Facing up to body art: “as soon as I turn eighteen, I’m getting a tattoo.”.

By | January 29, 2014

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I realized, after hearing this declaration repeatedly in my

suburban high school, that a study of body art would be particularly

relevant to students’ lives. Front conversations with

soon-to-be-tattooed students, I was convinced that many of them had not

identified and reflected on all of the factors involved in a decision

that would affect them indefinitely. When informally polled as to why

they thought people today get tattoos, the majority believed that it was

a simple matter of individual expression.


“People want to express themselves … to be noticed … to be

different.” I began to see it as my responsibility to help them

sort through and understand this art form and its issues. I wanted

students to understand the historical and cultural reasons for body art

so they would be able to make informed decisions.


Start with What We Know


Body art sits squarely at the intersection of aesthetic, social,

cultural, spiritual, and political concerns. Today, young adults

demonstrate body art in forms (tattooing and facial piercing, for

example) considered taboo by the dominant culture.


I introduced body art as both an art form and as a universal social

behavior In biology, psychology and sociology social behavior is behavior directed towards, or taking place between, members of the same species. Behavior such as predation which involves members of different species is not social. . Humans have always sought to change the appearance of the body

in one way or another. I asked students to brainstorm and list as many

types of body art as possible. They listed more than twenty everything

from cosmetics and tanning to piercing, tattoos, and plastic surgery.


Considering the list, students realized that some body art

techniques are more socially or culturally acceptable than others. For

example, many females use cosmetics every day. Tattoos have gained in

popularity among American youth in the past decade.


However, many students had never heard of scarification scarification

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