There are various ways in which individuals express their identity, particularly among young people. People consistently communicate who they are through methods such as clothing choices, language usage, musical preferences, and dance moves. These methods adopt specific images and styles to convey meanings about themselves to their peers and society at large—showcasing unique symbols, values, and meanings.
Another form of self-expression that has gained popularity is body modification, specifically tattoos and piercings. In today’s society, people have different motivations for getting these modifications. Some do it for excitement or to follow the latest trend while others view it as an art form or cultural ritual with social significance. However, some fail to understand why someone would choose to alter their bodies in this way; they perceive body modification as self-destructive behavior similar to disorders like anorexia or bulimia.
In the following paragraphs, I will explore discussions surrounding the reasons behind body modifications and what motivates individuals to engage in them. Additionally, I will discuss where these modifications take place, how they are carried out, and examine societal perceptions towards those who partake in body modification.
Youth and adolescence are crucial stages in an individual’s life as they discover their identity. Tattooing and piercing serve as ways for young people to express themselves and communicate their self-perception. Some individuals also alter their appearance to portray a false image, such as appearing tough or cool by getting tattoos or earrings. Regardless of its perceived insignificance, obtaining a tattoo or piercing represents a significant change in one’s life and greatly influences one’s sense of self. When young people choose body modifications, they demonstrate maturity by making independent decisions and taking control of their own lives. Ultimately, body modifications act as a means for youth to challenge authority and societal norms.
Many young individuals fail to consider the lasting effects of modifying their bodies, such as tattoos and piercings. Unlike piercings which can be taken out, tattoos are permanent and present a particular challenge in professional settings. Visible tattoos may hinder one’s chances of securing employment.
According to this theory, the act of body piercing is viewed as a self-imposed rite of passage that individuals feel compelled to go through. If society denies them this opportunity, they may create their own in order to experience a sense of belonging. Many people have considered getting tattoos or piercings, but have they ever questioned their motivations? This theory suggests that the desire for modifying one’s body is natural, instinctive, and potentially necessary in finding one’s place within society. Additionally, it proposes that pain plays a role in this process. Since Western culture only accepts pain resulting from accidents and pregnancy, people seek alternative ways to encounter it. In the end, this pain can transform an individual’s perspective on life. Each person will face some form of pain – whether physical or emotional – which is likely to change their outlook and possibly improve it.
The media plays a significant role in the popularity of tattooing and piercing by encouraging people to “jump on the bandwagon.” Well-known figures, such as Dennis Rodman, successful basketball players, musicians, professional skateboarders, and snowboarders, have embraced body modifications. When young individuals see their favorite basketball player or music group with extensive piercings and tattoos, they aspire to be like them and disregard advice from older generations about how appearance impacts success. Nowadays, it is common to observe teenage girls wearing navel piercings influenced by magazines, shows, and music. Youth-oriented magazines promote tattoos and piercings as the latest trend that everyone should follow by showcasing attractive models with these alterations.
Once someone engages in body modification, they start to develop a shared identity with others who have also modified their bodies. This person learns to categorize others based on their physical appearances and place them into different groups to predict and understand their behavior, as well as determine how to or how not to interact with them. Body modification is seen as a characteristic of personal style that indicates a person’s commitment and affiliation to a particular group. Tattooing, for example, is often considered a tribal symbol that represents identification with various groups such as military personnel, prisoners, gangs (such as motorcycle clubs, street gangs, or criminal organizations), sports teams, or youth cultures.
The question arises of whether the significance of tattooing and piercing lose their meanings, particularly when comparing the distinction between the practice as a spiritual transformation and as a trendy phenomenon. It is highly likely that those who engage in body modification as a cultural trend will eventually abandon it for the next popular fad. Importantly, the mainstream acceptance of body modification has been more prevalent in piercing rather than tattooing, mainly because jewelry can always be removed, making it a temporary alteration. It is possible that popular culture recognizes the permanent nature of tattoos, while disregarding other forms of modification like branding.
People have discovered various places and methods to tattoo or pierce their bodies. The most commonly chosen piercings nowadays are on the ears, tongue, lip, nose, eyebrow, and nipple. On the other hand, tattoos can range from skulls, snakes, and dragons to roses or even names and images representing someone special or a significant moment in one’s life. These diverse tattoos and piercings convey different messages to others and form their initial perception of one’s identity. Someone covered in skulls and hate-filled images may give off an intimidating or frightening image that makes some people hesitant about approaching them. Such tattoos serve as a source of empowerment. In contrast, someone with a tattoo honoring their mother, father, or grandfather sends out a sympathetic message indicating their deep love for that person and the grief they feel due to their loss.
In today’s world, there is a competition for employment where individuals vie to be the most qualified candidate. However, if someone with tattoos and piercings arrives at an interview, it can create a negative impression. The employer may see this person as uninterested in the job because of their disregard for appearance. Sadly, people tend to stereotype and judge based on outward appearance. In the business world, conservative attire is expected and it is uncommon to find individuals with many tattoos and piercings.