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