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Essay/Term paper: Body modification in today's society

Essay, term paper, research paper:  English Composition

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There are various aspects through which people, especially youth, identify themselves. People are always sending some sort of communication out at all times, whether it is subconscious or not. Images and styles are adopted which communicate meanings about the individual to his/her peers and to society. Styles of dress, language, music, and dance are some of the ways that portray one's own unique symbols, values, and meanings. One other such signifier of identity is through body modification, particularly tattooing and body piercing. In today's society people have adopted the new style or trend of body modification. There are many reasons in which people obtain piercings and tattoos. Those who modify, manipulate and mutilate their bodies do so for many reasons. Some say it's simply exciting and pleasurable, or part of the latest fad. Others place it in the context of art, ritual or self-expression-they say it's an act with cultural and social significance. In contrast, many people can't understand why someone would choose to put so many holes in her body or cut their skin. They see body modification as self-destructive, much like anorexia or bulimia. I am a prime example of youth urge toward body modification. Below I will talk about why, what, where, and how people modify their body and how people look upon them.

Youth and adolescence is one of, if not the most, significant and influential moments in one's life, when youth are seeking their identity of who they are. Tattooing and piercing are one of the many ways through which youth may express their identity, for they are symbolic representations of how the self is conceived or understood. People may also want themselves to be portrayed as someone who they are not. For example, someone gets a tattoo or earrings just to look "tough" or "cool". I remember when I was young; I thought having an earring was the coolest thing and at the age of sixteen I couldn't take it anymore and pierced my ear against my parents will. Getting a piercing or tattoo symbolizes a certain change in ones life. These changes, no matter how miniscule they may seem, have a huge impact on a person's identity. Usually when a youth gets a tattoo or earring, they are symbolizing their maturity by finally being able to make a decision on their own and taking matters into their own hands. Body modification is clearly a means by which youth seek to displace authority and etiquette. Within the last four years I have gotten two earrings, a tongue ring, and a huge tattoo on my back. As I get older I frequently ask myself, "Why did I get this tattoo? Why do I have two earrings? Why would I pierce my tongue?" These are questions that I should have asked myself four years ago. As I get older I dislike my tattoo more and more. The reason I got it was simply to look cool but know I am stuck with it for as long as I live. Most youth don't think about this when they begin to modify their body. Yes, piercings you can take out but tattoos will always be there. Thank God that I got my tattoo on my back where people can't see it because I have learned that in the business world tattoos are nothing to be desired and that you could possibly risk a job because of it.

Body piercing is believed to be a self-imposed rite of passage. By this I mean that people, in general, feel an instinctive drive to undergo some sort of a rite of passage. If society denies them this, they may create one for themselves in order to feel as though they have a place in society. Almost everyone has been tempted to get a tattoo or piercing, but did you ever ask your self why you wanted one? This theory tries to explain that it is natural and instinctive and possibly even necessary in order to find your place in society. Along with this idea, there is a concept that deals with the issue of pain. Because culture in Western society only allows for pain in instances of accidents and pregnancy, people find other ways of experiencing such pain. This pain cannot help but change one's outlook on life in some way. Everyone will experience some sort of pain in his or her life, whether it is physical or emotional. After any such experience, you are bound to look at life in a different, and possibly better way.

Tattooing and piercing can also be blamed on the idea of "hopping on the bandwagon". The media plays the number one role in the influence of this. Look at our role models: Dennis Rodman, successful basketball play; most of the music industry, professional skateboarders and snowboarders. All of these people have some sort of body modification. What does a kid think when their favorite basketball player or music group are pierced and tattooed from head to foot? He wants to be just like them and all the talk from their elders about not being successful because of the way you look goes right out the window. Nowadays every other teenage girl that you see has her naval pierced. Where do you think that they get this? The magazines they read, the shows they watch, and the music they listen to all have an effect on youth. Vogue and Seventeen magazines promote this as the latest fad that everyone should get. They show these beautiful models with tattoos and piercings.

Once someone begins to modify their body they begin to share a common identity among their peers. The individual learns to categorize people based upon appearances and place them into respective categories of how to anticipate and interpret behavior, or how to or how not to interact with them. When I got my earring, I remember elders coming up to me and criticizing the way I looked, but I just thought they were old and didn't know. Body modification is one of the characteristics of style that demonstrates a commitment and affiliation to a specific group. Tattooing is commonly cited as a tribal badge that signifies identity with the likes of military personnel, prisoners, gangs (motorcycle, street, criminal organizations, etc.) sports teams, or youth cultures. Skinheads are considered an example of youth culture. Punks are another example of youth culture in society and who believe that there is no future for them. Hair is commonly shaven into peculiar styles and of differing colors. Clothing is an often-homemade fragment of other items, carefully pieced together with everyday objects such as safety pins. Punks also use tattooing and body piercing as a means of making statements. The same safety pins holding clothes together pierce noses, cheeks, and other parts of the face and body. The use of body modification in this instance is to give them a homely look to let people know that they just don't care.

