Last Updated 25 Mar 2020

The History of Body Modification

Category Body, Clothing
Essay type Research
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The History and Culture of Body Modification What is body modification and why has it had such a large impact on society? For centuries humans have been using their bodies as a canvas to identify themselves to the rest of society. Body modification lets a person stand out or blend in; it allows people to describe who they are and where they come from without saying a word. There are many forms of body modification such as Tattooing, Scarification, Piercings, Stretching, Plastic Surgery, and Corseting. Each form holds a story, a reason why it is done. In the past three decades, Western body art has not only become a practice, and in some quarters a fashion, that has crossed social boundaries of class and gender, "high" culture and "low," but also it has been greatly influenced by "tribal" practices, past and present. ” (Enid Schildkrout, Inscribing the Body, Para 10 line 8) Tattooing The history of tattooing stems back thousands of years from all over the world for all different reasons. “In terms of tattoos on actual bodies, the earliest known examples were for a long time Egyptian and were present on several female mummies dated to c. 000 B. C. But following the more recent discovery of the Iceman from the area of the Italian-Austrian border in 1991 and his tattoo patterns, this date has been pushed back a further thousand years when he was carbon-dated at around 5,200 years old. The distribution of the tattooed dots and small crosses on his lower spine and right knee and ankle joints correspond to areas of strain-induced degeneration, with the suggestion that they may have been applied to alleviate joint pain and were therefore essentially therapeutic.

This would also explain their somewhat 'random' distribution in areas of the body which would not have been that easy to display had they been applied as a form of status marker. ” (Cate Lineberry, Tattoos -The Ancient and Mysterious History, Para 2 and 3) There is evidence that women in Ancient Egypt had tattoos on various parts of their bodies, some on their inner thighs or on their hips, these tattoos were thought to help alleviate the pain of childbirth. “Tattooing of ancient Egyptian women had a therapeutic role and functioned as a permanent form of amulet during the very difficult time of pregnancy and birth.

This is supported by the pattern of distribution, largely around the abdomen, on top of the thighs and the breasts, and would also explain the specific types of designs, in particular the net-like distribution of dots applied over the abdomen. ” (Cate Lineberry, Tattoos – The Ancient and Mysterious History, page 2, Para 2, line 4) Scarification Scarification is another form of putting design on the human body. Scarification also known as cicatrization changes the skins texture by cutting into the skin and then controlling how the skin heals.

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Many substances can be added to the cuts to turn the scars into raised bumps, or change the color of the skin. “In some cultures, a smooth, unmarked skin represents an ideal of beauty, but people in many others see smooth skin as an unfinished, unattractive surface” (American Museum of Natural History http://www. amnh. org/exhibitions/bodyart/glossary. html#totop, para 10) In South Africa the practice of Scarification has lasted centuries and the techniques used to produce the scared images have been passed from generation to generation.

The custom of scarification is usually carried out by the young women of the tribe as a sign of beauty. The scar designs can be found on the chest, stomach and backs of the tribal women. The following image shows three Tembu women with decorative scarification. Piercings Body piercing is probably one of the more welcomed forms of body modification and involves piercing anything from earlobes to noses and even sexual body parts. Throughout history body piercings have been used to show status and age, and as wards and talismans.

There are many different types of piercings and many different reasons each was used. Sailors would get a gold earring to help improve eyesight, Ancient Egyptian women would pierce their belly buttons to ward off demons from entering through the belly button and harming their unborn children, Roman soldiers would pierce the nipple area of their armor. In many cultures ear piercings are done to show that the recipient of the piercing has reached puberty. In Borneo the parents of the child each take turns piercing an earlobe to symbolize the child’s dependence on their parents.

During the time of the Roman Empire, Roman soldiers would wear upper body armor that was shaped like a man’s chest they pierced the armor where the nipples would be and used those rings to clasp their cloaks into place. This practice lead to the belief that they would only clasp their cloaks to actual nipple rings. Women of the 14th century were known for wearing such low necklines that their nipples were often visible, women then began to pierce their nipples or use nipple caps to add decoration to their chest, sometimes fragile chains of gold, pearls, or diamonds would be linked between the piercings.

These piercings were mainly worn among the upper classes of the 14th century. (http://www. painfulpleasures. com/piercing_history. htm) The Prince Albert is now as it once was, a popular male piercing, that not only enhances sexual stimulation but also allows the wearer to control where their penis lay inside the pants. “The Prince Albert piercing is named after Prince Albert who was the husband of Queen Victoria of England. He was reputed to have had this piercing done prior to his marriage to the queen around 1825, at that time Beau Brummel started the craze for ultra-tight men’s trousers.

Because the pants were so tight, the penis needed to be held to one side or the other so as not to create an unsightly bulge. To accomplish this some men had their penis pierced to allow it to be held by a hook on the inside of the trousers, this piercing was called a "Dressing Ring" at the time because tailors would ask if a gentleman dressed to the left or the right and tailor the trousers accordingly, tailors to this day will ask if you dress to the left or right. ” (http://www. ainfulpleasures. com/piercing_history. htm ) Body Modification Making the body thinner and more graceful is something many cultures do, long thin neck lines, curved shapely torso’s these are signs of beauty through the world. Throughout Europe and North America corsets have been a popular way to give a woman curves and emphasize or deemphasize parts of her body. On the Thai-Burmese border tribal women wear heavy brass neck rings to elongate their necks as a symbol of beauty.

Women of the Karen tribe wear heavy brass neck rings that give the appearance of long necklines. This particular form of body modification has likely been a Kayan tradition for over a thousand years. The primary reasons for wearing them now are for beauty and to preserve their culture while they are in exile. These long necks are a symbol of beauty in the tribe. The interesting thing about these neck rings is that they do not actually stretch the neck; instead the rings ush down on the muscles around the collarbone giving the impression of a longer neck. Corsets were first popularized in the mid-16th century. At that time, the garment was used not to minimize the waist but to enhance the bust. The Victorian era brought many changes to corsets, which are still with us today. Modern corsets are shaped in the same way as the 1800s corset. Steel stays were introduced in this area, allowing corsets to reshape the body. Tight lacing was common, further reducing the waist and enhancing the bust and hips.

Tight lacing is a way to wear the corset where over a period of months or years a woman can were the corset taking it off only at night to sleep and each day when it is put on again it is tightened a little more than the day before. This is done so that the body holds the shape given when the corset is taken off. Shapely hour glass figures are a seen as a mark of beauty. Throughout history people from all over the world have used various forms of body modification to tell people who they are. Tattoos, Lip plates, Piercings, Brass Neck rings, all say something about the person they are attached to.

For centuries tribes have used tattoos to mark tribal leaders and spiritual leaders or to mark when a child has come into puberty and can be counted as an adult. Tribes in Africa use the body as a canvas and mark them with scar designs because a bare unmarked body is seen as an unused surface, while in other cultures an un-scarred unblemished body is seen as a thing of beauty. Brass neck rings are used to create beauty on women in tribes who find that the long, elegant design of a neck should be shown and accentuated.

Piercings have always been used for a wide variety of reasons; to mark an age, to decorate a bare chest, or to help improve eyesight and ward off demons. The reasons behind body modification vary, from culture to culture and for each gender. “These permanent designs-sometimes plain, sometimes elaborate, always personal- have served as amulets, status symbols, declarations of love, signs of religious beliefs, adornments, and even forms of punishment. ”(Cate Lineberry, Tattoos -The Ancient and Mysterious History, Para 1 line 3)

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