Body Positve Journey: Can Body Mods be Body Posi?

by Amanda, Fattitude Intern

Open love for your body takes courage.

People are quick to point out how you ought to enhance its appearance. Might they even try to smother any confidence they might feel undeserved on your part? An interesting corollary of this capitalistic fix-‘er-up model, entrenching unrealistic beauty ideals in step with the advance of medical technologies, is the burgeoning array of body modification options.

Scalpel, needle, laser . . . so many ways to obliterate any sign you were even here.

Our society directs us to closely monitor our bodies for flaws. When our attention uncovers such a particular, we are damned for our pitiful hatred towards ourselves. They corral us down checkout lanes, into hydraulic chairs, upon metal pedals, across padded tables . . . in search of a cure.

Huddled in waiting rooms, we keep our eyes down as we somberly sign indemnity agreements we don’t bother to read.

I’m not rejecting shaving, makeup, or night serums. I cannot even take a stand against plastic surgery. After all, it developed as a method of healing, and I wholly believe it can be so. What I will vehemently attack, no cases barred, is a culture that can diminish people en masse into basket cases who believe their bodies to be defective, obscene embarrassments to nature that demand surgical manipulation, fasting, and bleaching. As with so many women, the toxicity of this culture permeated me to the core. To overcome it, I utilized paradoxical methods, which I would like to explain.

Piercings were one method I used to demonstrate ownership over my body.
Piercings were one method I used to demonstrate ownership over my body.

I chose body modification. I got tattoos. I pierced my face, and have had hair every color in a Midwestern sunset. I have opted for a nuanced stance, advocating for inherent wholeness and yet an understanding that body modification can be a liberating force. The easiest way to convey my meaning is to showcase how my own experience conforms to this principle.

My first tattoo was an impulsive escapade, an eager attempt to preserve my connection to the person whom I loved. It was for me, but also for another. Later, I had become estranged from this artist, who had first conceived of the withered blossom on my back. I started thinking of covering it up – and reclaiming the rest of the space he had taken up in my life, too.

When we had first met, I had had an eating disorder. When he had offered me vegetables for dinner, I had declined. The thought of such a voluminous mass in my stomach scared me. As the years had stretched on, I gained a few pounds. Never too much, though. Without him to enclose me in his arms, I had expanded rapidly. I wasn’t afraid that this expansion would wound his love for me anymore; he was gone.

To get the tattoo covered, it cost hundreds of dollars. It was totally worth it. By the end, I had mended up the scar of a broken heart with a giant blue TARANTULA in a field of crystal. If people didn’t get the tarantula, they were even more confused as the changes kept coming, and their criticisms weren’t shutting me down. If they thought my tattoos stupid and ugly, it didn’t matter. This defacement clearly notates the boundaries of MY territory.

I glow when someone sincerely appreciates me tattoos, because they’re MINE. It says something about me that I chose them.

Though tattoos have become a norm, there’s still a stigma. (Kind of like how being fat has a stigma even though 69% of adults don’t meet medical weight standards!) They’re a mark of the lower-class. They piss people off and render them uncomfortable.In fact, strangers get downright belligerent. I had many people walk up to me to tell me: “You know what the problem is with your generation/people like you?”

Me after getting that fresh tattoo in Cali. It's the Eightfold Path, to honor how Buddhist thought has helped me to accept my body.
Me after getting that fresh tattoo in Cali. It’s the Eightfold Path, to honor how Buddhist thought has helped me to accept my body.

Suffering tatcalling isn’t any fun, either.

I hate conflict. Peoples’ response to my appearance – whether that be touching me, pointing and yelling at me, scolding me, making ill assumptions about me, and withholding common politeness – saddens and angers me. In addition, tattoo shops tend to be highly misogynistic spaces, e.g., I once had a shop owner mock me over the phone, “Clearly, you’re a girl. What do YOU want? A BIRD?! FLOWERS?!”

Given these people, you might wonder why I bother getting tattooed. Here’s why: The joy of feeling ownership and pride in my body outweighs the challenges.

This ownership makes a tattoo different from most tummy tucks, I think. One is a statement of identity, while the other is a retraction motivated by shame. One seeks to express, whereas the other seeks to conform. One risks being dubbed tacky, skanky, etc., whereas the other a shield that reinforces privilege and discrimination.

There are many paths to body-love. Whether it’s by wearing makeup, eating cupcakes, taking up dancing, or styling your wardrobe, you have the power to redefine your relationship with your body for the better. No such path, however, that has its roots in self-hatred: There are not enough needles in the world to immobilize that monster.

* This blog post includes the opinion of Fattitude interns – and does not necessarily reflect the position of Fattitude, Inc.

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2 thoughts on “Body Positve Journey: Can Body Mods be Body Posi?

  1. Hello dear Amanda and the whole Fattitude Team,

    thank you for sharing your story. I can relate to the topic of body modding as a form of body acceptance and personal liberation from the opressing beauty industry extremely well. In fact, I myself am going through a tattoo related body-love journey right now! You can read my personal story here on wordpress in my blog if you want to. But I’m getting side-tracked: I’ve noticed that recently a LOT of body positive body modding stories, especially related to tattoos seem to surface in the media (look at Bustle for instance with the “11 Fat Positive Tattoos to obsess over” or the “7 body-positive quotes that make for great tattoos” articles; or the project semicolon). As a social and cultural anthropologist, I know how tattoos are linked to highly spiritual topics and are almost always part of some rite of passage. Looking a little deeper into my personal journey and reading the stories of others, it seems that we are all connected by a certain longing to share our individual stories, our pride and celebrate our body and it’s art while at the same time remembering how we got there. It is powerful stuff, that’s for sure.

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