You are on page 1of 8

GAGNON-DUCHAINE Marie-Ève November 25th 2010 Final essay

Tattoos and body piercing are very common these days. A lot of people have at least one tattoo or one piercing beside the traditional earlobes piercing. Those body modifications may seem inoffensive because of their popularity, but in some case they are not and they can be signs of risky behaviors or even mental health issues. In fact, by looking at the statistics and some research, I found there are a lot of reasons for getting body modifications and that people do not necessarily have their body inked or pierced to look more fashionable. Having myself a small tattoo and some body piercings, I found the subject really interesting and I took it as an opportunity to explore an unknown subject, but also, in a more personal way, the reasons why I got those body modifications. This paper will look more precisely at the history of my body modifications and, by examining the different motives, it will look at the meaning body of modifications and the correlation between those modifications and risk behaviors.

I do not consider myself as a person who has a lot of body modifications. I have only one small tattoo and seven piercings. I have two piercing that I consider a bit more extreme: tongue piercing and the Rook, as the body piercer call it. Each of my piercing does not necessarily have a proper meaning. they have a signification. First of all, I got my earlobes pierced when I was eight years old, However, after analyzing the period of my life when I got those piercings, I think that altogether,

like a lot of little girls of this age. I did not think about it, I just thought I had to do it. Later, some of my friends had a second hole pierced in their earlobes but I did not want one. jewels and in being feminine. At my sixteenth birthday, I wanted to have my navel pierced. I went to one of the best piercing studio in Montreal: Black Sun studio. This place does not exist anymore but at that time, it was a reputable place. I was with my mother and when I sat in the waiting room, I became really scared and wanted to go out. That was my first time in a piercing studio and I was a little bit overwhelmed by the people there and the pictures on the wall. I was not ready and my mother, who did not necessarily think it was a good thing to have a hole in my body but respected my choice, understood that I was not ready. That was my first experience with body piercing. One year later, I decided that I wanted my eyebrow pierced. I did not have a particular reason, except that I wanted to look different. I went back to Black Sun Studio and got my eyebrow pierced without hesitation. I was really happy with my piercing and I felt "cooler". teenager is not? Then, I wanted a small tattoo and I still really like my tattoo. Until sixteen years old, I took piano lessons and really liked it. I was good. I played since I was six years old, and it helped me express my emotions. When I started Cegep, I had less time to practice and I was less motivated, though I still liked it very much. I felt guilty and bad for my lack of perseverance, so I though that getting a key of F inked in my wrist would be the best way to remember me how playing piano was an important part of my life and how I should never stop. This tattoo is really significant for me and since I got it (five years ago), I I think that I got this tattoo because I was questioning myself but which I just was not interested in

never regretted my decision. Later, when I was 19 years old, I had a really complicated love story with my actual boyfriend. At this time, he was getting out of his "goth period". He did not wear gothic clothes anymore but he still had the piercings, which I found very attractive. Maybe because I thought that he would like a girl with piercings, I got two other holes in my earlobes. Still, our relationship was not evolving and, of course, my body modifications, did not change anything. He was not ready to have a girlfriend and I was so ready to be his girlfriend. I was waiting and torturing myself. Like in every heartbreak, I knew I had to let go, but I could not do it and my way of dealing with this pain was to get more and more piercing. I got my tragus pierced (pic), then I got two cartilage piercing. I was not feeling better but those holes in my body made me feel like I could express and show my pain. At that time, my appearance changed too. I lost almost 20lbs in three months and I Of course, my parents were really They did not know dressed only in dark colors. I was not able to wear bright colors, as I was not able to feel brightness. worried because I had become another person.

what to do, but they let me be who I needed to be at that time. One day, my not yet boyfriend thought that it would be a good idea to get our tongue pierced. Before meeting him, I used to think that tongue piercing was disgusting and that I would never have one, but at that time, the only thing I thought was: why not? It cannot hurt more than what I am feeling right now. Also, I saw this as a reason to hang out with him and to be closer to him. So I did it. The worst was the week after because the tongue is so swelled that you cannot eat anything solid. Everyone around me looked really surprised or scared by what I had done. I could not feel better because that was exactly the reaction I was looking for.

One month or two after this event, the guy and I were a real couple. After I told him that I could not live like that anymore, that both m mental and physical health were affected by this story, he finally decided that he wanted to be with me. Of course I made him wait a little bit, but after a while, I decided that I trusted him and that I wanted to be with him. After this, my need for body modifications I progressively practically disappeared. I was feeling much better.