The question then arises as to whether or not the significance behind tattooing and piercing lose their meanings, especially when comparing the difference between the act as spiritual transformation and as "cool fad". It is more than likely that those who pursue body modification as a cultural trend will discard it for the next "big thing". One point to note is that the mainstreaming of body modification has been more within piercing than tattooing, the difference of which is that jewelry from piercing can always be removed, hence it is temporary. Perhaps popular culture is actually aware of the permanence of tattooing, while other forms of modification such as branding are not even considered.

Recently I watched a segment on Opra concerning the look of some teens. On the show were a nineteen-year-old girl, her mother, and a psychologist. The girl was tattooed from head to foot. She had piercings in her forehead, tongue, ears, nipples, and lip. Her mother spoke of how embarrassed she was to be seen in public with her own daughter. Imagine, being so embarrassed of someone you created and are supposed to be proud of just because of the way she looks. The girl, a very smart individual, talked about her piercings and tattoos as a form of body art, "I'm an artist. What I do in the flesh is my art form. Flesh is my medium." Meanwhile the doctor considered this nothing but body mutilation and that it shows nothing but ignorance and hate. He also stated that it was nothing but and outcry for help or attention.

The last two to three decades have brought a significant change in the minds of women. Tattoos used to be things that men only got because of the pain involved or it was just considered a masculine thing to do. Now more and more women are getting tattoos. Could this be because they feel like they have been oppressed for this long? Getting a tattoo or a piercing might be their way of saying that they are gaining power in this world both socially and politically. "Sarah, a lesbian, sought tattooing as a means to 'communicate' ownership- control over my body and therefore myself. They [tattoos] express my freedom to make decisions about my body. Getting tattooed was a way of taking back power from those many forces of power and empowering myself". Women sometimes get tattoos or piercing to make them look "sexy". Men usually find it sexy if they see a tattoo on a private part of a woman's body such as their buttocks, breast, or even on their lower stomach. It also might be considered sexy just for the fact that the women was able to endure this pain. Some women simply get tattoos to make them look masculine.

People have found many different places and ways to tattoo or pierce their body. The most common piercings today are the ears, tongue, lip, nose, eyebrow, and even the penis and clitoris. Tattoos range anywhere from skulls, snakes, and dragons to roses, naked people, or even names or images that signify a special person or moment in ones life. These different tattoos and piercings each send out different messages to people giving them a first impression of who you are. Someone with skulls and images of hate all over their body might send out a scary or intimidating message. On my back is an eight inch, black, tribal dragon that I got when I was seventeen. I thought it was cool and would make me look tough. I put no time at all into choosing what was to be tattooed permanently on my body. Now people look at it as if I am part of some cult or something. Some people are afraid to talk to people like this. This type of tattoo sends out a certain message of empowerment. Someone who has a tattoo of their mother, father, grandfather, etc. sends out a certain sympathetic message saying that they loved this person dearly and they died.

In the world today, people are at a constant struggle with each other over employment. One person is more qualified than the next and employers want to hire the best person for the job. What impression would the employer get if someone came on an interview with piercings and tattoos? The employer would think that this person really doesn't want the job because he/she doesn't care about their appearance. Unfortunately people are very stereotypical and do judge a book by its cover. "The first day of interviews, three of the supervisors noticed and commented on the tongue stud. Being mostly middle aged white guys; their reactions were mostly predictable. One guy actually asked me about the tongue stud, then repeatedly reminded me that my employment was contingent on passing a drug test. I patiently tried to explain to him that the stud in my tongue didn't mean that I was on drugs any more than the color of his tie meant that he smoked cigars." The business world is very conservative and that's how you should look. It would be extremely uncommon to see people with tattoos all over and piercings everywhere to be working for a successful company. I know that when I go on an interview or even go to fill out an application, I take out my earrings and my tongue ring because it just doesn't look professional to have all of this jewelry showing. Big companies don't want someone representing their company has piercings and tattoos that are visible. They want someone who looks professional and conservative that people won't look upon as a joke. On the upside, I recently read a survey taken concerning the types of people who get pierced. The irony to this is that 83% have attended college, 24% have college degrees, and 33% had gone to postgraduate study. This survey shows that the majority of pierces are well educated contrary to popular belief.

Tattooing and body piercing has become a medium through which contemporary youth and youth (sub) cultures in Western societies express their individuality. Along with various other facets of style, body modification becomes a medium of identity, as well as a source of spirituality, subversion, reclamation, and empowerment. The practice of body modifications can enlighten Western society, for "the body become[s] an important site for rethinking such binary oppositions as masculinity and femininity, gender and sex, the public and the private, and the cultural and the natural." The relative acceptance of tattooing and piercing emphasized the integral consistency of change, that youth, culture, and subculture are dynamic facets of society, both influencing and being influenced by each other. I believe that people shouldn't judge people on how they look, however that is how it is and people who look differently (piercings and tattoos) must understand that. In order to succeed in this tough society people must learn to fit in and relate to people. People do not communicate well with people who are considered outcasts. Especially in the business world, one must portray his or her appearance in a likely manner, for example, look conservative and professional. Tattoos and piercings are not conservative or professional.


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