazones s’exposent, Droit et Cultures, 80, 2, mis en ligne le 23 février 2021, consulté le 04 mai 2021, URL :

Gilman Sander L, (1999), Making the body beautiful : a cultural history of aesthetic surgery, Princeton : Princeton university press.

Goffman E., (1975), Stigmates : Les usages sociaux des handicaps, Paris : Éditions de Minuit, 180.

Le Breton D., (2002), Signes d’identité. Tatouages, piercings et autres marques corporelles, Paris : Métaillié, 228.

Le Breton D. (2003), La peau et la trace : sur les blessures de soi, Paris : Métaillé, 144.

Marcellini A., Fortier V., (dir.), (2014), L’obésité en question : analyse transdisciplinaire d’une épidémie, Bordeaux : Éditions Les Études hospitalières, 246.

Perera É., Marcellini A., Matichescu M., Nocca D., (2019), Contrôler sa silhouette : l’obésité face aux pressions sociales du recours aux techniques (biomédicales) de modification du corps, Corps, 2019/1, 17, 329-337.

Perera É., (2017), Emprise de poids : Initiation Au Body-Building, Paris : L’Harmattan, 214.

Vigarello G., (2008), “Corps âgé, corps esthétisé, réflexions historiques”, in Boëtsch Gilles, Andrieu Bernard, Le Breton David, Pomarède Nadine, Vigarello Georges, 2008, La peau. Enjeu de société, Paris: CNRS Éditions, 115-123.

Zbinden V., (1997), Piercing, Rites ethniques, pratique moderne, Lausanne : Favre, 176.


Proposals for contributions expected from Decembre 2022 to February 2023
Deadline for submitting articles: February 4, 2023
Publication of the issue is scheduled for summer 2023

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