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Revised version of final draft (body modification)

Page history last edited by marielle frattaroli 12 years, 2 months ago


     When I was younger, my sister had a boyfriend who had several tattoos all over his body in honor of his time in the marines.  Whenever he or my sister would bring up the word ‘tattoo,’ my mom would look at them, appalled, and ask “Why would you want to mutilate your body like that?” 


                A traditional definition of body modification is the deliberate and permanent altering of the human body for any non-medical reason.  Though true, body modification is much more than that.  Body modification is a form of art, using the human body as its medium, for reasons such as religion/tradition, self-expression, and beauty and is not mutilation. 


                To achieve this definition, I will begin by establishing the clear differences between modification and mutilation, before exploring the traditional cultural and aesthetic reasons behind conscious body-modification. I will then set out to prove that many types of body modification today typically meets these criteria, but it is also going farther than ever expected with plastic surgery and technological enhancements.


                Many people oppose this definition and believe that modifying your body in any way is, in fact, mutilation.  As mentioned earlier, my own mother is clearly one of these people.  These people believe that modification and mutilation are one in the same because it requires the changing of the body that was given to you and gives you a bad image.  And let’s not forget the tell-tale argument against modification (which comes out of my mom’s mouth every other day): it’s going to look horrible when you’re older, that tattoo will end up looking like a blob of nothing when your skin sags, you are going to look ridiculous when you still have your breast-implants in at the age of 77, etc.  Although this is all true and you probably will look a little ridiculous when you’re older, by no means is it mutilation.  Some people say that there is only a fine line between modification and mutilation but that is also not true.  They are two completely different things.  Generally, any form of modification that will have a negative effect on you either mentally, physically or socially in the end is considered mutilation. 


                For Example, when someone is going through a depression, cutting is a common source of letting the pain out.  Though it makes the person feel better and may seem like modification, it is not.  For most people suffering from depression, cutting (as well as other forms of self-mutilation including burning or scarring) is a symptom of an underlying psychological problem such as a personality disorder.  This action of intentional mutilation relieves the ‘patient’s’ pain for a short while but does nothing to rid of their illness.  The patient is damaging his/her own body with no benefits and, essentially, making their illness worse which would make the act fall under the category of mutilation.


     Modification can also be considered in another way: when it holds you back socially.  Many, if not all people who partake in body modification are seen as “different” in the eyes of society.  The guy with the spikes coming out of his head: freak.  The girl with the breast implants and fake nose: whore.  The guy with tattoos and piercing all over his body: cold and heartless.  You get the picture.  These images have been forced into the mind of society for ages and the tattooed and implanted don’t stand a chance.  When going on an interview for a job, scholarship, etc. this picture remains prevalent whether you are qualified for the position or not.  Many of these people that have undergone body modification are often looked down upon because of these stereotypes.  This needs to end.  Body modification needs to be understood as having many reasons behind it.  I mean, no one gets a tattoo hoping to be called a freak. 


     The act of modifying one’s own body has been practiced for centuries.  Just as times have changed, so have methods of body modification.  Although many traditional forms of body modification are still practiced, new forms are becoming more and more popular every day.  Some of the more traditional methods such as piercing, tattooing, and even plastic surgery are still very common.  Some alternative methods though, including branding (yes, like a cow) and 3D sculpting are seen and desired more often than ever before.  Branding is when a bent piece of metal, designed to look like a certain shape, are heated up to temperatures as high as 1,800 degrees and pressed into human flesh.  This process, after quite a bit of healing, leaves the impression of an elaborate raised scar on the subject.  3D sculpting is something totally different from any other type of modification; the work is done under the skin!  3D sculpting is the implantation of any object, usually made of stainless steel, titanium, Teflon, (or something common to that material) underneath the skin.  This is more of a procedural modification; the skin has to be cut open and made into a “pocket” for the implant to be placed into.  It is almost like plastic surgery in a sense.  The implants can range from anything as simple as a small bead, to actual horns on top of the subject’s head. (This Will Make Your Skin Crawl!) 



     There is also one more form of body modification that I would like to introduce to you: suspensions.  Suspension is the act of hanging a human body from flesh hooks put through piercings.  These piercings are usually temporary and done right before the suspension.  There are many different kinds of suspension where the suspender is lifted in different position.  This act is done for several different reasons which I will come back to later.


     In today’s society, many of these methods of body modification are still practiced with some type of religious or cultural meaning behind it.  For example, let’s take a look at ‘Stalking Cat’.  Also known as Cat Man, or by his birth name, Dennis Avner, he holds the world record for the most body modifications as he wishes to resemble his totem (a Native American name, his being stalking cat) which is a tiger.  Starting his transformation at the young age of twenty-seven, he is nowhere near done.  He has taken advantage of some of the simplest, most common methods of body modification including wearing different colored contacts and tattooing.  He has also gone to the extreme side of body modification such as filing and capping his teeth, and having surgery to produce a cleft lip.  Avner is a part of the Huron tribe and, according to his parents, it is a very common tradition to modify one’s self to resemble their totem. (Body Modification.)


