Considering that Regis is a moderately conservative university, I’ve observed that not many students have “crazy” tattoos or piercings unless they choose to hide them. Is having a tattoo or unconventional piercing really that “crazy?”
I believe there is beauty in such modifications. The young woman in a long skirt may have a colorful tat that covers half of her leg. Who knows? Perhaps our favorite Jesuit priests are covered in ink reminiscent of their wilder days. Regardless of how people choose to show (or hide) their body modifications, their reasoning, as well as the history of this phenomenon, is absolutely fascinating.
Ruling out the occasional night in Vegas that results in a brazen butterfly or lover’s name, the decisions involved in choosing body modifications vary greatly. Perhaps the most prominent factor in one’s desire to get a tattoo, however, is the passing of a loved one. People may search for a way to memorialize such an important individual, often doing so in the form of the deceased’s favorite saying, a commemorative symbol or a portrait. (Careful with this one; a bad artist could make your Nana look like a Tim Burton creation! Unless that is your intention, of course.)
Yearning for visual representations of internal struggles or achievements is other popular reasons to get “tatted up.” For instance, those who have overcome illnesses such as depression or alcoholism might choose a symbol to represent their recovery.
Of course, one cannot talk about tattoos without mentioning the ever-so-popular tats in Chinese or Japanese writing. This tattoo tradition has been used (and misused) to represent emotions related to words like “courage,” “love” and “peace.” Issues may arise when it comes to translation because many words in either language do not necessarily have a precise English equivalent. On another note, ancient Chinese culture actually looked down on tattoos, as they were used primarily for delinquents. Inmates would get tattooed with the word “prisoner,” and elusive warriors would also experiment with body ink.
Interestingly enough, archaeologists have unearthed tattoo-adorned mummies, proving that “tattoo culture” goes back much farther than ancient civilizations in Asia.
Given that the emergence of tattoos began in ancient times, I find it very plausible that religion would also have a stance on such a cultural symbol. Throughout history, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have all frowned upon the practice of tattooing. According to Leviticus 19:28, “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you; I am the Lord.” Many Christian religions do not tolerate tattoos or piercings due to the belief that they are an attempt to change God’s already perfect creation. Oddly enough, crosses are “one of the most popular and common tattoos that are found in today’s society,” notes the website, tattoo.com.
In contrast to tattoos, body piercings seem generally much more accepted than tattoos in today’s society. Perhaps this is because a piercing isn’t as permanent a body modification as an indelible tattoo.
Nose-piercing has been around for over 4,000 years, starting in the Middle East before gradually spreading all over the world. Such piercings are mentioned in Genesis 24:22: “When the camels had finished drinking, the man took out a gold nose ring weighing a beka and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels.” The phenomenon is also seen in Indian history with girls piercing their left nostril and often connecting the ring to another on the earlobe.
The piercing of earlobes is an ancient practice with proof shown by the first uncovered mummy having pierced ears. Ancient societies believed that evil spirits entered through the ears and that earrings would distract them. It wasn’t until much later that ear piercing was considered to be effeminate by Western culture.
Though nose and earlobe piercings have ancient roots, the navel piercing is a bit of an anomaly. Ancient accounts of navel piercing do not exist; the first visible occurrences not found until the late 20th century. With the advent of the bikini, belly buttons were suddenly exposed, and 40 years later, the area was sexualized with the belly button ring. In the early 1990s, model Christy Turlington walked onto the runway with her navel adorned by a small gold hoop piercing, marking the naval piercing as a fashion fervor among many young.
While most are familiar with tattoos and piercings, some of us may not know about new forms of body modification that are becoming globally popular. For example, we all have probably seen someone with gauged ears, but what about someone with a gauged lip? Trends in body-modification appear to keep pushing the limits of body transformation.
One such example is 53-year-old Dennis Avner of Nevada (AKA: “Cat Man”). He has devoted many tears and years to transform into a human tiger. Avner has undergone extensive tattooing, breast implants, sub-dermal implants in the brow, forehead, and bridge of his nose, a divided upper lip and has filed and capped his teeth to match those of a tiger.
Another example is Eric Sprague, more commonly known as the “Lizardman.” Sprague has undergone extensive tattooing, shaped his teeth like a lizard, had dermal implants and even split his tongue down the middle. Personally, both examples indeed raise some questions: What drives someone to “modify” him or herself so drastically? Isn’t being human enough?
As far as people like Avner and Sprague, the stares they get may be views of amazement, wonder or even disgust. But, what I wonder is: What do people like Avner and Sprague see in the mirror? Are they proud of what they see? Or are they seeking a means to fulfill a psychological void? Does Avner celebrate his “tiger-ness?” When Sprague gazes into his reflection and sees the outward appearance of the “Lizardman,” do positive emotions of self-acceptance really arise? I do hope so.
Surely, the responses that “crazy” tattoos and piercings attract have the potential to be awfully painful for the modified individual. However, as we go through our days, we must remember to appreciate the beauty and value of the individual behind the modifications. We must realize that all of us possess something that seems odd to the foreign eye. Whether your modification is a tattoo, a piercing, or something else, know that you are a special and unique individual free to live among the cats, lizards, and even tatted priests of this world.