For a long time now body art and decoration has been a custom in many cultural groups. Through research we have learned about the different types of body art and ornamentation such as permanent and nonpermanent tattooing, scarification, and piercings. These forms of body art and ornamentation are done for a variety of reasons, ranging from identification purposes to religious rituals. “Skin, as a visible way of defining individual identity and cultural difference, is not only a highly elaborated preoccupation in many cultures; it is also the subject of wide-ranging and evolving scholarly discourse in the humanities and social sciences” (Schildkrout, 2004). The process of ornamentation and body art is usually a painful experience, but it is a way to signify a person’s self-discovery and their place in society.
Body art and ornamentation is something that has been with us for centuries. All cultures in the world relate to some form body art and ornamentation. Body art and ornamentation is basically visual and as such for one to understand the message being communicated it is imperative that one understands symbolic representations of the culture in question. Previous studies on the topic body art and ornamentation have shown both differences and similarities in regard to meaning, perception as well as differences on the part of the body found. Tattoos for instance have varying meanings across different cultures.
Our identity can change as we age. This can be due to many influences in our lives. Our identity is an important part of who we are and is used to define ourselves. There are many aspects to identity that include our career, our political beliefs, our spiritual beliefs, our marital status, and our desire to achieve or strive for goals. It includes our sexual orientation, where we live, our activities, our characteristics of our personality, and our body image.
What do body modifications signify in people's culture? Some cultures force body modifications as a right of passage into a new stage in a person's life. Body modifications are associated with many things, for example, commitment, social rank, and ways to control people's lives. Waris Dirie, Tepilit Ole Saitoti, and Enid Schildkrout talk about body modifications and what they mean in different cultures. Cultures have different forms of body modifications with their own meaning and background.
Although most of the research surrounding the influences of media on body image has taken the form of analyzing exposure through the examination of such things as magazine content, recent research has begun to focus on an individual’s awareness of societal pressures, as well as one’s acceptance, or internalization, of these societal standards (Cusumano & Thompson,1997). Every culture has standards of beauty. Through the ages and around the world,people have evaluated the appearance of themselves and others. A person’s body image is his or her concept of their physical appearance. The mental representation which may be realistic or unrealistic, is constructed from self-observation, the reactions of others, and a complex interaction of attitudes, emotions, memories, fantasies, and experiences, both conscious and unconscious.
Contributions to Concept of Beauty The physical and biological customs of the body have a social significance. The body is the source location for the expression of power in a culture; for communicating group membership, social status, social identity and associated beliefs and values, physicality is a great contribution. “All body customs, whether temporary, like tweezing eyebrows, or more permanent, like tattoos and cosmetic surgery, are forms of self-creation that establish a connection with a reference group. The cultural and social context influences individual body choices and gives them social meaning” (Sullivan 2000). Warping oneself is done for social conformity.
Culture refers to the beliefs, ideas, traditions and behaviors portrayed by certain individual or communities and are passed from one generation to the other. Culture can shape us as individuals in many different ways. It shapes how we as a person view world. Our generation is becoming more diverse with regards to culture, race, gender, etc. than any other generation.
(Warner and Mochel, p.4, 1998) Customs are a way of expressing values and beliefs of a culture. One form of a cultural custom is bodily alterations. These exist in many cultures throughout the world. They vary in expressivity from minor markings to complete addition or removal of body parts. Many examples of body alteration exist.