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She Takes A Peep: Body Modifications

This week, Chiamaka takes a look at body modifications, their history, their different significances and how they can serve as a form of therapy.

Two weeks ago, I was having an incredibly hard day at work. To keep it a buck with you? More like a hard week. Or rather, month. June has not been so kind to me for many different reasons and I have found myself floating in between fleeting happiness, deepening sadness and finally, depression. In my usual spur of spontaneous energy that comes around fairly often, I went in and got a tattoo and piercing on a sweltering hot Monday. To say the truth, I had been thinking about getting some new body modifications but could never really decide upon the right time.

However, it was sort of like the universe decided for me as I threw caution in the wind and went in to see my piercer and tattoo artist. I got a moneybag (not the artiste) tattoo on my forearm and pierced my belly button.

As far as body modifications go, I consider myself a bit of an expert. I have six tattoos and twelve piercings (so far) meaning that there is much more to come. Body modifications can generally be defined as intentional permanent or semi-permanent alterations of the living human body for reasons such as ritual, folk medicine, aesthetics, or corporal punishment. In general, voluntary changes are considered to be modifications, and involuntary changes are considered mutilations. Some body modifications are tattoos, piercings and stick and poke (ancient tattoos).

Body modifications have different meanings to people, depending on their background and the history of their communities. For example, my mother is much less offended by tattoos than she is by piercings. I have received an earful about my tongue and nipple piercings multiple times. In the contrast, I have only been scolded about my first tattoo once and in a very passing, nonchalant manner. While she has never told me exactly why, I suspect that this has something to do with the fact that tattoos were culturally relevant in her community while growing up. Either the people she grew up with were familiar with and practised tattoo art or she was born during a time in which her ancestors had cultural or spiritual connections to body art.

It is really fascinating to see the ways in which societal acceptance or feelings towards body modifications change depending on which way of thinking is more culturally relevant. Ancient Africans practised tattooing, both as cultural identifiers or for religious belief (yes, tribal marks are tattoos) but stopped the practice as colonialism and as a result, foreign religions spread across the nation. Now, white people have embraced body art for aesthetic purposes while still leaving the rest of the world which they forcefully invaded adverse to or disgusted by their own past cultural rites and significances. Unfortunately, a lot of our practices were sidelined in favour of borrowed practices. As a result, our practices are slowly fading away as they are not being held up by our parents and other older adults.

While my body modifications are not necessarily tied to a religious or cultural significance, I believe that modifications for aesthetic purposes are still very much valid. Asides from that, getting a tattoo is incredibly therapeutic for me. When I was having a bad week, feeling the needle in my skin helped me center myself and breathe easier. The healing process also gives me something to look forward to, as the tattoo will be perfect in the coming weeks. As for now, I am already showing off my new ink and cannot wait to be fully healed on my belly button as well.

Bikini summer, here I come!

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