Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Body modification and motivation

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Body modification and motivation:
What motivates the choice to modify or not modify one's body?

Overview: Why do people undergo body modification?[edit | edit source]

Tribal tattoos and piercings

What motivates the choice to modify or not modify one's body? This article endeavors to explore the motivation behind self image. This includes practices such as piercing, tattooing and other modification processes and will be discussed though relevant theories and examples found within multiple societies of how people are motivated to "fit in" or "stand out" via the process of physical modification. Motivating factors will also be explored such as culture, religion and other influential factors.

What is the motivation behind how we as individuals and groups look. How does modification or reluctance to modify self image within a group, society or culture reflect oneself and contribute to the motivation to create a self schema. Often motivation is linked to negative body issues such as addiction, anorexia and obesity however motivation regarding body image can also reflect positive ambitions.

What is body modification?[edit | edit source]

Schildkrout states that body modification is highly symbolic and can communicate meaning, as it acts as nonverbal symbols and can be defined as any “decorative addition to or alteration of the human body, body art may be temporary or permanent, dramatic or subtle, colourful or painful" (Schildkrout, 2006). Featherstone defines it as “(semi-) permanent, deliberate alteration of the human body”. Body modification can translate ideas of beauty (desire for intimacy), status (power), important life transitions (achievement) , religious epics or group membership (affiliation) and personal rebellion (autonomy) (Schildkrout, 2006).Throughout history there have been various and numerous methods and forms of body modification. This article will cover only the most common categories of body modification which are body shaping, scarification, piercing and tattooing, explaining what each entails and how it links to psychological and social motivation.

History[edit | edit source]

The body was one of the first canvases with hand prints from 30,000 year ago suggesting decorations to the body (Schildkrout, 2006). There are numerous examples such as Iceman from 5,000 years ago who was found with ornaments and metal jewellery (Schildkrout, 2006). There is also evidence of head shaping from around the same time 5,000 years ago in Chile. This practice still remained in France lasted up until the 18th century (Schildkrout, 2006). Lip, ear, mouth and nose ornaments have been found in ancient burials including Inca and Moche of Peru, Aztecs and Maya of Mexico, graves of central Asian, European and Mediterranean peoples (Schildkrout, 2006; Ferguson, 1999). Mayan royalty would pierce their tongues and genitals as part of a bloodletting and devotees used kavandis (sharp metal rods that penetrate deeper the longer they are worn) for religious occasions (Ng, Siar, & Ganesapillai, 1997; Christensen, 1989). This spiritual motivation was also experienced the North American Indian Mandan and Lakota who would undergo ritual suspension piercings in order to attain altered states of consciousness (Vale & Juno, 1989; Ham P Van & Stirn, 1999). Although body modification within the west has recently increased tremendously, this article will combine historic and modern examples to give a more rounded explanation of human body modification (Stirn, 2003).

Types of Motivation[edit | edit source]

Although during their review of existing literature on the topic Wohlrab, Stahl and Kappeler, found ten categories of motivations type that span across all sectors, the motivation behind body modification can be best explained and understood though the motivational factors of Psychological and more so Social Motivation (Wohlrab, Stahl, & Kappeler, 2006). Motivations towards establishing self and neurological effects are also highly relevant within body modification.

Psychological motivation[edit | edit source]

Body modification can also be looked at in terms of individual motivation.Individual motivation involved in body modification is mentioned in Paul Sweetman’s “Anchoring the (postmodern) self? Body Modification, Fashion and Identity” which looks at the three main motivations of independence/ autonomy, competence and achievement. (1999).There is a tight relationship between body and self-identity which reflects the increasing view by those who modify their body, that the body is a “project” (Shilling, 1993; Giddens, 1991). Despite the body shape, size and appearance being taken as relatively fixed within traditional and pre-modern societies, the postmodern identity is becoming increasingly fluid reflecting the reflexive self (Shilling, 1993; Giddens, 1991; Sweetman, 1999). According to Wohlrab, Stahl and Kappeler (2006) self-identity is established though a need to be special and distinctive from others.

Autonomy[edit | edit source]

Autonomy is reflected through the “self-creation” process within the west of choosing unique designs and the ownership of the body through modifying it to be “in line with the designs of it’s owner” (Shilling, 1993; Sweetman, 1999).

Competency[edit | edit source]

Competency is increased through increased self confidence that comes with being more in line with your ideal self image (Wohlrab, Stahl, & Kappeler, 2006; Sweetman, 1999). Heavily tattooed individuals explained that they felt ‘ more complete’ after such processes instead of feeling ,shy, pleasant and reserved’ (Sweetman, 1999).

