Running head: AMERICAN BODY MODIFICATION 1
AMERICAN BODY MODIFICATION 4
Body Modification: A Subculture
Pikes Peak Community College
American Body Modification: A Subculture
Despite being rather taboo and against what is considered normal for most, the practice of extreme body modification (BM) in America has developed significantly, and with its specific rituals, universal morals and purpose, it has turned into a definitive subculture. Although it could be perceived as a counter culture with their unusual and seemingly violent practices, once you break it down, one can then see that there is no harm to any person involved, and in fact, a community has emerged. The purpose in this essay is to expose the elements that make up this subculture.
The best way to begin the explanation of the idea of body modification is to acknowledge that like many things, it is on a spectrum. It can be as simple or common as ear piercings, hair dye, body building, tanning, and breast augmentation. On the more extreme end of the spectrum, it can be tattooing, stretching, branding, and scarification (Gary & Jacobsen, 2005). While some tattoos and piercings are considered normal, in the case of extreme modification it is taken to another level. Individuals in this practice will often have excessive tattoos that cover the entire body -including the face, even their eyelids. Rather than simple posts in the ear or popular face piercings, they will have multiple piercings all over the face including between the eyes, lips, cheeks, chin, etc. Piercings are not limited to the face either, many body modifiers will have piercings in more unusual places such as the arms, legs, and genitals. In relation to piercing, some individuals will choose to stretch their piercings in the face and ears, creating large holes as small as a dime to as large as a plate. Although incredibly painful, some choose to voluntarily brand or cut their skin to create scars that form intricate designs. Other popular modifications include surgically putting implants under the skin to create bumps or horns, splitting of the tongue, and even grinding teeth to a point (Gary & Jacobsen, 2005). In sum, the list of modifications goes on almost infinitely. Being that body modification is so visually represented, it can be said that these many different modifications are the material culture of their group.
When asking why people choose to go through such extreme measure to manipulate their body, the explanation defines the non-material culture of the group. But first, consider where this non-material culture emerged from a sociological perspective. It could be that they fit under Goffman’s Dramaturgical Theory in that they have fallen into a role to fit in. From a functionalist standpoint, perhaps it is necessary for these types of groups to exist in order to help create social norms. Maybe this is a case of The Looking-Glass self. These individuals are under the impression that they ...