Body modification has existed since the beginning of time in different cultures across the world. Tattoos, nose rings, septum rings, earrings, lip rings, tongue rings, navel rings, gauged piercings and genital piercings span the globe in history and every cultural background in existence.
Each piercing had specific religious, rite of passage, class structure or adornment meanings. The Greeks, for example, wore earrings shaped like demigods or revered birds that were reserved for nobility. While the Native Americans, Aztecs and Mayans wore gold septum rings for adornment to symbolize wealth and sexual fertility. In Hinduism, women are encouraged to tattoo the middle of their forehead or “Third Eye” to enhance spiritual wellness, beauty and to protect them from evil.
Instead of enhancing their bodies through piercings or tattoos, it was custom in some cultures throughout time to modify their bodies by applying a long-term practice to actually alter their bodies in some way.
Women of the Kayan Tribe use the practice of wearing heavy brass coils around their neck at a very young age. As they grow, more coils are put on their necks compressing their collarbones and upper ribs. This creates a long and slender neck that is considered very beautiful in the Kayan culture.
In Imperial China, both in the upper and lower-class, young girls fell into the custom of foot binding, because men found it highly attractive. A young girl would have her feet placed in a special soak, where she would then receive a foot massage followed by every single toe being manually broken then bound tightly in cloth. The foot would be unwrapped and re-wrapped tighter until her feet reached 4 inches long. It would assure that these women would never have to work, as they would become either a wife to a working man, concubine to a rich man, or married into a wealthy family. But, it would also assure that the women had to remain fully dependent on their male counterpart, and could not leave the house on her own to participate in normal social events.
In some cultures, body modification can be temporary as a means to achieve spiritual enlightenment through the process and the pain received.
In some of the Native American tribes, many would employ piercings that would suspend their bodies in the air during important religious ceremonies. During these religious rituals, men who were seeking spiritual visions had their shoulders or chest pierced by other men who had already experienced the rite in the past. The men being pierced would then be suspended from poles that were either inside or outside the Lodge of their tribe. A trance-like state was obtained from pain where visions would present themselves to the individual seeking specific religious enlightenment.
Some of these ancient and beautiful body customs are still prevalent today for the same reasons as the ancient practices, and for the influence it has had on Western Culture. But some practices such as foot binding, thankfully, have stopped.
Groups of people all over the world still practice ancient body art to honor their culture, family, religious beliefs and customs. Now in Western Culture, people use body modification for the above mentioned reasons as well as aesthetics, membership affiliations, to re-claim a part of their body, self-expression, shock value, sexual value and to create beautiful works of body art.
Body modification has blown up into a serious subculture over the years and is a force to be reckoned with. Everything from expos, magazines, shows, gatherings, art shows, photos and TV programs showcase the beauty in these physical alterations.
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