“To decide, to be at the level of choice, is to take responsibility for your life and to be in control of your life.”
Abbie M. Dale
We all want to feel in control of our lives. However, we can never really be in full control of everything that occurs. We may have freedom of choice at times, but more often than not we are mere pawns in the game of life. With this in mind, I have been pondering over the past few weeks whether body modification is inextricably tied to a desire for, and an attempt to attain, a sense of control in life.
I have recently been exploring “In the Flesh: The Cultural Politics of Body Modification” by Victoria Pitts, and in her chapter dedicated to female body modifiers she makes reference to a phrase that I have frequently encountered in learning about the many reasons for body modification: “reclaiming the body.” There are a variety of different reasons for which the body may need reclamation, but Pitts specifically addresses reclamation in response to the abuse or marginalization of women. In reconsidering the idea of reclamation as it relates to that ever-coveted sense of control, I realized that as opposed to many other justifications for modding (aesthetic appeal, desire to feel connected to one’s ancestry, or identification with a particular subculture, just to name a few), the women Pitts interviewed cited a conscious effort to actively accomplish something through their modding pursuits.
In essence, the womens’ mods are vehicles for experiencing some form of immediately accessible control over a particular aspect of life: the body. It will ALWAYS be present, for as long as we live. As a result, we will ALWAYS have the option of altering our bodies in an expression of individual power. So when these women speak of ‘reclaiming’ their bodies, they are really referring to their seizure of power from those who previously held power over them. And due to the nature of their reclamations, these women are able to attain a new daily experience of life that is intended to usher them out of a period of abuse and into one of happiness.
Another issue that Pitts briefly addresses in “In the Flesh” is the use of body modification to combat such body image disorders as anorexia and bulimia. Persons afflicted with such disorders are often preoccupied with efforts to take control over their physical appearance. Unfortunately, our culture has been conditioned to utilize a variety of physical signifiers for analysis of a person’s personality. For example, persons donning a “fat suit” for the purpose of a social experiment often report a significant change in their interactions with others.
Many of those persons with body image disorders, myself included, have become fed up with our irrational efforts to conform to seemingly inherent cultural beauty ideals. I am merely theorizing here, but I wonder if perhaps my modifications reflect a desire to rebel against western beauty ideals and instead assume the authority to alter my body in ways that I believe contribute to a complete sense of my self. Perhaps modification provides us with an alternative to taking control of our bodies in ways that force us to conform to someone else’s standards, and instead allows us to take control in ways that make us unique.
The last issue that I want to address here relates to an article by the ever-insightful Shannon Larratt. The article focuses on heavily modified individuals who are “legally changing their ‘real’ names to match the identity they've created for themselves.” I was intrigued by the apparent correlation between extreme modification and a desire to change something (other than the body) that has been with an individual since birth. As with the women that Pitts interviewed, these persons have voluntarily reworked their everyday experience of life. In being an active participant in momentous life changes, one can achieve at least a temporary power trip that may help to satisfy what I believe is a natural human desire for control.
On a side note, I want to apologize for the lack of posts over the past week, but I’ve been completely stressed out recently. Luckily, things are starting to even out now. Oh, and my trip to New Zealand has been officially confirmed! Even though it is still a long four months away, I am incredibly excited. So, now that things are back to normal, expect regular posting to resume :o)