Tattoos and Body Piercing

Essay by ThisKidHereUniversity, Bachelor'sB, May 2006

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Tattooing and Piercing: The Body as a Site for Performing the Self

Many people view the human body as an apartment rental rather than a house: They have the use of it during the brief season of their tenancy, but most are loath to initiate any permanent modifications beyond those dictated by nature and necessity. The tattoo and body piercing have long held negative connotations and is even forbidden in the Old Testament. In Leviticus 19:28 it says "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead nor print any marks upon you. I am the Lord." Though many view these forms of body art as sin and reduce it to body mutilation, others feel that it is merely a historical footnote about the cultural identity of this era. The debates concerning body modification and self-mutilation often suggest that individuals who choose to decorate their bodies through tattooing and piercing are driven by harmful impulses that they cannot understand and do not control.

Though the desire to mark the body does emanate from the inner sense of self, it cannot be read as ideographically as a message of harm of the individual self. The human body is a canvass for the expression of cultural ideas of men and women throughout time and around the world. Arguments of the positive or negative connotations of tattooing and piercing do not often justify or debase body modifications but only indicate a breakdown between morality and aesthetics.

The creatively pierced and multiply tattooed individuals of Western culture probably don't realize it-and neither, undoubtedly, do their unsettled parents, neighbors and teachers-but they belong to a tradition as old as recorded history-probably much older. Ever since our Neolithic ancestors invented art tens of thousands of years ago, humans have been painting, sculpting and...