To Ink or Not to Ink?

by Kiani Ned

Alexa Sanchez, BC ’16

It’s not difficult to realize the role that body modifications have in today’s society. If you’re not familiar with this term, body modification “is the deliberate altering of the human body for any non-medical reason, such as aesthetics, sexual enhancement, a rite of passage, religious reasons, to display group membership or affiliation, to create body art, shock value, or self-expression.” Body “mods” are most commonly known as tattoos, piercings, brandings, plastic surgery etc.

The practice of modifying one’s body is age-old. From the Polynesians to the English gentry in the 19th century, to Winston Churchill to every celebrity who’s relevant today, tattoos aren’t unusual in society. Tattoos are very common among people our age, most likely because we’re at the age of self-discovery—we’re young, in college, slightly independent and feeling the need to express ourselves to the world. Body modifications are an intense and permanent way to declare one’s individuality. Though tattoos and piercings are becoming more prevalent in today’s society, there remains a level of prejudice against those with body mods, mostly stemming from the professional and academic worlds.

I was raised in a very open and free-thinking environment. A vast majority of my family has piercings and tattoos, including my mother. For that reason, my mother was receptive to the idea of me getting a tattoo when she believed I was an appropriate age. At 17, she took me to get my first tattoo and when I turned 18 I was free to modify my body without her permission. I didn’t realize the effect that tattoos had on people until I got a visible one on my wrist. It was against my preparatory school’s “dress code” to have visible tattoos, so I received mixed responses from both students and faculty about my body art. I was very frustrated that people cared what I did with my body. The comments I received solidified to me the importance of doing body modifications for one’s self. It’s difficult to not get caught up in the hype of it all— tattoos are pretty awesome to look at. Also, I’ll admit they make the wearer seem more interesting… but if you’re going to alter your body permanently, make sure it’s for your own enjoyment and not to please others.

With that said, I believe self-expression is very important in the development of one’s character, self-esteem, and emotional health. If you believe that a piercing, tattoo or any other form of modification will help you better connect with yourself, I encourage and urge you to go for it. Please heed my warning that I was raised with what I like to call a “hippie mentality,” meaning that I’m not a fan of society’s limited definition of beauty and restricting norms of self-expression. If there is any doubt in your mind about how your body modification will be perceived in your place of employment, think twice about it.

Kiani Ned is a first-year at Barnard and a staff writer and photographer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

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