Body Modification Essay, Research Paper
There is a growing trend among today s youth that is vastly misunderstood and mischaracterized. This trend is body piercing. Many people do not understand piercing and have a biased negative view; they tend to believe that piercing is for delinquents and is an unsafe practice. The presence of bias can be reduced by educating the public on the reasons for which people get pierced, the variety of people who get pierced, and the safe piercing practices used today.
REVIEW OF SOURCES
DeFao (1994) and Thomas (2001) are supporters of body piercing and believe that there are many important meanings to those who participate in it. These meanings range from creating a self-imposed rite of passage to simply increasing ones own self-image. Tanne (2000) and Jeanin (1999) take a historical look at body piercing and discuss the past and present effects of body modification. Benecke (2001) looks at the psychological aspects of those who get pierced, while Mascia-Lees (1992) looks at the different cultural views.
In an attempt to warn the public of the dangers involved in piercing, Drevitch (2001) discusses the negative effects of bad technique and unsanitary instruments. Although Drevitch backs up his points with facts, he also omits a good deal of information about the safe, cleanly techniques of nearly every body artist. An anonymous author, in the publication NEA Today (2001), writes to inform adults of ways to educate children about body art in an attempt to prevent problems.
All of these sources, whether for or against body art, share the objective of providing the public with information on this hot trend. Many of the authors assume that their audience is unaware of body piercing and its effects, and for the most part this assumption is correct. Benecke, unlike the others, assumes nothing about the reader and gives very straight-forward, scientific explanations. Mascia-Lees, while assuming that the reader is neutral to the subject, emphasizes the different cultural views. He focuses on the conservative and often biased views of Western cultures.
Body modification, including piercing, has far reaching roots in history, at least 30,000 years (Mascia-Lees 1). Throughout history, different cultures have found a variety of reasons to modify their bodies. No matter what the reason, they all seem to do it. In fact, according to Ellen Futter, an expert, There has never been a society in which people did not do this, whether permanently or temporarily (Tanne 1).
There have been many different beliefs behind body art in the history of man. One such belief is evident in a 4,000 year old man found frozen in the Alps. Tattoo marks were noted near his spine and on his legs. These markings had been placed very
closely to where x-rays later revealed bone degeneration (Tanne, 3). These markings were evidently believed to ease his pain, and were no doubt very helpful in the mind of this man.
Much of piercing and modification has been done according to the trend of the time. Many of the trends seen today may be derived from those in the past. Nose rings were the height of fashion in biblical times, according to the book of Genesis.
Roman centurions wore nipple rings as a sign of virility and courage, while the Egyptians considered naval piercing a sign of royalty (Doyle 5). Behind every trend seems to be some meaning, and only in a Western society would a man covered in tattoos be included in a freak show (Jeanin 2). The problem seems to be that people entangle biology with culture, and automatically connect body art trends in America as a sign of deviancy, and forget what it means to those who started the trend. After all, once it has become a trend, it no longer has a positive, nor negative meaning; it is simply the current trend.
Reasons behind piercing. Today in America, people who get pierced are often viewed as deviants or hoodlums, but when one takes a closer look at the reasons for which they do it, greater understanding can be achieved. As Sander Thomas, a supporter of body piercing, says, persons with body piercings are generally not deviant or psychologically ill. Instead, they simply have a view of beauty which differs from that of the mainstream (4). Sadly, being different from the mainstream normally leads to being negatively stereotyped. It is unfortunate that these people who pierce themselves for
various reasons that are often important to them have to suffer through the bias of those who do not even try to understand.
A very commonly given reason is that piercing is simply for looks. In the eyes of those who are doing it, it makes them more attractive to themselves and others. This enhancement is really positive because it is allowing young people to be at ease with their bodies, which is emotionally healthy (Thomas 4). In their eyes it may be
attractive, and in the eyes of others they are mutilating themselves. Ironically enough, many of those who call it self-mutilation are the same people who think nothing of having a plastic surgeon suck the fat out of their body, or getting breast implants (Doyle 2).
The desire to rebel often leads young people into piercing studios. A large portion of these young people are considered to be good kids, and piercing is the best way they can find to rebel (DeFao 3). Every generation has found their own way of rebelling, and body piercing is simply a way for today s generation to rebel without hurting themselves or others.
For many, piercing can be a very important spiritual event. Our particular culture is extremely lacking in what are called rites of passage. People on subconscious levels are finding ways of creating their own (DeFao 2). According to Thomas, an author and strong supporter of piercing, Voluntary pain as a spiritual ritual is highly cathartic and often symbolizes the death of an unpleasant memory or part of one s life it is a means of spiritual, mental, and emotional cleansing (3). This attitude can be seen in pre-industrial indigenous societies, and may be what many of today s young people are looking for in body piercing.
The reasons are as numerous as the people lining up to get pierced. It is done to be human. For beauty, as a sign of change, rebellion, or conformity, to show status, to mark a moment to identify with spirits, ancestors or deities (Tanne 1). No matter what the reason, The pain factor should not overshadow the experience as a whole. A
person should look at what it means to them, why they are doing it the anticipation beforehand, the endorphin high afterwards (Doyle 4). In reality, what truly matters is what it means to the individual.
People who get pierced. Many believe that those with piercings are nothing more than delinquents with no goals or future, however in reality, this belief is incorrect. For whatever reasons they are finding, many respectable, stable, people are getting pierced. In fact, it can be surprising to learn of the large variety of them.
