Body modification is an umbrella term used to refer to a number of processes used to alter one’s physical appearance. This includes, but is not limited to, body piercings, tattoos, surface piercings, neck rings and scarification. There are a number of reasons as to why one would undergo a body modification process, the most common being as a means of self expression, aesthetic appeal, or even as a way to identify with a certain group of people. Today, many people are indulging in body modification procedures such as piercings and tattoos, the latter being the most common.
Body modifications are very powerful, in that they are able to spark intrigue, curiosity or even judgment in other people. Whether one is sporting a small, inconspicuous tattoo or removable piercing, or they are covered from head to toe in colourful ink and wearing a number of jewelry pieces in different parts of their body, they all have the ability to bring people into conversations about the reasons behind getting tattoos and the connotations that they may carry.
The exact time in history when body modification first began is uncertain, but it is believed to date back to at least 8000 years ago. Throughout human civilisation, it has been used by many different cultural groups for many different reasons. One of the earliest recorded tattoos was traced back to ancient Egypt, though it is believed that it began much earlier. When the Egyptians expanded their empire, the phenomenon spread. The ancient Greek spies used tattoos to identify and communicate with each other, using markings to signify their ranking.
Ancient Romans used tattoos to permanently mark criminals and slaves, as they believed the human body was most beautiful in its purest form. Earlobe piercings, arguably the most common piercings, are said to date back to at least 5000 years ago, done by prehistoric tribes who believed that metal jewelry could be used to repel evil spirits and keep them from entering the body.
Septum nose piercings, which are also becoming increasingly popular today, were prevalent among ancient warrior tribes, often wearing large elephant tusks to look more intimidating and fierce.
One concern that people have with body modifications in general is how they may be pleasing when they are first done, but may gradually start to deteriorate in visual appeal when one gets older. However, many people argue that with proper care, and if need be, the occasional touch up, tattoos can remain as attractive as they were when they were still new. Tattoos and piercings also often come with a stigma, and some studies have even suggested that visible body modifications can negatively alter one’s chances of finding decent work, despite having the necessary qualifications. Tattoos are often associated with criminals, degenerates and delinquents, and some tattoos are even affiliated with gangs. Regardless, many people still chose to undergo said processes, emphasising that body modification is only an alteration of physical appearance and is not a representation of one’s character.
Many mainstream celebrities, local and international, are frequently showing off their body modifications. Sasa Klaas, Ozi F Teddy and Ammo Ski Mask are just a few local public figures who have all proudly worn their modifications and flaunted them on social media and in real life. Rihanna, Miley Cyrus and Ed Sheeran are also a few international artists to parade their tattoos and piercings. It is quite common for public figures to influence their fans in their choices for tattoos and piercings, and this often sparks the debate over whether or not a tattoo must have a specific meaning behind it that affects the wearer personally in order to be considered “good or bad.” For some, altering your body with procedures that are costly to remove, or even permanent, seems drastic if there is no symbolic meaning or reason behind getting it apart from seeing it on your favourite celebrity.
For others, all body modification, drastic or not, is a personal choice, and the simple fact that a tattoo is aesthetically pleasing is reason enough to get one. Still, as the debate over body modification continues, as it has for centuries, people across different age groups continue proudly to adorn their bodies with different body modifications.