Friday, March 31, 2006

The Church of Body Modification. No, really.

With all of the research that I do on body modification, I always happen to find the most fascinating information when I’m looking for something else. While exploring the role of medical professionals in many modern extreme modification procedures, just such an inadvertent discovery occurred. I happened upon a website entitled “Church of Body Modification,” and clicked the link, thinking what a clever name this was for a tattoo and piercing shop. I was utterly shocked to see that the website was not filled with the customary artist galleries and contact info, but instead with links to a doctrine and a thorough FAQ section for a federally recognized church. My first thoughts in realizing what I had just stumbled upon included wondering why I had never heard of this church before! I was aware that there are, and have been historically, many religions which incorporate various forms of body modification into their worship practices, but the existence of a church that is based around the spirituality of body modification is a new and truly extraordinary concept to me.

The symbol that represents Mind, Body, and Soul and is tattooed on all CoBM reverends.

As I explored the website further, the modification-oriented area of my brain began to tingle. I was quite pleased to see that the site includes a public message board that is host to such post topics as “What do your modifications mean to you?” and “Why do we do this?” both of which I have myself been pondering for quite some time. Two themes that rang common among church members’ answers to these questions were the importance of body modification in the relationship between the mind, body, and soul; and the connection that modification allows between the past (return to one’s heritage, “keep the old ways alive”), the present (“stand together and create a stronger foundation for the future”), and the future (“the petty differences of the past and [present] evolve into a future of understanding”). Both of these topics caught my interest immediately, as I sometimes see the start of my modification pursuits as the turning point in my outlook on life. It is almost as if body modification was, for me, the missing link that now connects all of the broadest aspects of my life (mind, body, soul, past, present, and future).
One view of the church with which I don’t necessarily agree is their goal to gain the acceptance of mainstream society. It is wonderful that they have created an organization with the power to go after any employer that fires a member of the church based solely on his or her modifications. However, the CoBM must realize that mainstream society will never and cannot be expected to understand modification in the context that we (the body modification community) do, for the very reason that they are mainstream society.
As a final note, I’d like to mention one message board poster’s assertion that body modification allows him to feel as if he has control over his life. When one steps back and considers what any religion truly has to offer the people of earth, isn’t it really just a sense of control?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

So tired of being sick...

Unfortunately I've been sick over the past few days and struggling to keep up with my schoolwork. The good news is that I'm working on a post that should be ready by tomorrow afternoon. Until then, check out this article on a new type of sub-dermal implant that functions as a key to your house! It's the ultimate gift for your most forgetful modified friend :o)

Monday, March 27, 2006

This will be my last swastika post, I swear!

Yes, I definitely borrowed this picture from BMEzine, but I couldn't resist posting it! This is such a gorgeous cutting! For more info on what this fellow calls "the gentle swastika," see my posts entitled "Free the Swastika" and "more fun with swastikas..."

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Prescription for piercings?

In undertaking a journey into my own head to discover what it is about body modification that attracts me like a fly to honey, I have come to realize that my affinity toward the bodily arts seems to result from a variety of specific aspects of my personality. For example, as I mentioned in my last post, I want to modify the meaning of modification. I think that this reflects my desire to stand out in life, and also my attraction to positions of leadership. Accepting that these features of my personality were linked to my obsession wasn’t very difficult, but upon continuing the exploration of my mind, I began to become uncomfortable. Sometimes we learn things about ourselves that we never really wanted to know…
In making the transition from inside looking out to outside looking in on myself, my yet undiscovered self, the barrier of denial seemed at first to be insurmountable. I was afraid of finding out over the course of my self-analysis that my passion for modification stems from a psychological disorder or something. In order to overcome this impediment and begin to find out what truly makes me tick, I found that it helped to let my own guard down first. I allowed myself to be vulnerable, and by so doing, came to some unpleasant but necessary conclusions.
One discovery in this process was particularly difficult for me to come to terms with. As much as I don’t want to admit it, I have control issues. I like to have complete control over my own activities, and more importantly over my eating habits and ultimately the shape of my body. I have developed a serious obsession with my body shape over the past 4 years, and a growing interest in body modification over the past 2 years. So is it possible that these two very central aspects of my life are somehow related? I believe that they are, in that they both stem from my need for control in life and over my own body.
Body modification provides the ability to instantly and often permanently alter the body. Perhaps this quality gives modding the same effect as would some express diet that lasts forever and gives ultimate control over the shape of my body. If this is the case, then it is no wonder that body modification has so enraptured me in the past few years of my life that correlate with my eating issues.
To explore this possible correlation between body modification and eating disorders, I did a little internet scouring. In so doing, I found some really interesting theories on body modification in a surprising place. In the “Lifestyles” section of this fetish website, the author takes body modification (mainly piercing) and dissects it to answer such seemingly basic questions as “Who gets pierced?” and “WHY?” Among a plethora of other reasons why people get pierced, the author mentions under the “Self Presentation and Identification” section that body modification can provide “an enormous increase in self-confidence.” Additionally, the author transfers the self-confidence factor to eating disorders, claiming that modification “often creates a feeling of being more ‘at home’ in one’s own body and regarding it as beautiful, whatever public opinion may be.” In response to this theory, I can say that body modification has certainly increased my self-confidence, but not to the point of resolving my body issues. I wish! Wouldn’t it be wonderful to emerge from the psychiatrist with a prescription for piercings?
In any case, I still believe that there are many facets of my life that have contributed to my passion for body modification. I can sense the correlations, but it’s so incredibly hard to determine which aspect of body modification is related to which aspect of each personality trait. Stay tuned as my search for the truth continues. Now get some rest, take 2 piercings, and visit my site in the morning ☺