started to wear brighter clothes took of some of my piercing. Today, I still have my tongue piercing, a tragus piercing, a cartilage piercing and one hole in each earlobe. This year, it has been three years since I am with my boyfriend. happy relationship. We have a healthy and I kept some of my piercing to remember this

important part of my life, although it is not a happy one. I do not want to feel like that ever again and I think that my piercing can help me remember what I do not want to become. Recently, I got a piercing named "The Rook" (pic). While the piercer was passing the needle through this part of my ear, I instantly new that it was my last body piercing. The pain was really intense and I knew that I did not need to feel that pain anymore. I find it really pretty but I do not need to make myself suffer anymore. I am happy and I think that if I ever get really depressed or angry as I did when I was 19, I have more resources and means to get through those rough times. I still like body piercing and tattoos, but my "Rook" piercing was a closure to an immature way of dealing with pain and sadness. This was my story about body modifications. I know there are planty other reasons to explain why people get them and both my story is only the starting point of an essay that explains exactly what are body modifications, where they come from and what they mean. First of all, body modifications (BMs) and particularly tattoos

exist since a really long time. In fact, it is one of the oldest mean of expression and experts assume that tattoos existed in the Prehistoric Era. Tattoos have always been a way of identification, of individualization and also a way of recognition. The oldest proof that tattoos existed a long time ago comes from a mummy that was dated of 2200 B.C. Since the Antiquity, man had tattoos to express symbolic assertion, but also for decorative matter. religious or military significations. tattoos in 1769. They also had initiatory, Occidental sailors discovered

They were traveling to foreign lands and met with

indigenous tribes who called the drawings on their bodies "tatau". From this discovery, the idea of marking permanently a body came to Occident. The colonial expansion, the increase of trips around the world, the invention of photography and the emergence of the media coverage helped to the development of tattooing industry. In 1945, tattooing became legal, even though it is not socially accepted, and with the invention of the tattoo machine, this mean of expression became more popular and more accessible in America. In 1950, tattooing, but also body piercing, began to spread in to the margins of the society. themselves with. In For example, the Hells Angels1 identified a movement associated with body 1980,

modifications made its appearance: The Punks. The Punks' first goal was to break conventions by having strange haircuts, tattoos, piercing and eccentric clothing. All those body modifications through different period of time had for principal purpose the opposition to the homogenization of society. Even though they are very popular, BMs are still feared and are sometimes considered as a representation of rebellious teenagers, antisocial behaviors and sometimes as a threat.


Reasons for getting body modifications In fact, those representations can sometime be true, but not in all cases. There are a lot of reasons for getting body modifications and probably every person have his or her own motives to do it, but scientists and anthropologists have studied the subject and have identified the principal motives. First of all, some people have, at a certain point in their life, a need to change something about themselves. feel like improving their look. For example, some people people do not like their body and by getting a tattoo or a piercing, they They also feel like it can reflect their personality and their beliefs. " J'ai envie de montrer qui je suis, que je suis différente des autres par le fait que j'ai des tatouages. Je me sens exister davantage2." (Modifier son corps, p. 90) They can also get body modification to ease their distress, even though it is not always a good solution. " It is possible that psychological distress may motivate some individuals to obtain a body modification. Body modifications may be one manner in which individuals attempt to cope with distress or attempt to clarify their sense of self." (Psychological adjustment of college...p.17) Adolescent are particularly attracted to body modifications because " typical young adult developmental issues of nonconformity and a desire to be noticed, along with tendencies to affirm one's own individuality through symbolic representation, can provide a context that normalizes tattooing and body piercing." (Psychological ad. p. 14)

Also, some individuals really believe in the importance of their ancestors and will have their family blazon or name, or even the face of an ancestor tattooed.

pic The second reason for getting body modifications is to change for the other. For example, people might want to be identified as a part of a group, to catch the attention of others, to upset or disturb people or to fit in a cultural norm. This pressure for fitting into a group is more observable with teenagers because exclusion is a more sensible subject at that age. However, people with tattoos and piercings are not necessarily disturbed or do not automatically have sociological or behavioral issues. " With approximately 25% of college students having body modifications (Grief and Hewitt, 1999), tattoos and body piercings may represent an emerging norm rather than being a stereotyped extreme behavior done for attention of individuation." (Psychological ad. p.15)

Meaning of body modifications There are not a lot of studies about today's meaning of body modification, but in the few that have been published, it seems that, in some cases, there is a link between BMs and risky behaviors. Of course, some people have their skin inked or pierced only for aesthetic or more superficial reasons, but in a lot cases, the reasons are more profound. In a study made with college students, the results were demonstrating that they "clearly demonstrated a higher prevalence of depression and anxiety in individuals with body modifications. Student with body modifications reported greater psychological distress [...]" (Psychological, p.17) There is also a higher rate of female who presents those signs of psychological distress: "Pierced females were more likely to have multiple sexual partners, not to have used a condom at last

intercourse, to be regular smokers, and to be current users of cannabis or other illegal drugs." (Piercing amoug adolescent, p. 129) Of course, not all female who has body modifications present those particular characteristics, but sometimes, tattoos and piercing can be an indicator for professional to notice risky behavior. " The permanent and painful nature of these practices and the long tradition of social prejudices agains them have made psychiatrists as well as general physicians, psychologists and lawyers consider BMs amoug their patients or clients as an indicator of deviant, antisocial, or even criminal deposition." (Stirn and Hinz, p. 326)