The screening of Liz Mermin’s The Beauty Academy of Kabul in class today was a clear example of the ways in which beauty standards travel imperialistically across borders in a sort of homogenizing beauty colonialism. The idea of beauty presented in the film was obviously that ingrained in the Western conscience as the “norm” and not particularly considerate of local conceptions of the beauty. This subjectivity of beauty got me thinking about body modifications and the way they are received across cultures. It is so ingrained in our beauty culture that piercings and tattooing the body is potentially detrimental to one’s success to the extent that many occupations require that applicants be free of visible piercings or tattoos in order to apply, as if the way someone looks affects their work ethic. In addition it’s interesting to considerthe way in which some piercings and tattoos seem to be gendered or in some way revealing of hidden characteristics about an individual’s identity.
(Photo by Patrick Arias)
Whenever I research new piercings I always seem to come across some blog posts where someone is asking the forum if a a certain piercing would be considered “gay” or “weird” if a guy got it. The one lobe piercing on men, for instance, was a practical way for gay men to identify one another before society became somewhat more open-minded. But what’s so curious is that asking a question like that to the public, especially over the Internet, invites so many subjectivities because people from difference cultures will have different opinions they can express side by side. It’s almost as if the person asking knows that their desired piercing is taboo but that want someone, anyone, to confirm that it is in fact going to marginalize them if they get it. I’m sure people in China wouldn’t think twice is they saw a guy with one ear pierced, or consider that that piece of metal hanging from his ear relates in any way to his sexual orientation. Nose rings are another example. In America they are viewed as something of a right of passage for coming-of-age hipsters and punks but in India they are a symbolic characteristic related to womanhood. Tramp stamps are yet another example. It’s commonly believed that women with tramp stamps are promiscuous and rebellious. Stretched earlobes are yet another. In America stretched earlobes are viewed as part of an alternative subculture but in many African tribes they are an essential practice of the culture. When is body modification culturally appropriative?
What really got me thinking about all this was meeting a beautiful woman named Maganda at a party at the Museum of Sex this weekend. She is absolutely stunning and happens to have a forehead tattoo, chest tattoo, and hand tattoos. There’s this stigma for women to be “natural”. Obviously this is just a standard set by men who want their women to be unique but not push boundaries too much. In what ways can body modification be considered self-care, and, especially for women, body reclamation?
(Photo by Ostin Torre)