We are stuck in our bodies. They are our vessels as we move through the world, our temples, our greatest weapons and our worst enemies and everything in between.
We are inundated with images of our bodies, and the bodies of others. The bodies of those directly around us, the bodies of those on our phone, the bodies that we think we should have, the bodies we actually have. What is beyond this? What is beyond the body?
Issue 17 does not presume to answer this question, but explores the power that the body—and its incredibly complicated codependence with the mind—has beyond the scope of traditional beauty standards. Off the Cuff is, at its core, a community committed to pushing the boundaries of what the fashion and arts industry has conventionally accepted and perpetuated. This issue is a love letter to the sensory power of the human body and the miracles underneath our skin that have little to do with the way we look. The fashion industry has historically given so much currency to the “ideal body type,” isolating so many and uplifting so few. This issue, however, is an ode to everybody and every body.
We spend a lot of time within our bodies and within our minds—all the time, really. What I mean by this is that I think about my own body and how others perceive it more than I would like to admit. Creating this issue has been such an empowering experience because it has forced me to see the strength in my corporeal self when I typically spend more time ashamed of my body than I do being amazed by it. From the inner and outer beauty of all of our models to the impeccable and creative eye of all of our photographers, videographers, stylists and art directors. The inspiredness of all of our writers, the dedication of our events, marketing and finance teams. Off the Cuff is a community, it is a home. It is a body of people, a body of work, and a body of love. It brings me indescribable joy to know that others who worked on this issue can say the same.
For these reasons, working on this issue with a staff so committed to seeing the beauty in everything and everyone was incredibly affirming. My relationship with my own body is in a constant flux, but with each shoot I was reminded of the power it holds. So often I take for granted my ability to touch, taste, see, smell, and hear, and then process all of those sensory experiences into complex thoughts and emotions. Issue 17 is a stunning and gentle reminder of what lies beyond the body as we often perceive it. And it is beautiful.
All my love,
i. My younger brother made his way through the birth canal blue and silent. His first instinct was to kick and throw a fit. Taking his first desperate gasp and filling his little lungs, he joined the world red and loud. His first interaction with the world was his smooth skin against the pull of a blue surgical glove. He will come out silent, but he will be kicking.
Now, when he kicks and thrashes, it is always in opposition to something: wearing a helmet, coming home from his friend’s house early, putting the bag of chips back at the grocery store. Sometimes, he’s blue again.
When I left for college in 2019, we cried, of course, but we shared a deeply sentimental high-five at the terminal entrance. High-fives mean more this way.
ii. My boyfriend. My person. Sober as the morning sun, I used to wake up giddy, immediately pressing my nose against his sleepy face. I remember how his whispers tickled my ear and I’m there again. Touch doesn’t matter when I’m counting the freckles on his slumbering body. The sole obstacle being the atoms in the space between him and my fingertip, longing for bondage.
I’ve always hated the heat, but the warmth from his hand feels right. As I trace the peaks and valleys of our intertwined hands, I can’t help but wonder who will unlock first. It won’t be me. Now, when loneliness stares back at me, it awakens every baited moment I missed. I should have kissed him more before I left.
iii. When I put myself in that position, I must caress my own face, arms crossed and the palms of my hands warming up my cheeks. I want nothing more than to be touched. Every square inch covered, compensating for the long-distance relationship with myself.
Separation is but an illusion. The sensations tied to abandonment course through my veins and into the fibers of my clothes. Surrounded by half-friends, thousands of miles from home, I wonder if I’m at the point where I can hug those around me.
WRITER: JESSIE YANG
MODELS: SHELBY AGUILAR, GABRIELLA ROSE, ALEX KNIES, BRIAN PARK
STYLISTS: GRACE BRUTY, ELEANOR STONICH, JAIMIE LUDWIG, ZANDER SLAYTON, ZOE ALLEN, SHEREEN COHEN KHERADYAR
ART DIRECTORS: ASHLIE DAWKINS, MEI ASADA, ASJHA MALCOM
PHOTOGRAPHERS: PAIGE KAHN, AMY GRAHAM
MAKEUP ARTISTS: ZANDER SLAYTON, CHARLIE LUNARDI, CLARA SUDOL
there is some way in which taste is the inverse of speech. speaking, or producing in any form, is an externalization of something inside of us. (or, at least, it is supposed to be, provided that you mean what you say.) the process of tasting moves in an opposite chronology; to taste, we internalize something that was previously external, we let our bodies react to something they would not have otherwise had the chance to.
we begin to curate our own unique senses of taste through a process of trial and error. you never know what you like or dislike until you try it.
