There are various aspects through which people, especially youth, identify themselves. People are always sending some sort of communication out at all times, whether it is subconscious or not. Images and styles are adopted which communicate meanings about the individual to his/her peers and to society. Styles of dress, language, music, and dance are some of the ways that portray one’s own unique symbols, values, and meanings. One other such signifier of identity is through body modification, particularly tattooing and body piercing. In today’s society people have adopted the new style or trend of body modification. There are many reasons in which people obtain piercings and tattoos. Those who modify, manipulate and mutilate their bodies do so for many reasons. Some say it’s simply exciting and pleasurable, or part of the latest fad. Others place it in the context of art, ritual or self-expression-they say it’s an act with cultural and social significance. In contrast, many people can’t understand why someone would choose to put so many holes in their body or cut their skin. They see body modification as self-destructive, much like anorexia or bulimia. Below I will talk about why, what, where, and how people modify their body and how people look upon them.
Youth and adolescence is one of, if not the most, significant and influential moments in one’s life, when youth are seeking their identity of who they are. Tattooing and piercing are one of the many ways through which youth may express their identity, for they are symbolic representations of how the self is conceived or understood. People may also want themselves to be portrayed as someone who they are not. For example, someone gets a tattoo or earrings just to look “tough” or “cool”. Getting a piercing or tattoo symbolises a certain change in ones life. These changes, no matter how minuscule they may seem, have a huge impact on a person’s identity. Usually when a youth gets a tattoo or earring, they are symbolising their maturity by finally being able to make a decision on their own and taking matters into their own hands. Body modification is clearly a means by which youth seek to displace authority and etiquette.
Most youth don’t think about the lasting affect it has on there later life when they begin to modify their body. Yes, piercings you can take out but tattoos will always be there, especially in the business world, tattoos are nothing to be desired and that you could possibly risk a job because of it.
Body piercing is believed to be a self-imposed rite of passage. By this I mean that people, in general, feel an instinctive drive to undergo some sort of a rite of passage. If society denies them this, they may create one for themselves in order to feel as though they have a place in society. Almost everyone has been tempted to get a tattoo or piercing, but did you ever ask your self why you wanted one? This theory tries to explain that it is natural and instinctive and possibly even necessary in order to find your place in society. Along with this idea, there is a concept that deals with the issue of pain. Because culture in Western society only allows for pain in instances of accidents and pregnancy, people find other ways of experiencing such pain. This pain cannot help but change one’s outlook on life in some way. Everyone will experience some sort of pain in his or her life, whether it is physical or emotional. After any such experience, you are bound to look at life in a different, and possibly better way.
Tattooing and piercing can also be blamed on the idea of “hopping on the bandwagon”. The media plays the number one role in the influence of this. Look at our role models: Dennis Rodman, successful basketball play; most of the music industry, professional skateboarders and snowboarders. All of these people have some sort of body modification. What does a kid think when their favorite basketball player or music group are pierced and tattooed from head to foot? He wants to be just like them and all the talk from their elders about not being successful because of the way you look goes right out the window. Nowadays every other teenage girl that you see has her naval pierced. Where do you think that they get this? The magazines they read, the shows they watch, and the music they listen to all have an effect on youth. Teenage magazines promote this as the latest fad that everyone should get. They show these beautiful models with tattoos and piercings.
Once someone begins to modify their body they begin to share a common identity among their peers. The individual learns to categorize people based upon appearances and place them into respective categories of how to anticipate and interpret behavior, or how to or how not to interact with them. Body modification is one of the characteristics of style that demonstrates a commitment and affiliation to a specific group. Tattooing is commonly cited as a tribal badge that signifies identity with the likes of military personnel, prisoners, gangs (motorcycle, street, criminal organizations, etc.) sports teams, or youth cultures.
The question then arises as to whether or not the significance behind tattooing and piercing lose their meanings, especially when comparing the difference between the act as spiritual transformation and as a “cool fad”. It is more than likely that those who pursue body modification as a cultural trend will discard it for the next “big thing”. One point to note is that the mainstreaming of body modification has been more within piercing than tattooing, the difference of which is that jewelry from piercing can always be removed, hence it is temporary. Perhaps popular culture is actually aware of the permanence of tattooing, while other forms of modification such as branding are not even considered.
People have found many different places and ways to tattoo or pierce their body. The most common piercings today are the ears, tongue, lip, nose, eyebrow and nipple. Tattoos range anywhere from skulls, snakes, and dragons to roses, or even names or images that signify a special person or moment in ones life. These different tattoos and piercings each send out different messages to people giving them a first impression of who you are. Someone with skulls and images of hate all over their body might send out a scary or intimidating message. Some people are afraid to talk to people like this. This type of tattoo sends out a certain message of empowerment. Someone who has a tattoo of their mother, father, grandfather, etc. sends out a certain sympathetic message saying that they loved this person dearly and they died.
In the world today, people are at a constant struggle with each other over employment. One person is more qualified than the next and employers want to hire the best person for the job. What impression would the employer get if someone came on an interview with piercings and tattoos? The employer would think that this person really doesn’t want the job because he/she doesn’t care about their appearance. Unfortunately people are very stereotypical and do judge a book by its cover. The business world is very conservative and that’s how you should look. It would be extremely uncommon to see people with tattoos all over and piercings everywhere.