Re-Thinking Modesty

I read an interesting article by Mark Changizi (the author of a new book about our understanding of vision, The Vision Revolution) that explained his theory that humans’ unique color vision evolved  so that we could better read the physiological signals our body produced.  He posits that the reason humans do not have hair all over our bodies in the way that other primates do is that we use our entire body to “signal” – blushing, anger, arousal, fear, etc.

What I found interesting about this is that over time, modesty and society caused people to cover up the exact skin that we evolved hairlessness and color vision to see, at least according to Mr. Changizi. This made me think about how we could *use* clothing to project the physiological signals that our skin sends, while still bowing to social (and practical!) issues of modesty and protection?

Imagine clothing that mimicked the body’s reactions underneath it: goosebumps, blushes, flushes… Not the static imperfections – no sunburn, or freckles or pimples or moles or unshaved legs – only the dynamic ‘body language’ that happens when our body reactions to emotional states.

By more prominently displaying this relevant information which is usually more subtle (and often hidden entirely!), the wearer (and on-looker!) is forced to re-evaluate the definition and goal of modesty. Is it the skin itself that is so tantalizing?  Or the messages it sends?  The garment also brings up issues of privacy intrusion.  When people cover their bodies, is it the shape (cologne, dimples, and fat, oh no!), base skin tone (no time to fake tan this week…), and flaws (no time to shave, annoying mole, acne break out, etc) that they want to hide, or is our fear of mind reading in the wake of Minority Report another reason we choose to conceal our skin?

Would humans be more empathetic if it was easier to discern the emotional state of those around them?  Would we learn how to better control our emotions if they were on constant display? Or would manipulation and exploitation be made that much easier?  Would the thrill of the chase be removed if you could read your love-interest’s emotional state and know (maybe before they consciously did!) that he or she was attracted to you?

Now, think if this piece of clothing, that projects underlying skin signals, was a burka.

Inspiration for the practical application.

Inspiration for the practical application.

Practical Implementation:

I think this could be accomplished using thermochromatic liquid crystals (think: mood rings), which, while not exactly mimicking the skin’s subtle color changes due to blood physiology (oxygenation and concentration), do change color due to a person’s skin temperature, which is closely related to blood concentration.  Though a burka is sadly too lose to do this well, a tight fitting, realtively modest black dress would work. That way it can be fashionable, still maintain goals of modesty, yet allow skin temperature monitoring by liquid crystals on the dress.

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