Monday, March 20, 2006

Fluid Meanings

We as humans have created a complex relationship between objects and concepts. Michael Foucault was a French philosopher who wrote a number of works addressing this relationship. In his "The Archaeology of Knowledge," Foucault points out that meaning is not inherent, but that it is projected onto things through experience and becomes somewhat fixed over time. When put into the context of body modification, this object/meaning concept seems to be the basis of discrimination against modified persons. Tattoos and piercings have acquired a negative association by the experience of people who, in the past, observed modifications only on bikers and members of various other marginal subcultures. Regardless of the ever-increasing diversity of the western modified crowd and a distinct shift in the use of body modification by this crowd, such associations remain unchanged.
So, if we as modified persons are still receiving negative attitudes toward our mods when we have personally done nothing to justify such reactions, what are we to do? How can we change the meaning of modification? How can we modify modification?
This subject has been of considerable interest to me since I started getting seriously involved in body modification. In fact, it has changed the way I think about my life and interactions with others. When speaking with unmodified folk, I often wonder what they think of my various adornments. Are they shocked? Intrigued? (perhaps my next project will be to find out what they really are thinking...) With these uncertainties came a desire to project a positive image onto modification. In other words, I want to soften unmodified persons' experiences of modification in an effort to change the meaning behind modification itself. I realize that the national impact of my efforts will be nearly non-existent (for now), but if I act as the young, intelligent, psychologically stable poster-child for body modification, maybe I can alter a few unjustly negative impressions of modification along the way.
Now, I know that in past posts I've stated that we as a modification community shouldn't have to legitimize our practices. That's why I want to stress that the reasons behind my efforts to soften modification are more intellectually based than modification-based. It intrigues me that we make what seem to be natural connections every day, and yet many of those assumed associations aren't truly inherent. Meaning is fluid. We develop meaning based on experience, and over time meaning continues to exist, even without justifying experiences. This is the concept I've been trying to explain to my parents to make them realize that their detestation of my mods is unjust. And this is the concept that is behind much of the discrimination that goes on in our society.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Skydiving anyone?

'Pierce' is a term that's often found in news reports about gun battles, stabbing incidents, and other types of unwelcomed invasions of one's body by another individual. So how is it that the same term is used to describe the ancient and modern day practice that many people regard as beautiful, expressive, and even empowering? I think that although being attacked and physically violated is very conceptually different from adorning one's body, both experiences share some common ground. How can this be? Well, ask any survivor of a stabbing, animal attack, or extreme sports injury if there has been any positive consequences of their ordeal, and you will find the answer.
For the very reason that the idea of being attacked is frightening, it is also empowering. Those who survive a traumatic experience often emerge from the initial shock of their experience with a sense of pride and hope at the thought that they have just 'survived' one of life's most difficult events. Once one has gone through the worst of what life has to offer and survived, there is often an overwhelming sense that any other difficulty that comes one's way will be easily conquered.
Now to apply these sentiments to body piercing. When looked at it in comparison to attacks upon the body, body piercing is merely a controlled version of such. The adrenaline rush of being attacked is present in piercing, but it is accompanied by excitement rather than fear. Also, there is the same sense of pride and hope when a piercing is finally complete. Just as the wounded show off their 'battle scars,' piercees proudly display their marks. And just as attackees are often given hope by their experiences, piercees may come upon a new sense of power over their bodies, indicating that one does have control over one's own life, and can overcome any obstacle encountered.
So just maybe one of the reasons we become pierced is to experience what would normally be a terrifying experience, but in a more controlled fashion. In this way, we reap the benefits of a traumatic event minus the trauma that often accompanies it. I don't know, just an idea. It seems to hold true with myself as a piercee, but that's just me. I'd be very interested to find out if the same is true for my readers. (Hint hint comment comment :o) )

