What comes to your mind when you hear the word “skinship”?
Korean dramas. Oppa. Holding hands. Full embrace. Back hug. Piggyback. Peck. Kiss. Even… sex?
Well, according to HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory by Chris Gregory, skinship means bonding through physical contact—it should excite all the senses and, by all means, give a subtle meaning of how close we are. In sum, skinship can be another way to assess the current state of our relationships. But how far can it help us?
First, let me tell you the origin of the word itself.
Skinship was, as Gregory said, actually derived from the Japanese word “sukinshippu”. It is a terminology commonly used in describing the closeness between parents (especially a mother) and their children through physical affection. It creates a bond, as a part of intimacy, which then evolves and gives a broader meaning to define a relationship even between those who are not relatives or having non-blood relations—a man and a woman, a man and a man, and also a woman and a woman. It applies to both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, though it does not always imply love or sexual arousal.
In Korean dramas, skinship is usually used to show the closeness in friendships between the female lead and her bestie(s), the male lead and his tacky yet funny friend (e.g., Yoon Jong-yeol and Shin Yool-bin in Age of Youth, Jung Joon-hyung and Jo Tae-kwon in Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo, Kim Young-ho and Kim Ji-woong in Oh My Venus, Kang Ma-roo and Park Jae-gil in The Innocent Man, etc. I do not know why but most of the male lead characters are often paired with this somewhat comic relief, hahaha) and of course, the love line between the leads.
Skinship helps each character to grow mutual understanding of one’s intention without even being told. It creates a certain atmosphere which can lead to a relationship development, especially the friend-turned-lover one. Now tell me, who did not flutter when Dong-man finally kisses Ae-ra (in episode 10 of Fight for My Way) and declares that from that day they are officially a couple—finally—after such a looong history of cuddling, headlocking, bickering, etc.?
On the other hand, it could also raise some questions if the other person does not get the meaning—or even worse, he/she interprets the “touch” in a wrong way. This usually happens to the poor second lead (mostly to the man) or in a story of vague relationship between a man and a woman (SongSungmin shipper, are you there?). So, when the (second) male character strokes the female’s head or pats her on the shoulder to show that he CARES A LOT LOT LOT but she only thinks it simply as a support in a friendly way—sorry not sorry—Man, you are done.
Skinship also helps us to somehow see the cultural difference, said by Gregory, because each culture sees it in different ways. The shoulder embrace, the hug, the hand-holding, even the kiss could mean different to each person (admit it, when you were first introduced to Hallyu-land, some of you did feel weird seeing the boyband members hugging each other). Remember, even the slightest touch and motion matters a lot. Sounds tricky? But that is how the way it is! Skinship, as a part of intimacy, gives us warmth in a delicate way that can not be described in particular words. It could be thrilling, exciting, wandering, or disappointing—and that is when our delulu minds burst out with joy and tears.