Relatedness[edit | edit source]

Relatedness can be achieved through what would be otherwise known as affiliation/intimacy within social motivation. Hewitt explains that humans are "role- making and role taking" creatures meaning they like to see themselves as group members and actively set about creating and maintaining such groups, thus forming a social identity (Hewitt, 1997).

Social motivation[edit | edit source]

Body modification is expressed within Motivation as belonging to “social” motivation. This means that motivations are best described through the concepts of affiliation, intimacy, power and achievement. Within this article social motivations have been broken up into “affiliation and intimacy” and “power and achievement” for easy referencing despite each motivating factor being separate yet equally linked within societies. Wohlrab, Stahl and Kappeler (2006) explain that many studies found the main reasons one would seek body modification are to express individuality and for beautification of the body, two concepts rooted in social context and social motivation (Armstrong & McConnell, 1994; Greif et al.,1999; Stirn, 2003) Due to the irremovable nature of tattoos up until recent laser techniques became available, many studies show the motivations behind then were those associated with more permanent change, while the motivations for piercings were more as fashionable adornments (Sweetman, 1999; Greif et al.,1999; Sweeny, 2006). However, Wohlrab, Stahl and Kappeler (2006) found that the motivations for both piercing and tattooing were very similar when viewed on a broader scale.

Motivation to develop Self[edit | edit source]

Through motivation towards goals, an individual can develop Social Identity. This involves satisfaction of psychological needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness and socio-motivational aspects of affiliation, intimacy, power and achievement . Social Identity theory encompasses these aspects of both personal (idiosyncratic aspect of self) and social (group) identity (Crisp & Turner, 2010; Hogg & Abrahams, 1988). These aspects are guided by one's motivation to form and maintain self schemas which in turn guide thoughts, feelings and behaviours (Crisp & Turner, 2010). Failure to establish one's social identity can lead to identity issues, although humans experience a strong motivation for group affiliation, social status, relationships and individual and group achievement (Crisp & Turner, 2010). Fiske (2004) explains that within social psychology, pro social behaviour can include body modification.

Neurological motivational factor[edit | edit source]

According to Stirn (2004) the pain associated with piercing is highly valued within the body modification society.During piercing endorphins and adrenaline are released into the system due to the high levels of pain that penetration of the body causes, giving the process the ability to become addictive (Wohlrab, Stahl, & Kappeler, 2006; Winchel & Stanley, 1991). Modification pain comes to be associated with the bodies release of endorphins which generate a positive feeling in addition to an anaesthetising effect (Stirn, 2003; Winchel & Stanley, 1991).This may be why some individuals report a “lust for pain” (Myers, 1992). In his study of what are known as “tattoo collectors” Vail (1999) explained that addiction may also be the result of people wishing to keep memories, values, experiences of spirituality, however that neurological effect is still prevalent.

Symbolism[edit | edit source]

Body Modification uses symbols to represent aspects of the self,social and cultural meanings and motivations (Schildkrout, 2006). By understanding the meta-contrast principle we can understand how these symbols are enhanced by comparison between cultures (Crisp & Turner, 2010). The Japanese yakuza have tattoos of folk law from Japan and China, a historical element that can only be fully understood culturally (Schildkrout, 2006).These tattoos often cover the entire body and depict exploits of gangster heros from Chinese epics that mark them as group members of Yakuza gangs.Some methods of modification are more likely to be used as symbols within select cultural motivations, such as in the cases studied by Gritton (1988) and Jonaitis (1988) where piercings were more often symbols initiation rights, while tattoos were more commonly used to signal religious affiliation, social status or strength (Gritton, 1988; Jonaitis, 1988). All cultures "package" appearance through means of schema theory and thus the presence or absence of a modification conveys status, achievement, memories desires and life history (Schildkrout, 2006) . Another example of culturally specific body modification is Polynesian tattoos which feature geometric designs and traditionally identified political status or rank (Schildkrout, 2006)

Changing interpretations[edit | edit source]

Body modification is "visual language", however messages don't always translate across cultures and many are culturally specific (Schildkrout, 2006). Schildkrout (2006) explains that often change or diversify over time.The Polynesian tattoos mentioned above which previously identified political status or rank, have now come to represent ethnic identity (Schildkrout, 2006). Polynesian and Indonesian tattoos have also developed another use as in the 21st century they are worn by westerners and non-Polynesians for graphic and aesthetic value, moving the main motivating goal away from power, towards being a sign of identity and thus affiliation (Schildkrout, 2006). Another example of how the culturally set understanding of symbolic meanings in body art can change is within American Indian designs which originally signified identity to tribes but now have alternative lifestyle connotations (Schildkrout, 2006). This represents a shift in the strength of the affiliation motivation (Schildkrout, 2006). Schildkrout (2006) explains that today body art has a "kaleidoscopic mix of traditional practices and new inventions".Body art can be used to cross boundaries of gender, cultural stereotypes and national identity as it takes on ever increasing and evidently changing cultural symbolisms.