i used to have anxiety about breathing. (breath is a pretty unfortunate place to project anxiety.) when my anxiety realized this was unsustainable, it rerouted itself onto food. the root cause was the same: i was terrified of change, and of being changed. i saw each breath i took as a life-changer, a permanent and irrevocable decision. i could never unbreathe them. this line of thought bore itself out rigorously upon my relationship with food. any bite i took i could never un-take. any indulgence i allowed myself was a lack of willpower, a breach of my boundaries with food. i wanted to keep it at a distance to preserve the body i had. i thought of myself as that fragile. my sense of self was only enduring when my body looked a certain way. i thought that if i lost it, i would never be able to get that body back. it was a body that was swallowing itself.
here’s the horrible thing about being a woman (though i’m sure people of all genders can relate) and having anxiety about food: you’re praised for it. it’s virtuous to pass on your own birthday cake. you’re taking the moral high road by eating less. you’re praised for your temperament, your discipline, your smallness.
you’re allowed to learn what good tastes like as a child, in more ways than just food. you learn what you like to do, who you like, what type of dessert is your favorite. and then, you’re supposed to sacrifice it. sure, everyone wants their life to be more fun, and sure, everyone wishes they could eat dessert every night. but it’s common knowledge that you’re not allowed, as an adult, to actually do it.
restriction, and the implicit recommendation to restrict, are underlying messages in so many forms of media. and although taste and speech are opposites - like input and output to one another - you’re held to the same standard for both. the way you talk is supposed to be digestible and understated. even if you know what a bad situation feels like, and you know you’re being put in one, you’re not supposed to call it out. your voice shouldn’t be overly dramatic. your plate shouldn’t be overly full. the message underlying it all is to shrink.
social pressures exist like a force on top of everyone, their culture sustained by an amalgamation of individuals doing what they think they’re supposed to do and saying what they think they’re supposed to say.
holding your breath, extending your hunger - they only do so much. seconds still pass. you are still changing. time is still changing you. in practicing such restraint, you only rob yourself of the opportunity to be present, for your mind to align itself with your body.
you were not born to be minimal, to be restricted, to know what you like and then never go near it again. what ever happened to opulence for its own sake? my room is covered in posters, prints, and postcards i’ve collected. it’s not curated to match an aesthetic or to construct a persona. it’s an expression of my own innate, impulsive taste.
there is beauty in understanding when you want to talk and when you do not, and giving yourself the trust and respect to abide by that. there is beauty in eating what, when, and how you want, in a way that is caring towards your own body and mind. and i truly believe that these look different for, and on, everyone. there is no morality attached to eating less than what your body asks for (there is only sickness).
eat whatever the fuck you want.
WRITER: MELISSA BOBERG
ART DIRECTORS: FAITH GARCIA, RANRAN SEKIMOTO
MODELS: AMY BOCOS, RHEA BANDARU, RACHEL LIU, ADORA MEHALA
STYLISTS: JUDE KAMOONA, JEANETTE FRAZER, MIA METNI, KELSEY BROWN
PHOTOGRAPHERS: JULIA DESANTIS, LILY FOUSSE
MAKEUP ARTISTS: CHARLIE LUNARDI, CLARA SUDOL, ARLO RAMOUTAR, IZZIE COLLIER
When I went to school in London, I babysat a newborn baby named Finley. Objectively, he was the most beautiful and perfect baby the world has ever seen. So it figured, he smelled delicious. Fresh baby smell is like nothing else. It is sweet but not cloying. Warm, soft, and downy. It is love. As he slept in my arms, his little hand cupped around my neck, I sniffed his fluffy head so deeply, it could be considered huffing. It’s evolution, and I’m only human. On my walk home, the air around me smelled of him; it cloaked my aura like a halo of goodness. My clothes carried the scent, and I’d try desperately to return to him by wearing them again and again. But the smell always faded. Now, I live an ocean away, and Finley has grown into a toddler who probably smells sticky. All that’s left of his baby smell is memories.
I’ll never get to smell my own babies. Walking by a smoker on the street will no longer make me gag and retch. I won’t smile while folding clean laundry, won’t wash my hands over and over again after pumping gas, won’t know when my B.O. is so bad it’s overwhelming.
I have nasal polyps –just about the least sexy name for the least sexy thing– growths inside your nasal canal. These little fuckers steal your sense of smell. I have my dad to thank for this genetic curse. I’ll admit that it was wonderful not to have to worry about masking the smell of weed in high school. But I also knew his scent blindness would become mine.
