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Tattooing and Piercing

Tattooing and Piercing

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Published by suvash
An article on tatooing and piercing.
An article on tatooing and piercing.

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Published by: suvash on Jan 24, 2009
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09/29/2012

 
odifying the Body: Tattoos and PiercingsBeautyComments : 0Read MoreAdd CommentSubmitted By
Body modification in the form of tattooing and piercing istraditionally viewed with reserve in contemporary Western societies. Those with tattoos or piercings are seen as rebellious and defiant of social conventions. However, body adornment in other non-Westerncultures plays an expressive role in the articulation of cultural andreligious values. Ritual ceremonies involving body modification andornamentation mark rites of passage, the calling of spirits and theenhancement of beauty (1). Whilst Western societies promote slender,tall athletic bodies as an ideal of beauty, perceptions of beauty in othercultures often focus on what has been done to the body rather than onthe body itself.Body modification is not a new practice. It can be seen in many ancientcultures. Evidence of body marking has been found on Egyptianmummies dating from between 4000 and 2000 BC. The word tattoo isderived from the Tahitian word meaning 'to strike', tatau , andexamples can be found in the history of ancient societies in Hawaii and Tahiti. A recently discovered 'Ice Man' whose tattoo markings werepreserved in a glacier, is estimated to be around 5000 years old. InBritain, tattoos of animal motifs on members of ancient tribes weredesigned to scare their adversaries in warfare. As Julius Caesarremarked, the blue appearance that these tattoos gave to the warriorsmade them 'frightful to look upon in battle' (2). However, when Romansoldiers imitated these tattoos themselves, the Roman EmperorConstantine I banned the practice as being against 'God's handiwork'.In effect, body ornamentation in Western Europe was thereby largelyrepressed and extinguished through fear of religious persecution bythe then dominanct Christian religion.
 
In other non-Western cultures, however, tattooing, piercing andscarification of the body were regarded as a necessary part of religiousexpression. Within these cultures, body adornment and alteration werebelieved to distinguish humans from other animals, so providingevidence of civilisation and socialisation. Ornamentation wasperformed following strict observation of ritual preparation, ceremonyand taboos. For example, tattooing was widespread as a religiouspractice among the peoples of the South Pacific. In the MarquesanIslands, tattooing of men began at puberty in a ceremonial rite.Women's arms and legs were also inscribed with complex andelaborate motifs. These tattoos were believed to defend againstspiritual and physical danger. Similarly, a sacred rite among the Maoriinvolved using a mallet and chisel to gouge deep cuts in the skin,usually on the face. Those who received the tattoo were highlyrespected for their spirituality and bravery and were secluded fromother non-sacred people while their wounds healed.A form of tattooing called cicatrisation or scarification is widelypractised in traditional African societies. Rubbing charcoal into smallcuts made with razors or thorns forms decorative patterns of scartissue in the skin. These designs are often indicative of social rank,traits of character, political status and religious authority. For Africanwomen, scarification is largely associated with fertility. Scars added atpuberty, after the birth of the first child, or following the end of breastfeeding highlight the bravery of women in enduring the pain of childbirth. Scars on the hips and buttocks, on the other hand, bothvisually and tactually accentuate the erotic and sensual aspects of these parts of the female body.In other cultures, piercing rather than tattooing forms the main focus of such religious and social symbolism. For example ear piercings inAlaska are used to represent social status and prestige. Similarly, lippiercings in Inuit (Eskimo) societies are performed at puberty to mark aboy's transition to manhood, whilst social distinction is emphasized bynose piercings among the Tlingit of Alaska. Tattooing, on the otherhand, is traditionally thought to enhance female beauty in Inuit(Eskimo) societies. Close parallel lines running from the lower lip to thechin of a young girl are usually drawn by older women using a needle,thread and lamp soot.Body ornamentation, especially tattooing, was spread among Westernsocieties when soldiers and sailors returning from conquest and tradeimitated the practices they had seen among the indigenous people of Asia, Africa and the South Pacific. Working class men in Europe andAmerica wore tattoos primarily as a symbol of tough masculine pridethroughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, arevival of interest in body modification in Western industrializedsocieties in the late twentieth century is associated more withdomestic youth culture movements than with the foreign origins of such practices. The Beatniks of the 1950s and Hippie movements of 
 
the 1960s turned to Asian tattooing techniques as a personalexpression of spiritual and mystical body aestheticism. Conversely,working-class young people of the Punk movement in the late 1970sand 80s used tattoos and piercing as symbols of rebellion in an explicitpolitical protest against their feelings of imprisonment in society's rigidclass structure and values.A recent rise in the popularity of tattooing and piercing in the West isevident in magazine features (3), themed photographic exhibitions (4)and newspaper articles (5). In America, it is estimated that between 10and 25 per cent of teenagers have some kind of tattoo or piercing (6). The opening of a tattoo and piercing section in the London high-streetstore, Selfridges, indicates a new interest among middle class men andwomen in body modification techniques. This can be attributed to anincreasing professionalism of such practices and access to high qualitytattooing resources (7). Popular forms of tattooing range from a singleimage to a full bodysuit tattoo. Common sites of body piercing includethe ear, eyebrow, nose, bridge, cheek, lip, navel, nipple and genital.Different methods of piercing add further variety to body modificationstyles and include the regular method, surface, pearling, sub-incisionand pocket piercing.However, whilst body modification may be finding new levels of acceptance in certain areas of society, motivations for tattooing andpiercing among adolescents and middle class women are profoundlydifferent in nature from those of the sailors, soldiers, bikers and gangmembers more commonly associated with such practices in the West.Originally a social symbol of group identification and affiliation, tattoosand piercings are now being invested with more personal, individualmeanings. Clinton Sanders, a sociologist who spent seven yearsengaged in field research work among young people with tattoos,believes that tattoos provided his subjects with a means of self-identity.He writes that they marked themselves with 'indelible symbols of whatthey see themselves to be' (8). The sociologist Chris Shilling arguesthat as notions of the inner 'self' are conflated with the appearance of the surface of the body, adornment and ornamentation occupy anincreasingly significant role in the construction of personal identity (9).In other words, piercings, tattoos and other body modifications allow aperson to control and manipulate visual projections of their own senseof individuality. For example, the website 'Body Modification Ezine' (10)includes numerous readers' stories about the extent to which a tattooor piercing has changed their image of themselves. One contributorwrote that being pierced 'helped me know who I am'.It appears therefore that, whilst practices of body modification intraditional non-Western cultures serve to connect people to their socialposition and ancestry, tattooing and body piercing in the Westfunctions to delineate individuals from the society in which they live.As such, body modification in contemporary Western societies is not

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