"When the parahuman known as Scion first appeared, he was naked. No-one attached any particular significance to this fact; if the most powerful being in the world wished to go naked, then who was to gainsay him? And in fact, over the next few years, as he saved people from disasters large and small, not one person in authority attempted to make him cover his nudity, despite the fact that his very appearance needed to be censored in news footage. Those few times that a covering has been offered to him, he has discarded it after just a few days.
“When the first parahumans appeared, it was not particularly notable that their powers were far weaker than those of Scion, until the more daring capes, wearing ever skimpier costumes, discovered by trial and error what would be called the Kovalenko effect. This was named after the Russian researcher Anton Kovalenko, who studied its limits, and derived the famous Kovalenko Formula.
“Put simply, the effects of a parahuman's ability, no matter how they appear to actually manifest, are diminished by body coverings of virtually any sort. This is exacerbated by the thickness and heaviness of said coverings. The diminishing effect is related to the percentage of the person's body that is actually covered – note that body hair does not count as 'cover' – adjusted according to which body parts are actually covered.
“The Kovalenko effect differs from body part to body part, and from parahuman to parahuman. Each body part expresses a modifier, or 'Kovalenko coefficient', which affects the area percentage of that part of the body. Each parahuman has a different range of Kovalenko coefficients (known in general parlance as K-numbers), but they tend to fall within a certain set of limits. A fractional K-number means that to cover that body part will reduce powers by less than the percentage of skin covered; a K-number greater than 1 means that powers will be reduced by more than that percentage.
“Roughly speaking, the feet and the back of the head have K-numbers between 0.1 and 0.3. The neck, top and sides of the head, the calves, and the forearms have K-numbers between 0.2 and 0.5. The face and the back have K-numbers between 0.4 and 1.0. The upper arms, the shoulders and back, and the outer thighs all have K-numbers between 0.8 and 1.5. The stomach, ribs, inner thighs, and the chests of male parahumans all have K-numbers between 1.2 and 2.0. The buttocks of both genders and the breasts of female parahumans – except for the nipples – have K-numbers between 1.75 and 5. Nipples of female parahumans, and the genitalia and anal regions of both genders, have K-numbers between 4 and 10.
“This is considering the very thinnest of modesty coverings, equivalent to light spandex or silk. Thicker clothing multiplies the K-number by the square of the difference in thickness. Even body paint has a K-number, equivalent to half the standard.
“Those parahumans with higher power overall tend to have lower K-numbers, but this means little; covering up just a small amount means that they will still tend to lose more power than their less fortunate brethren.
“The revelations about the Kovalenko effect has had a rather bizarre effect on worldwide parahuman activity; the nickname 'cape' has taken on a new meaning, as more parahumans have taken to wearing them; they must be free-flowing enough as to not cover the parahuman whilst using their powers, but can be used to cover them afterward. Other parahumans have taken to wearing 'public' costumes that are held together with Velcro, for ease of removal in a hurry.
“Initially, most parahuman heroes went with 'skimpy, but not scandalous'; covering up just enough to maintain modesty. But after a few mismatched battles against less modest villains, most of them discarded all but their masks. Super-powered battles quickly grew to resemble extremely violent soft-porn movies.
“This has had a knock-on effect in the public at large. Quite a few heroes have opted to appear in public in their 'heroic guise' – that is, a mask and little else. Daring members of the public began to emulate this trend in the first few years after the Kovalenko Formula was first expressed; as time went on, 'public indecency' laws were reduced, modified, and then repealed altogether. Currently, clothing is usually worn for hygiene, utility or protective purposes only; nakedness is far more common than prudery. All beaches are by definition nude beaches, and public venues only request that patrons wear shoes. It is entirely normal to see a beautiful woman walking down the street wearing sandals, her handbag and a thong, and quite often she won't even have the thong.
“Following the loss of the nudity taboo over the last twenty years, the public sex taboo has also taken a huge hit. Scion himself has been noted on occasion to be sporting evidence of physical excitement; unconfirmed rumours has him visiting lucky women here and there around the world. With the explosion of skin in public, displays of affection have grown from kissing and cuddling, to heavy petting, to actual sex in public.
“Even since this has been de-criminalised, it is still seen in most places as somewhat crass, and most public venues still post signs requiring patrons to refrain from engaging in sex on the premises. But it is not uncommon to see couples in public parks engaging in a little quiet l'amour upon the grass, quite often with interested onlookers. Subway sex is almost a given; in any subway car at any time of day, it is a running joke that one can find two (or more) people enjoying one another. The rule of such situations, of course, is that one cleans up any mess that one makes. Yes, that means you three, up there in the back row. Please keep it down.
“Excuse me. How has this affected public life, with the advent of parahumans in the world? Interestingly enough, fashion has not taken much of a hit. However, today's fashion mavens create items which are intended to highlight and enhance one's beauty, rather than actually conceal any part of it. Conversely, there are underground 'unstrip clubs', where ugly women (and men) compete to put more and more clothes on.
“With the shedding of clothes, we can be said to have shed many of the pretensions of our culture; gotten in touch, it might be said, with the naked ape within all of us. Fancy clothing no longer separates rich from poor; the naked man strolling down the street might be a penniless bum, or a Fortune 500 contender. People seem to be more at ease, more accepting of one another.
“Where this will take us in the future, where we will be in another ten or fifty years, I have no idea. For myself, I intend to wait and see, and enjoy the scenery in the meantime.”
- one of a series of speeches given on Trends in a Parahuman World, by Professor Thomas Landon, Harvard University.