     There are also many other cultural rituals that encourage the act of body modification, many of which come from different Native American tribes.  Most tribes have a very strong base in body modifications.  Scarification, tattoos and piercings defined the members of the tribe, what tribe they belonged to as well as their rank in that tribe.  Depending on what marks the member had, he/she could partake in different rituals.  One of these rituals is practiced by several tribes including the Sioux, Crow, Nez Perce, Mandans, and Hidatsa.  This ritual is called the Sun Dance.  Part of the ritual consists of hanging balls or buffalo skulls from piercings in the body.  Another dance consists of rawhide thongs attached to a tree and also through piercings in the body, having the tribal member dance until they broke free from the tree or fainted from exhaustion.  The purpose of this dance was to thank the Great Spirits for providing help in battles or in sickness.  Another ritual practiced by the Mandans is called O-keep-a, which also involved many grueling physical tasks.  One of these takes was being “hung up.”  This consisted of hooks being pierced into a young man’s chest and being hanged from a ceiling until the hooks tore free.  This ritual served as a coming-of-age for the young men, as well as a renewing ritual for the world itself.  These rituals highly resemble today’s practice of suspension; many people today still practice the act of suspension for these cultural reasons. (Body Modification and Religion Through the Ages.)


      Many different religions also believe in traditions that involve body modification.  Hinduism is a strong believer of these traditions.  For example, on the night of her marriage, a Hindu woman would have her left nostril pierced.  Hindu’s also practice a ritual called Kavadi.  One part of this ritual consists of the devotees piercing their bodies with hooks, and skewering their tongues and cheeks.  The devotees do this to relieve their difficulties in their life by drawing on the power of God.  This is still practiced in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Singapore by many Hindus. (Body Modification and Religion Through the Ages.)


      Another big reason behind body modification is the idea of self-expression.  This is especially common is today’s youth, including teenagers.  More often than not, teenagers are thinking up ideas for tattoos before they are even allowed to legally get one.  This is because a majority of the tattoos adolescents get reflect on some part of their life.  For example, let’s look at a young Disney Channel celebrity: Demi Lovato.  During the peak of her stardom, she became overwhelmed with stress and she soon started to self-harm and develop symptoms of eating disorders and bi polar disease.  After an incident while on tour, she checked herself in to a rehabilitation clinic for nearly three months.  She now has tattoos on her wrist that read ‘Stay Strong.’  She says the tattoo is a reminder to herself of that specific time in her life and to stay strong no matter what.  A tattoo like this is common is much of today’s youth.  It is now more important than ever for teenagers and young adults to get their story out and heard.  Having a tattoo that resembles their story helps them do this. 


      More and more people are catching on to this idea, but some get tattoos just for the art aspect of it.  It is almost impossible to avoid the need for art in one’s life; many people want to fill their lives with it.  A lot of those people treat tattoos as a way to adorn their human canvasses and use them to wear their hearts on their sleeve.  Literally.  Having piercings in odd places or tattoos covering your arms is identical to painting a mural.  It is one big piece of beautiful art and tells an intricate story.


      Going hand in hand with undergoing body modification for art, many people choose to do it for beauty.  Anything from dying hair, to piercing noses, to getting implants are all done to make people feel more beautiful, sexier and to help us fit in.  If someone doesn’t like a specific part of their body, why is it so bad for them to fix it?  For some people, getting a tattoo or getting a piercing brings out one’s true self.  It helps one accept their body better because it raises their level of self-confidence.  Thousands upon thousands of women undergo breast implant surgery every year.  No, it’s not because their whores; many of these people get implants just to feel better about themselves.  When a person is more comfortable in their own body, they are going to be happier and live a better life. 


     Body modification is such an easy way to improve one’s looks and confidence, it has become quite the trend.  More than ever before, people are going out, dying their hair, getting pierced and tatted up, and undergoing some kind of plastic surgery.  It seems like much of this movement is caused by the media.  The media sends these children, teenagers, and even adults messages of what we’re supposed to look like and installs them into our brain.  These messages tell us that we have to look a certain way or we won’t be accepted or liked by society.  The celebrities in these ads tell us this: you need to have the perfect shape, blonde is the only attractive hair color, and tattoos are sexy.  Young people especially pay close attention to this, as fitting in is an important issue teenagers have.  A majority of teenagers think like this: monkey see monkey do.  The more they see other people doing something on TV or in magazines, especially celebrities, the more they want to do it.  Body modification has turned into quite the social trend and is now almost necessary for teenagers to be accepted and thought of as normal.


     Over time, body modification will only become more and more popular, so we better get used to the idea of it and understand what it really is now.


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