I had wanted tattoos since I was a teenager, but I didn’t get my first until I was 22. It wasn’t out of a desire to change my body and twist it into something else; it was originally just because I like how decorated skin looked and wanted that for myself. I didn’t hate my body before and I don’t hate my body now. The moth that I got on the back of my neck opened up a whole new world of ownership of my own body and that was precisely one of the reasons why I decided to go through with it.
Society doesn’t look too kindly on people who deliberately go against the grain and challenge the status quo, and embracing body modification – whether it be openly getting cosmetic surgery like breast implants, or tattooing yourself all over – is something that is still widely considered taboo. More and more people in the UK have tattoos, with around one in five UK adults having some kind of tattoo (which then apparently rises to one in three among young adults). So, although it is not as taboo as it used to be, people still look at you weirdly and question your character or your professionalism.
Although tattoo stigma especially isn’t limited to them, women in particular can face a lot of scorn for getting any kind of body modification; tattooed and pierced women can be labelled ‘sluts’ depending on the type, size, placement and amount of tattoos they have, and can be criticised for getting a tattoo on literally any part of their bodies because it will inevitably age (and we can’t have a woman aging at all let alone covered in ugly, wrinkly tattoos). Meanwhile, women who get cosmetic surgery are vapid, vain and obsessed with their looks – even those who do so to mend lifelong mental scars and hang ups about their bodies are told that they should find another way.
Ultimately, people don’t like it when women take control of their own bodies at all, let alone in a way that is deemed ‘unnatural’ and challenges how women are ‘supposed’ to look. We’re supposed to be effortlessly naturally beautiful and wake up with perfect hair and perfect skin and perfect perky boobs; paying for that is out of the question, however.
I felt like making a stand and saying I’ve had enough of trying to be what other people wanted me to be. I was marking myself for life and shouting: “No, I’m done! I’ll look the way I want to and I won’t hide myself away anymore because I’m worried about what other people might think of me based entirely on how I look.”
Of course, it’s not the same for everyone. For some, the state of your body is nothing to do with it; the body is a canvas, and modification is a form of artistic expression. For others, body modification can mend relationships with bodies, create new love or lease of life, or simply be a way to show let their personality shine through and be reflected in their outward appearance. Some people even modify their bodies in impulse decisions that have nothing to do with, well, anything.
So, why have other people decided to partake in body modification? I asked some fellow body-mod lovers to find out:
“Having my septum pierced helped me reconcile my relationship with my nose. I have a prominent, Italian nose that I always hated growing up. Having a pretty piece of jewellery on my septum that I feel proud to show off definitely cultivated more positive feelings about my face and boosted my self-confidence. I plan to get tattooed in the future because I see body modification as artistic expression and an act of self-love.” – Kate (@thenervousbun)
“I got angel bites and snake bites, an eyebrow piercing, a nose piercing and a helix piercing all within a year/year and a half. I definitely did this to stand out from the crowd as I am incredibly quiet and often experimented with hair colours and styles in order to have ‘something’ about me, or to express myself in a way I couldn’t verbally. It was also a way of identifying with a ‘group,’ decorating myself as part of the alternative scene with standardised cultural markings.
I have four tattoos and they all mean different things. My first is a Zelda tattoo I got during my gap year when all I did was play Ocarina of Time and became very obsessed with it. It got me through a slightly depressing period of my life so I guess it is almost a tribute to that game and what it meant to me; it made me feel safe and presented me with much needed escapism. I have a cattoo I got with Tara (Catstello) when my cat died, but mostly it was just because I friggin’ love cats. I got an arrow on my wrist very impulsively after seeing it on Tumblr and drunkenly deciding to book it. It means nothing but I kind of like that about it – it’s purely aesthetic. My final tattoo is a relationship tattoo I got for mine and my now ex boyfriends one year anniversary. It’s an adorable pumpkin on my foot (we met on Halloween), but it also reflects how much I love Halloween as a time of year. Paul the Pumpkin, as he is known, was another impulsive tattoo but is also emotionally laden. If I’d broken up with my ex in a painful way I would no doubt regret it but we are on very good terms. I actually like this tattoo the most because it shows that I am capable of being that in love with someone and I’m so excited about feeling that way again someday.
I think body mods are incredibly expressive and beautiful, reflecting the creativity and personality of somebody in such an outward and unapologetic way.” – Katherine (@katherinehoc)
“I feel more ‘me’ if I decorate my body in terms of body mods or alternative fashion. If I didn’t have that, well, I’d have no personality and would forever hate the way I look. Good body mods take time, commitment and money but if you go to someone who is professional and do some research you will walk away with some kick ass artwork (or jewellery) that will no doubt make you feel like a magical unicorn! It’s the same feeling as getting a good haircut.” – Dani (@spikedblacktee)
For me, my tattoos and the fact that I’ve done something to change the natural state of my body don’t take away from my body positivity – they’re a part of it. By tattooing my body, I’m decorating it and professing my love for it, deliberately doing something that other people don’t like the look of because I like the look of it. I’m putting pretty pictures on pretty parts of myself, allowing my body to share a piece of my mind with the world, taking body parts that I already liked and making myself like them more. My confidence levels changed somewhat, but only in the sense that I thought I’d be too weak and pathetic to sit through one and I proved myself wrong.
Tattoos didn’t magically change my confidence when it comes to the way I look, on the other hand; I still struggle with the same daily body battles as before, but I like seeing them. I catch glimpses of them in mirrors and reflections, forget about the bits of myself I’m not as big a fan of, and think damn when did I grow up to be such a sexy bamf?
At the end of the day, I love my body with my modifications, and I’d love it without them too. They’re just one of the many ways that I choose to express myself, and they don’t limit my body positivity just because I’ve changed an aspect of myself that I was born with. Tattoos or no tattoos, piercings or no piercings, my body is still cute as fuck from top to squishy bottom, but that doesn’t mean that every modified person is the same.
If you have or want body modifications, what are your thoughts? Is your desire to change the way you look rooted in your body positivity and self-confidence (or lack thereof), or are you motivated by something else?