With society taking massive steps towards eliminating discriminations such as homophobia, racism, sexism and ageism, it would be assumed that the same steps would be taken to reduce the stigma around body modification too wouldn’t it? Body modification is “the deliberate altering of the human anatomy or human physical appearance”, meaning that it can be anything from wearing make-up or dying your hair to the extreme forms such as tattoos or scarification. Even going to the gym comes under the category of body modification, so I can almost guarantee all of us have undertaken it at some point. But why has it got so much stigma? Why is it such a problem what an individual looks like?
When I say body modification from here on out, I mean the more more permanent practices (In the Western world at least) such as tattoos and piercings; seeing as in the UK, 44% of the workforce have tattoos and 32% have non-standard piercings i.e. any more than your ‘standard’ ear piercing. If so many people have tattoos and piercings, why is it stigmatised so badly? In a survey carried out by the CV library, it found that 59% of people with body modifications will face slower career progression. For those of us at university, that means even longer to wait, on top of the three, four, five years (or even longer if you fancy doing anything post-grad) of your degree. This statistic is almost a given explanation for the next statistic of 34% of people who said they cover up their tattoos for job interviews due to the stigma and the prejudice that is posed to them. The qualifications for the job are often looked over for the fact that an individual has body art, which is often a form of self representation for many people and a part of their individuality and their identity. And it is totally a societal issue. Tattoos on the whole are not scowled on in the workplace, for example, 88% of people said they thought it was okay for athletes to have tattoos, but in the same survey, with the same people, only 42% of people would be okay with an inked air hostess.
Body modification stems much further than western culture; it’s been an integral part of Japanese culture since as far back as 5,000 B.C. Many tribes in Africa use body modification as part of who they are, for example the Mursi people of Africa, piercing of the bottom lip is indicative of a girl’s transition into womanhood, this is then stretched over time with a wooden or a clay plate, which works as an indication of her father’s wealth and her social standing. For the Maori people of New Zealand, Moko tattoos are a normal part of adulthood with the men getting full face tattoos and the women get inked on the lips and chins. These tattoos are done using a chisel, giving a unique and textured appearance, and much like the Mursi people of Africa, these tattoos are a signal of social standing, and thus are very important to the Maori people. Finally, for many many many years, West African tribes have practiced something called scarification, which can be done in many ways ranging from branding to cutting or abrasion of the skin. This is done to mark milestone ages in a person’s life, and for a woman, this can mean puberty or marriage. These markings on the individual are very important in establishing complex messages to other people, such as social, political and religious roles, and often, tribe members who do not engage in this practice of scarification are not included in the activities of the group and are very much excluded.
It’s time for body mods to become normal and not looked down upon or called “untidy, repugnant and unsavoury.” Sometimes, things as simple as tattoos can do good; for example, a teacher in America has used math based inkings on her forearms and neck to encourage her classes, to engage student who may never have normally engaged and to come across as personable so that the children feel comfortable to talk to her. We all know that kid in school, that one who really doesn’t want to be there, wo feels like they can’t do it, maybe you were that kid. And we’ve all probably had that teacher who shaped us (if it weren’t for my A Level English teachers, I wouldn’t even be at Lancaster, let alone doing a linguistics degree or writing this article), so we all know how important the work is that teachers do, and if tattoos work to encourage even just one kid, then maybe they should be de-stigmatised. Personally, if I’m qualified and a suitable candidate for the job, why should my tattoos matter? For me, my tattoos are part of who I am, they aren’t offensive or harsh, I love them, so why are they such a problem?