There’s a phrase “you shed your skin” or “I shed my skin”. As I understand, it’s used when someone has changed. Does it only refer to positive change? Can I use it when someone changed in really bad or horrible way?

For example, I havent seen my old friend for a while and now he’s an alcoholic and drug addict. Can I say, “Oh my God! Buddy, you shed your skin!”?

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  • 3
    How did you get the idea that this was a common phrase? It isn't. – lly Jul 29 '18 at 8:30
  • @lly I didn’t say it’s common. I know it is not :) It’s quite complicated to explain... But okay. I will try. I’m working on some portrait project and in that project we use a model with make up that looks like shedding skin. And I wanted to bind it as a reference to model’s mentality that is being influenced by bad people (in a bad way in our case). I though I could use this expression in description of the work. So “corrupted” skin make up would link to “they are shedding their skin”. Something like that. Hope it’s not too confusing :) – Roman Raizen Jul 29 '18 at 8:53
  • but now I can tell it’s probably won’t work and I need to come out with something else :) – Roman Raizen Jul 29 '18 at 8:58

You can find the expression in the Urban Dictionary, so it's likely a slang expression that's common in limited circles. I suspect that the expression flows from the caterpillar/butterfly "rebirth" rather than animals like snakes, that shed their skin only to accommodate getting longer.

Urban Dictionary: "To lose one's old ways; To become a changed man or woman".

The definition only addresses change, not whether it's good or bad. In fact, one of the examples they give is a negative change. But consider some examples:

Suppose someone was a milquetoast who always got taken advantage of, and morphed into a super-assertive, obnoxious person. That might be an improvement for them but a negative for everyone else.

Suppose someone who was always extremely cognizant of safety decided that they were missing out on the thrills that others were experiencing and started engaging in extremely risky behavior that put themselves or others in danger. Or someone who never bent the rules decides that they've been a chump while others flaunt the rules, get away with it, and benefit. So they decide it's time to get a piece of the action and become a criminal.

The phrase would apply in those cases. To some extent, whether the change is good or bad is in the eye of the beholder. But the expression doesn't apply only to positive change.

And, of course, if the person contracted a disease that caused them to literally shed their skin, that would certainly be horrible, without a doubt.

The phrase isn't in common use, at least in the circles I travel in, but it has crossed my path. When I've heard it, those usages carried a slightly different connotation. It wasn't simply that the person had morphed into a different person, but more that the "real" person had come out, or at least their potential had been actualized.

If that is actually more the meaning, you probably wouldn't want to use the expression in a case like the end of your question. If the person had "fallen to the bottom", and this connotation is true, that would be saying not only had they changed in a negative way, but they were really always that way on the inside.

  • That disease is just called 'leprosy'. – lly Jul 29 '18 at 8:31
  • Shedding your skin can also have a negative connotation in due to its link to the types of animals that are commonly seen to shed their skins reptiles such as snakes and lizards. Many people dislike such animals or even actively fear them. – Sarriesfan Jul 29 '18 at 10:27
  • Also in Urban Dictionary. – lly Jul 29 '18 at 10:47

You can use “shed one’s skin” poetically but, no, it’s not actually a common expression¹ and comparison to a snake—with all its Satanic Biblical connotations—will not generally be positive. At best, it would be a neutral reference to renewal and rebirth, not a reference to revealing one’s true nature or simply changing in some fashion.

¹ A few Australians apparently use “shed one’s skin” as meaning “become insane with rage.” That presumably has nothing to do with what you're talking about.

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