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The superficial psychology of body modification

Grayson Smith 05/31/01 Cathrine Firpo | General Psychology The psychology of body modification. Nature is not natural to us; it's a radical act. When most young children are given a marker, they'll probably want to draw on themselves with it, myself included, eventually an adult tells them, "no no, you draw no this paper..." that they start to wander away from their instinct. It's a basic instinct to try to change ourselves, or perhaps it's more along the lines that we want to control our changing bodies, because they never really do stop changing. The moralities of a mother breast-feeding in public, "oh she must be a feminist". (Salon). Many aspects of "western" society teach that if anything, we should pay a minimal amount of attention to our bodies. Parents have their girl's ears pierced before they can walk, and their boys circumcised. Wash behind the ears. That's that.

Don't be a freak, don't show your skin, no bellybuttons (except during summer, and Easter break), no nipples, no bodily fluids, and certainly no genitalia. Today teenagers (America specifically) are more depressed and confused with their body image than ever before (Monhash). We are confronted with advertising telling us that if we don't show a little skin, we won't be a success. If we don't have washboard abs, or pouty lips, then happiness is not an option. What does body image have to do with the psychology of body modification? We are a species that has difficulty dealing with social individuality. Aside from the questions that puberty brings, when we question our bodies, we (are taught that we) have to question our sanity. For many people who modify their bodies, the process is not about bravery, its about reaching a point in ones life, where it would be easier to DO something, than to not. That our imagined self-image is how it should be in the first place, and that we were born "unfinished". This is the case with a particular individual, a young woman, Francis Sand, who is heavily modified from facial tattoos to scarification. To her, changing her body, with piercings, ink, and scars isn't mutilation, but evolution and art. "We are born as a basic model... and one of our first urges is to change that, yet as we grow up, we are told time and time again that it's wrong. It's wrong to have that hairstyle, it's wrong to get a second ear piercing, it's wrong to wear those clothes... to say those things. It takes a certain kind of strength to go against these things, and a lot of the modified people that I meet don't see themselves as brave, or as being anything better than what we are taught. Myself included. I never saw myself as showing any kind of bravery, this was not a conscious decision for me. All I knew was that it didn't feel wrong to me, and that as I grew older and those feelings that I was harming myself in some way faded away as being insignificant, something in all of this was building the person I was to become. All I have is an urge to be myself that exceeds the propaganda that it is wrong. All I know is that if I don't do these things I can never be happy." Modifying, or testing ones body through any kind of trial creates a better self-awareness and symbiosis with our body. This idea can be attributed to other aspects besides piercing and tattooing, like weight lifting and bodybuilding. Body Builders change their physical structure dramatically through moving tens of thousands of pounds a week, and so easily their effort can be lost. The end result is well worth the price of admission for the few who are dedicated. If a society that teaches people to remove themselves from their body emotionally, then people will try only harder to be one with their vessels. This is not something new, it's not a "fad" either. Man has been modifying his body forever. The Aztecs performed modifications to their genitals. Elizabethans practiced corsetry. The Native Americans practice the O-Kee-Pa. When one takes their flesh into their control, they have the power to change their world. Most people never have the fortune of experiencing enough pain to reach an altered state. Never experiencing such a powerful sensation is like going through life without ever opening ones eyes. The act of changing ones body for pleasure be it aesthetic or spiritual or ritual should be embraced by our society. "When you open the flesh, you let something in." Psychology isn't just emotions and spiritual planes. It's also chemistry. Being a piercer or a piercee is an emotional experience. The anxiety, the procedure, and the healing process forces one to pay attention to their body. The same can be said about body mutilation, the major difference between mutilation and modification is the light in which the process is done. Often mutilators feel an intense hate towards their body, and strike at themselves, usually in private, keeping it secret, while at the same time, trying to gain attention through passive-aggressiveness (Strong). Modifiers (on average) seek to improve their body, either aesthetically, spiritually, or physically. There are of course, those who pierce, brand, or tattoo to create a memory, or to remember that point in their life, and there are people who get pierced due to peer pressure, "everyone else has their ears pierced..." This also leads to the fact that a large number of Americans are modified, but without consent. Most American males are circumcised (the number is going down year by year). It is a strange idea that most Americans would force their children to go through such a horrible event just because they themselves had to go through it. The same idea is applied to ear piercings on babies. An infant cannot be safely pierced; almost everything about the procedure has to be compromised. However, people feel they must continue tradition but do not take the time to do research and do not understand anatomy or biology. Many people assume that piercing and tattooing is a fringe and barbaric ritual suitable for outlaws, rock-stars and the like and African tribes-people. While it is true that Africans have been stretching their ears, and modifying their bodes for hundreds of generations, it is in no way a fringe activity to the rest of the world. People have been modifying their bodies since they could walk. People will continue to modify their bodies, either with needles or knifes or genetics and DNA. It is human nature to want to explore, so to explore our bodies, pushing the envelope (and inventing new and improved envelopes) of the physical self is inevitable. It is a basic creative outlet for the mind. Eric Sprague, also known as, The LizardMan. A professional "freak" on tour with The Jim Rose Circus and also has a degree in philosophy states quite effectively; "The modifications I make to my body can mean many things but most importantly, and at the most basic level, they demonstrate the ongoing realization of my living according to a basic principle which I have consciously chosen: Know Thyself. Should there be a final accounting of the positive and negative consequences of these physical changes, regardless of the balance, it could only pale in comparison with the sense of well being that comes from seeking, recognizing, and following one's desires." Works Cited Monhash; BODY IMAGE Health versus

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submitted by: Anonymous
on: 07 June 2001
in Ritual

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