Types of modifications[edit | edit source]


Body Shaping[edit | edit source]

Body shaping includes instances such as foot binding, head binding, neck stretching using rings, rib removal, waist training and plastic surgery (Schildkrout, 2006). Body shaping includes everything from fattening, subdermal piercing, and modifications as removing, splitting of enhancing parts such as genitalisa. Stirn (2003) mentions the use of subdermal inserts which are inserted under the skin to affect a structural changes. These can be symbolic in themselves such as horns on the head, or simply lumps to affect overall skin surface change (AORN, 2013)

Affiliation and Intimacy[edit | edit source]

Often body shaping is most associated with cultural ideals of beauty and sexual attractiveness. This need for affiliation and hopefully eventually intimacy means that it is closely linked with sexual attraction and thus this category also encompasses modification to the genitalia such as circumcision and castration (Wassersug, Zelenietz, & Schildkrout, 2006). Other methods such as fattening which are practiced among Moroccan Saharawi women, often as part of a marriage ceremony, must also be listed under this form of body modification (Schildkrout, 2006; Rguibi & Belahsen, 2006) Fattening for the purpose of marriage provides an affiliation aspect in that the practice is culturally ingrained and establishes an individual as a suitable partner (Salamon & Juhasz, 2011)

Power and achievement[edit | edit source]

Head shaping shows how some body shaping practices can be linked to the need for power or status. Schildkrout explains that head shaping is still carried out in some parts of South Africa and has been shown to have been present throughout historical cultures such as that of the Mayans where is was seen as a symbol of nobility (Schildkrout, 2006). Babies heads begin to be shaped from birth when their skull bones still have a degree of malleability and the methods used can include bindings, boards or simply massage (Schildkrout, 2006). Within many countries around the world including Australian and American plastic surgery which was originally used to help war victims, has taken off as the main form of body modification. Facial smoothing, ear pointing and nose jobs, fat and hair removal represent a need for beauty and affiliation (Schildkrout, 2006).

Scarification[edit | edit source]

Tribal crocodile scarification, Sepik River, Papua New Guinea

Scarification,otherwise known as cicatrisation, involves making nicks or cuts into the skin, traditionally followed by the application or insertion of clay in order to produce bumps or a type of scar called a keloid (Schildkrout, 2006). Cuts are treated to prevent infection as this process can involve much blood loss (Schildkrout, 2006). Stirn (2006) lists modern branding- scarification which involves applying heated material to the skin and fine scars made by cutting into the skin using a sharp blade to leave a design, as a recent development in body art practices which shows that this form of body modification is becoming ever popular.

Affiliation and intimacy[edit | edit source]

Scarification can also be associated with the motivations to achieve beauty (intimacy through affiliation) and status/power (Power) within a community (Schildkrout, 2006). Unlike in most of the west where smooth supple skin is recognised as youthful thus desirable, some cultures see smooth skin as naked unattractive surface (Schildkrout, 2006). Branding which is a form of affiliation has a dark history as it was most commonly used in Europe and elsewhere to mark slaves, captives, and criminals, however individuals in the U.S have now begun now using it for positive affiliative self identification (Schildkrout, 2006). However Schildkrout (2006) argues that body art needs to have some measure of freedom and that markings given to slaves, tattoos given to slaves in concentration camps of any other unwanted injury do not constitute " body art" which most body modifications would be classed under, however they are still modifications.

Power and achievement[edit | edit source]

Within certain cultures elaborate patterns usually indicate a permanent change in the persons status and a richly scared person in the tribe is honoured for endurance and courage because the cuts are painful (Schildkrout, 2006). Branding is also included under scarification and involves using fire or a heated implement to cause a burn which will later result in a scar (Schildkrout, 2006).

Tattooing[edit | edit source]

Tattoo withchild

Tattooing is defined as insertion of ink or other pigmentation through the epidermis into the dermis layer of skin (Schildkrout, 2006) .According to Schildkrout (2006) the patterns depend on available materials and purpose of the tattoo. For example the Polynesians tap a needle with a small hammer while the Japanese traditionally used bundles of needles in wooden handles. Recently practices have moved towards the use of the electric tattoo machine after 19th century revolutionised tattooing which allows for better colours, designs and more ease which which to tattoo (Schildkrout, 2006). Tattoos also can be linked with all four social motivational aspects of power, affiliation, achievement and intimacy (Schildkrout, 2006). They can show commitment to the group, right of passage or personal fashion statement depending on where they are, what they depict and timing (Schildkrout, 2006).

