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Body Modification

Body Modification Body modification and adornment is a universal culture. All civilizations have attempted to change their body in order to fulfill their cultural construct of beauty, religious and/or social obligations. Body adornment and modification is a very broad subject, ranging from ceremonial body paint to the amputation of appendages. In modern society many people today are looking more like tribal warriors of many African cultures. In fact many of these modifications actually do come from many ancient cultures.

So why is body modification just now coming to the attention of the modern world? It is my belief that a greater amount of young adults are finding that imitating traditions of primitive cultures is an excellent way to express themselves. However, the quest for non-conformity is not the only reason people change their appearance. Dissatisfaction with ones appearance and fascination with alteration is also reason for one to modify their body. A piercing can be defined as any object, intentionally left in the body, for which there is no physiologically functional purpose, and must have be placed in an event which took a conscious decision. “Historically, piercing has had a long history in Europe, with references dating back to the Roman Empire. Soldiers in Caesar’s army pierced their nipples, while male members of the Victorian Court wore Prince Albert piercings (piercing of the genitalia) as a ‘dressing ring,’ and was used to secure the penis to either leg with a string or thong, to suit the fashion at the time.” Pants were cut very closely at the crotch, and would make the male genitalia very pronounced.

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I asked several men in an online chat room that had the same piercings mentioned above and typically their response was due to fascination or for sexual pleasure. “When viewed as a material aspect of our culture, popular piercing is an attempt to create an alien other: Something to shock and disconcert: An attempt to break out of the biological and cultural confines that limit the range of personal self-expression.” Earlobe piercing is the most socially acceptable form of body piercing in industrialized countries. Modern ear adornments include the conch, the tragus, and two innovative cartilege piercings, the daith and the rook, which were introduced by California body piercer Erik Dakota. Other popular piercings in today’s society include the navel, tongue, lip, eyebrow, and the nose. These are usually used to express ones eccentricity and individuality.

Ear piercings are most widely practiced piercings among cultural groups in Africa, India, Indonesia, North and South America. In some third world countries ear piercings mark the life stages of an individual and to signify group affiliation. Ear cartilege piercings, especially popular among the Masai and Fulani, also emphasized beauty and wealth. Stretched earlobes are dominant among groups in Indonesia and South America. Stretched earlobes have increased in popularity among modern piercing enthusiasts. I noticed four men with stretched earlobes in about an hour time period on a recent trip to Philadelphia’s South Street.

I also observed over two-dozen shops on this one particular street in which piercings and tattoo services were offerd. Henna, also known as mehndi, is the painting of the body using temporary ink (usually a dark orange color) made from the herb henna, widely used in the Middle East. It’s origins date back to 1700 B.C. in the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures. The patterns of henna painting vary from culture to culture.

There are three main traditions that can be recognized, aside from the modern use of henna as a trendy temporary tattoo. Generally, Arabic (Middle-eastern) mehndi features large, floral patterns on hands and feet, while Indian (Asian) mehndi uses fine line, lacy, floral and paisley patterns covering entire hands, forearms, feet and shins; and African mehndi art is large, and bold with geometrically patterned angles. African mehndi patterns usually use black henna while Asian and Middle Eastern mehndi is often reddish brown. It is also a common custom in many countries to step into the mehndi, or simply apply the paste without creating a pattern in order to cool, protect, or treat the skin. This practice is rapidly growing in popularity because it is easy, temporary, and inexpensive. Tattoo as defined in Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary is an indelible mark or figure fixed upon the body by insertion of pigment under the skin or by production of scars.

Archaeologists were able to date the first tattoo somewhere between 4000 and 2000 B.C. They have also found evidence on Libyan figures from the tomb of Seti which dates back to 1330 B.C. Primitive people used body paint, scarification, and/or tattooing for wars, different klans and family purposes. Polynesian tattooing, as it existed before the arrival of Europeans in the South Pacific, was the most artistic tattooing in the ancient world. Some believed that they would be sent to the spiritual world that belonged in and obtain a more profitable occupation in the spirit world. They also believed that with the tattooing they could more easily find family and tribal friends. Tattooing was introduced into our society approximately sixty years ago, and is now said to be one of the most popular ways in expressing one’s self.

Amputation of body parts is yet another form of body modification. According to an article in Body Modification Ezine magazine, “If you are into amputation from a body modification point of view, you are probably looking for one or more of the following: a personal statement, an antisocial statement, or group identification.” In an interview with a man that goes by the name of “No Hand” he stated, “It is not just the amputation that you have to be in love with, but it is the whole dynamic of being an amputee that you need to embrace.” Amputation is one of the most extreme body modifications possible. The person who wishes to receive them does most of the amputations themself. Fascination with amputation is often attributed with dysmorphophobia (the fear of deformity). This is a psychological problem in which people, which are dissatisfied with their own body, cut off parts until satisfied.

In conclusion, people today, primarily in there teens and twenties, are primarily looking to distinguish themselves from the uniformity of modern society. Body modification is the tool that these young adults use to express their individuality. However, as body modification becomes more popular, it becomes contradicting. The youth of modern society are using tribal customs to express diversity but in actuality are forming monotony within their own social group.


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