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Exploring the World of Body Modification

Body modification is defined as the deliberate alteration of any part of the body that is not done for medical purposes. Modifications are done for various reasons including self expression, aesthetic reasons, religious reasons, artistic reasons, rites of passage, and for shock value. There are many different forms of body modifications with the most well known being tattoos, and piercings. Many types of body modifications have been around for thousands of years.

The art of tattooing has been practiced worldwide for many thousands of years with evidence of them dating back to ancient Egypt and despite some taboos regarding tattoos, they are still popular today. In the west, tattoos are said to have originated in Polynesia, and became popular with sailors before spreading to the rest of the western world. Throughout history tattoos have been applied in various ways. Some tribal cultures created their tattoos by cutting the skin and rubbing with ink or ashes, while other cultures use sharpened sticks or animal bones and hand tap the ink into the skin. Throughout history there have been varying religious perspectives on having tattoos. Christianity has no real stance on tattoos but most of those who practice Christianity are accepting of the art, and Christian symbols are common tattoo designs. In Islam, tattoos are normally considered forbidden however the use of temporary Henna tattoos is commonplace. Tattoos are strictly forbidden in Judaism and originally was meant to disassociate themselves from other religions and in modern times the association of tattoos with Nazi concentration camps further prevents Jews from getting the art.

Piercing is another well known and popular form of body modification, and has been practiced since ancient times. Nose piercing was first discovered in the Middle East about four thousand years ago and many tribes in the Middle East and Africa use nose rings to denote the wealth of their family. In the sixteenth century nose piercings were brought from the Middle East to India, and were only introduced in the west in the 1960's. Tongue piercings have been around since ancient times and was practiced in ritual form by the ancient Mayas and Aztecs in Central America. Today tongue piercing is one of the most popular piercings. Ear piercing is thought to be man's first attempt at piercing and ear piercings have been found on the oldest known mummy in the world. Lip or labret piercings have been practiced around the world for many years. Many tribes practice lip or labret piercing and insert various objects made of wood, ivory, shell, or bone, and some tribes stretch the piercings to a very large size and wear something called a lip plate. While many piercings have been around for hundreds or even thousands of years, navel piercings are relatively new and have not ever been recorded in primitive cultures.

The piercing and tattoo industry both have a rich and fascinating history. Not only tattoos and body piercings but many other types of body modifications such as branding and scarification are becoming increasingly popular. Throughout history body modifications have been viewed as taboo and have caused controversy but many forms of body modification, especially tattoos and piercings are becoming more mainstream and accepted. Although body modifications are becoming more accepted in society there are still those that don't agree with the decision to modify ones body but ultimately the decision is up to the individual.

The following resources provide further information on the fascinating world of body modification.

  • Body Mod & Tattoos – a great article on the history of tattoos as well as information on how they are viewed in society

  • Modification & Spirituality – an interesting study on the relationship between body modifications and spirituality and religion

  • Origin of Tattoos – an article on the origins of tattoos and tattooing with information on tattoos dating back to 3300BC

  • Safe Piercing – a wealth of information on body piercing from the Association of Professional Piercers

  • Body Art – information on a body art exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, includes a great body art glossary

  • Body Art Safety – some great information on body art health and safety from the Center for Disease Control

  • BME – the Body Modification Ezine is one of the largest body modification communities online

  • Body Modification Perceptions – a study with very interesting results on the perceptions of different body modifications