The decision to cultivate a signature scent, while I still could, was at first accidental but has since become a vocation. The summer before I left for school in London, I was caught up in a whirlwind situationship. One night, during a very suburban rendez-vous, a smell so sweet, so intoxicating, so life-changing, permeated the sweaty car air and made me stop mid-kiss. I never stop mid-kiss. But I could not go on until I knew what it was. “What's that smell?” I demanded, almost shouting. “Are you using a new shampoo?” “Yes,” he admitted sheepishly, disturbed by (and probably jealous of) my keen observation skills.
When I next slept over at his house, I knew I had to find the exact shampoo– flavor, brand, the whole shabang. Like a thief in the night, I pulled apart his musty shower curtains, only to be greeted by a graveyard of bottles. Damn. This wasn’t going to be easy. I opened each one, until, like Goldilocks with her breakfast cereal, I found my “just right.” The teal bottle glowed in the dark or just in the flash of my phone camera as I snapped a picture, and first thing next morning I drove straight to the nearest CVS to get my hands on some. I haven’t used another shampoo since.
While people did constantly comment on my sweet smelling locks, hair gets dirty, and the smell diminishes each day between washes. I wanted allure, and for that I needed substance and staying power. Inspiration struck where I’d least expect it.
At the time, I lived with four guys. Two of them were great, the other two– not so much. In particular, there was no love lost between me and Asa. I’ll reduce him to what he was: nothing more than a caricature. He spent his free time crying when Chelsea lost, shaming the rest of us for eating carbonara, and tokenizing his trans-Atlantic identity that was neither exotic nor unique in a house of three British-Americans. He came from money; his father did something dubious and too boring to remember, and his mother worked for Vogue. He unfollowed me before I could unfollow him first, and I’m still bitter about it.
But before we could cut ties and never speak again, it was a Sunday, and I was hunched over a plate of jammy toast, nursing a hangover. He swaggered into the kitchen, and as I began to scowl, I was stopped in my tracks.
A smell that was clean, rare, and captivating filled the air. I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Alfie, one of the good ones, immediately exclaimed, and soon we had all joined in. It was a Vogue perk that he claimed was an after-shave. I asked him the name, but he was greedy. He was gatekeeping (not girlbossing). He did not want me to smell good.
I obviously wasn’t going to let this stop me. I don’t know when to take no for an answer. Once again, the bathroom was the scene of the crime. While the boys played soccer, I scaled the cabinet for the bottle. He’d worked too hard to emphasise that it was an aftershave– a classic tell. It was not aftershave at all. Nor a cologne, nor a room spray. No, this could only be a perfume. Its ornate gold and green bottle drew me to it before I knew for sure it was the one. My impulse to spritz my wrists was so automatic, it felt out of body. But before I could revel in the fragrance, I realized my mistake. The scent is so distinctive, Asa would know. As soon as he got close, he would realize I was a thief. And knowing him, he would accuse me. I could lie, but it would be useless. So, I got in the shower and started scrubbing. I used every single body wash and prayed for a miracle. Luckily, the musk of sweat, dirt, and ego overpowered every sense. I was in the clear. As soon as I landed in Boston, I ordered it off Walmart for cheap, and it felt like a war medal. I use three spritzes a day.
Author’s note: Because I am not Asa, and I want everyone to smell good, I will of course share the aforementioned scents. I will keep only the body wash a mystery because I am not using it yet, so it has not been tried and tested. I also don’t want everyone and their mother smelling like my boyfriend.
Shampoo and Conditioner: Herbal Essences Argan Oil
Perfume: Gucci Mémoire d’une Odeur
WRITER: ANNA THORNLEY
ART DIRECTORS: JULIA BRUKX
MODELS: ROSY GU, LOGAN DIVERNIERO, ASHLEY NIFA, NATLY WINTER
STYLISTS: KELSEY BROWN, ABBY BALTER, ZOE ALLEN, REBEKKA FULTON
PHOTOGRAPHERS: CHIKA OKOYE, ZOE TSENG, NATALIE (SHI QING ELIZABETH)
MAKEUP ARTISTS: ZANDER SLAYTON, JULES CORSI, CHARLIE LUNARDI
SET DESIGNER: NAOMI COHEN
if i wet the angry static of pink noise
and let its cotton candy stutter melt into form
what sonic figure stands tangible at my ear?
plastic laughter dripping sticky red tears
staining my shirt
i missed the joke but i know how to smile
or the bass, drumming bruises down my legs
which hum and shake in turn
or a white hot whisper coated in gravel
coarse and heavy
she leans over, and hearing is remembering
a fluting whistle cuts through the rosy disquiet
the audience claps, the moment shatters
the elasticity of noise
its shape untethered to its sonar capacities
tucks a hair behind my ear before
reaching into the histories in my breath
now i only hear my own colorless name
resonant in my ribcage,
repeated from some parasitic lips