People from all areas of society are getting pierced. Evidence of this can be seen in a survey conducted by the publication Piercing Fans International Quarterly. In this survey, 362 people who were getting nipple piercings were questioned. Their occupations varied from night watchmen to physicians; their ages ranged from 22-76, and their annual income ranged from $5,000 to $250,000. Of these people, more than 60% had attained a college education (Doyle 3). This survey shows that not only teenagers are getting pierced, this trend is reaching through adults.
People who lead otherwise normal lives are getting pierced. Mark Benecke interviewed and researched a 28 year old female piercing practitioner for the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology. She was raised in a middle class family, attended Sunday school, and finished college with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology. She then moved to New York City, where she, at the time of the interviewing, worked as a full-time office manager. This young woman, who leads an ordinary life and has a considerably successful career, subjects her body to extreme modifications including numerous body piercings, and even went as far as having an
operation to split her tongue (1-3). She is just one example of the large amount of people who have found reason to pierce themselves.
In addition to the adults, there are many average, even above-average, teenagers who practice body art. According to an author for NEA Today, Body art attracts adolescents from all socioeconomic backgrounds and levels of academic achievement. In a study conducted by the author, 65% of the students who sported body art were students with A and B averages (2). Not only are many of the youth practicing body piercing, or other body art, not devious, they are good students.
Piercing safety. A major concern of parents and those who oppose piercing is safety. It would be wrong to pretend that there are no dangers involved with body piercing, but these dangers come only with malpractice. When piercing is correctly carried out, and good after care is taken, the risks are minimal.
Virtually every body art studio is extremely clean and sterile. The piercers are conscientious about sterilizing their tools and jewelry. They tend to be meticulous when it comes to safety because they want to build a reputation and get return visits (Doyle 7).
Their work areas are clean, and their tools are kept even cleaner. Piercing needles are disposable and used once only. Other reused materials are put through an autoclave, a machine that uses high pressure steam for sterilization of surgical tools, before every use.
The autoclaves themselves are evaluated quarterly for efficiency (Thomas 2).
It is important to discuss possible infection involved with piercing procedures. The HIV virus is not a major concern due to the fact that it dies quickly at room temperatures. Hepatitis B, which can survive on a blood contaminated needle for several
months, is the largest risk. This is why sterilized tools and environment are critical (NEA Today 3).
It is important to learn the facts before carrying out any procedure. Drevitch explains, If you get a tattoo or piercing that you do not really want, or if you get it done the wrong way, the cost in pain, medical expenses, and just general embarrassment can be high. So the least you can do is get the facts before you make a decision (1). There are many organizations that are concerned with safe piercing, and one can find information about studios from resources such safepiercing.com. Also, a person can ask to see the artist use an autoclave, or take new disposable needles and gloves from sealed, sterilized packages. Doyle stresses the importance of asking a piercer about their training, By whom? Where? When? don t be afraid to ask these questions (7).
Today, the only major problem in piercing is the lack of regulation. Currently, half the states do not have regulations governing tattooing, and only 15 have regulated piercing. This lack of regulation leads to dangerous practices in youth. Piercings are often done by adolescents in flea markets, concerts, house fronts, vans, or even done at home by themselves (NEA Today 2).
Regulations would reduce this problem drastically. If no professional help is offered, many will perform the operation themselves. The first tongue splicing was preformed by a young female using fishing line. This process can cause severe damage and infection, while a professional using a laser could reduce the chances (Mascia-Lees 4).
As the trend of body piercing grows, American states will see more and more regulations governing the process. As already seen in several states, piercing studios will have inspections for safety, and the piercers themselves will be required to be trained in the art. As this process of creating safer piercing environments continues, and America slowly becomes more liberal, much more piercing is likely to be seen.
Piercing is an increasingly prominent practice in America. Although not everyone would consider taking part in it themselves, it is important for them to understand the reasons and meanings for which people do it, to understand that those who do choose are not all deviants, and to know that it is a safe practice. This knowledge is necessary to promote understanding between people and create a more pleasant atmosphere for everyone, including those who find reason to pierce, and those who do not. The sooner society learns to accept piercing the better, because this trend has lasted throughout human history, and there is no end in sight.
Benecke, Mark. Body Modification, Autophagy, Tongue Splicing, Scarification, etc. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology. 8 March, 2001.
DeFao, Janine. Hole in One: For many, the Hot Trend of Body Piercing Carries With it the Ring of Truth. Sacramento Bee 30 Sept. 1994: SC1.
Doyle, Alicia. What s the Point of Body Piercing? It Depends on Whom You Ask.
The San Diego Union Tribune 2 May, 1995: E-1.
Drevitch, Gary. Body Art or Body Mutilation? Scholastic Choices Feb. 2001: 6.
Jeanin, Judy. An Ancient Art Form Gets Respect, Looking at the History of Body Modification. Record 26 Nov. 1999: 34.
Mascia-Lees, Frances. Introduction: Soft-Tissue Modification and the Horror Within. Tattoo, Torture, Mutilation, And Adornment. New York: University of New
York, 1992. 1-9.
Thomas, Sander. Body Piercing: Reclamation, Enhancement, and Self-Expression. BmeZine. 11 March, 2001.
Tanne, Janice. Body Art: Marks of Identity. British Medical Journal 1 Jan. 2000: 64.
The Piercing Reality of Body Art. NEA Today Jan. 2001: 34.