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Out of body experience

I've recently been prompted to discover what it is about body modifcation that appeals to me. I have already established that mods are important to me for a number of commonly heard reasons, but now it's time to ask myself (and perhaps time to ask the same of yourselves?) what it is about my personality and experience that has contributed to my love of body modifcation. The road to discovering the truth about my passion seems a bit unnerving, but there are a few shortcuts along the way which I will discuss in the next few posts. Hope you enjoy, and perhaps ask yourselves some of the same questions I will be asking myself. Who knows, you might find out something about yourself, even if you aren't modified.
I have recently realized that in becoming conscious of my mods I become aware that I have a body. One who is modified is much better equipped to experience varying degrees of consciousness on demand. In having one's body poked and tended to, one becomes very aware that the body is something that we have control over and can change as desired. I think that this quality of modification is part of the reason why every mod process is/can be a spiritual experience. Every new mod is another way to transcend the barrier between the everyday sense of being a body and the occasional sense of having a body that you are in control of. Do you see? Ponder that a bit, and try to recognize how incredible the concept of body modification is. Who picked up a sharp stick one day and said "Hey, I think I'll shove this through my earlobe." Well, no one, because that definitely wasn't the vernacular of the time, but you get the idea.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

belief or bull?

Body piercing has been performed for centuries with many recorded meanings to accompany the practice at each location and stage of its use. The most common response one gets to the question of why body piercing is performed in contemporary western society is that it is a vehicle for the expression of one’s individuality, or that the piercing is aesthetically pleasing to the wearer. Past justifications for the use of piercings and other body modifications in a variety of cultures have been class/status-related, fashion-related, or had to do with the supposed spiritual power that some forms of modification are believed to possess. I have recently become inadvertently interested in the latter purpose through some research on the concept of using piercing and scarification as way of boosting the immune system.
The majority of information that I found regarding piercing and health was closely related to acupuncture. It was on a suspicious website that I first encountered the concept of energy meridians, and how some people believe that body piercing and tattooing disrupts these meridians, leading to a variety of unfavorable consequences. I don’t quite trust the original source, as other articles from the main site were extreme and some seemed strongly biased, so I continued my search. The next site I came upon that addressed the energy meridian issue was a collection of articles and reports compiled by some guy with a Ph.D. Good enough for me! His research seems to suggest that energy meridians do indeed exist, but even if this is true, I still couldn't find any proof that body piercings would prevent these pathways from operating properly.
After a bit more research on energy and body piercing, I found that many modern suspension rituals are connected to energy flow within the body. I also found some information that challeneges the claim that piercing disrupts enery meridians. Reputable One Tribe’s website responds to this issue with the following example: “if you cut your leg off and it's sewn back on the meridians still work because the body realizes it’s a wound and re-routes the energy accordingly. A piercing is a wound and therefore it doesn't affect the flow of energy.”
As a result of the many varying attitudes I observed, I get the feeling that I will not uncover the truth about bodily energy as it relates to body modification by any means short of intensive research and experimentation in the subject. At least the information currently available gives me a new and interesting perspective on the art of body modification, and furthers my awareness of its dual simplicity and complexity. Ah, modification - it's such a beautiful thing :o)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

more thaipusam madness

Last night I just couldn't get to sleep, so rather than watching one of 4 channels that comes in on my dorm room TV, I headed up to the library. There I took out a movie entitled "Floating in the Air, Followed by the Wind," a film that one of my professors had recommended. It's an informative documentary on the Thaipusam festival in Kuala Lumpur that I discussed in an earlier post, and I was eager to check it out.
Although I had already read loads of articles and explored a plethora of pictures from Thaipusam, not until I saw this film did I feel that I had a full understanding of the extent to which the festival holds importance for its devotees. The director interviewed a number of devotees and tracked their preparation for and participation in the festival. The resulting documentary reveals the real-life reasons that many Hindus take part in Thaipusam, and how their acts of worship are related to the Hindu belief system. There is also a focus on the deep trances that are induced before a participant receives any piercings or kavadis, and how this technique must be learned and practiced long before the festival begins.
kavadiMan bearing a kavadi at Thaipusam
From the moment I popped the tape into the VCR (yesss it's old) all the way until the film ended, there was an enchanting melody playing in the background. This tune set the mood for the rest of the film, giving it a trance-like feel which contributed to my finally being able to understand the missing piece of Thaipusam that I couldn't have attained through pictures or written descriptions of the festival. I now see that the deeply spiritual nature of the festival gives it an almost supernatural air, which is added to by the melange of metal mouthguards held in place by pieced cheeks, and 60 pound kavadis on the backs of 65 year old men.

Mouthguard supported by dual cheek piercings at Thaipusam

Although this film was a bit outdated, it was quite effective in conveying the shockingly different cultural behaviors of some non-Western societies. Many Westerners might be disturbed upon seeing a film like "Floating in the Air, Followed by the Wind," but why? Well if there was a screening of Doctor 90210 or The Swan at Thaipusam next year, I think that the reaction would be quite comparable. Ahhh, cultural differences.