Affiliation and Intimacy[edit | edit source]

Throughout the west the tattooing of eyeliner and eyebrows is one of fastest growing forms of tattoo, and is purely for aesthetic purposes and reflects the drive for sex as well as the need for positive social image (Schildkrout, 2006). Sanders and later DeMello noted how the practice of tattooing in Europe during the 20th reflected affiliation motives for sailors and working class men and were later used by bikers and inmates to identity their connection of a social group (Sanders, 1989; DeMello, 1995). Also in the case of the punk and gay movement during the 1980s, tattoos were instrumental in the protest against the conservative middle-class norms of society at the time (Pitts, 2003) Tattoos can also have a reverse motivation as there are many religious and social injunctions against tattoos stating that the presence of a tattoo would decrease your ability to achieve a motivational goal (Schildkrout, 2006)

Power and achievement[edit | edit source]

Achievement can also be reflected through modification, often representing a particular period or event that the individual has achieved or overcome. Specific dates of achievement within a persons life such as wedding, 21sts, birth of children can be commemorated by a body modification, usually a tattoo (Sweetman, 1999)

Piercing[edit | edit source]

Piercings 2

Piercing practices have been well documented throughout history, showing that it has been used as a form of body modification since ancient times (Schildkrout, 2006). After beauty and affiliation, historically the main motivations within tribal societies were ritual initiation, sexuality and rights of passage (Stirn, 2003). Often piercing of lips and ears culturally starts at an early age and can involve gradual stretching and widening of the holes (Strin, 2003). Piercing ears at an early age is becoming more common within Australian culture also as piercing moves from being only for specific group, to gaining popularity in mainstream society, especially within adolescence (Armstrong & McConnell, 1994).

Affilitaion and Intimacy[edit | edit source]

Piercing is, more than other methods of body modification linked with the affiliation and need for intimacy motivation which is evident as the most common places to pierce are the face, though chest and genitals and certain ornaments may be restricted to women or men (Schildkrout, 2006). Wohlrab, Stahl and Kappeler mention that piercing jewelry as a permanent sign of commitment is common and subcultural membership to a certain social circle or friendship group are listed in reasons to modify one's body (Millner & Eichold, 2001; Stirn, 2003; Wohlrab, Stahl, & Kappeler, 2006) . Indeed nipple and genital piercings serve as both decorations and provide direct sexual stimulation and thus are highly connected with expressions of sexual affections of empathising sexual thought (Greif,1999; Malloy, 1989; Val & Juno, 1989; Armstrong, Caliendo, & Roberts, 2006; Wright, 1995) In 1970s Europe the punk movement utilized safety pins to pierce themselves as a symbol of their affiliation with the punk movement and simultaneously body piercing became popular also among homosexuals and sadomasochism subcultures within the UK and US (Lotz, 1997; Stirn, 2003).

Power and achievement[edit | edit source]

Piercing can also indicate a change of status such as a coming of age which must be witnessed by spiritual factors as bleeding that occurs during thought can be seem to be an offering to gods/ancestors/spirits (Schildkrout, 2006).Within many tribal cultures withstanding pain is closely linked with the transition from adolescent to adulthood and thus is commemorated with piercings (Stirn, 2003). Wealth and power can also be reflected through the use of piercing as many metals used for ornaments can be made of precious metals which generally signal privilege and wealth (Schildkrout, 2006).

Cultural significance of body art[edit | edit source]

Body art the more temporary transient form of body modification, however the fact that it can be used interchangeably to signify permanent social changes and permanent social motivation goals means it is just as significant within this topic (Schildkrout, 2006). Body art, like body piercing can be seen as a link with the spiritual world and may be believed to repel perceived evil such as in Borneo where individuals received tattoos of everyday items that are seem as a shield against evil (Schildkrout, 2006). This practice can also be seen in Australia when people will have a christian cross or an “evil eye” tattoo to show their link with that spiritual force and thus protection from harm (Schildkrout, 2006). Because transition from childhood to adulthood is seen as a dangerous time certain body modifications are seen as security (Schildkrout, 2006).Cannot overlook semi - permanent forms as they all convey meaning through body image - tattoos, piercing or scarification more likely to signal place in society of irreversible life passage - changing hair or painting body, though temporary, can also sometimes symbolise life-changing events such as a wedding or funeral.

AlteHaba-Indianerin von derKoniginChalotte-Insel inBritisch-Kolumbia mitNasenring undLippenpflock2

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Individuals have the ability to shape how they are perceived and interact with society through body modification processes specific to culture, interests, religion and individual personality. Everyone is affected by these influences and individuals can feel confident and secure in how they look within a society whether they seek to stand out like the punk movement of the 80s, or to fit into a society where scar patterned skin is acknowledged as highly advantageous. Through the study of Psychological and Social motivations as well as neurological and social identity forming motivations, we are better able to understand the motivations behind body modification.

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