I had to write a paper for my Woman's Studies class called a Liberating Act. Basically you do something outside of society's comfort zone and then you analyze what you've learned and how people react. I wrote mine about my body modifications. It's nothing too special but I thought I'd share to get back into the swing of things, maybe start posting more.
Body modification has been an accepted practice in human history since the dawn of time. Different kinds of changes to the body are more widely acceptable in America than others. I have always wanted to modify my body, not with surgery, but with piercings and ink. Unfortunately, people who make those steps to change their bodies are portrayed in a certain light. At first only men from the army had tattoos, then it was greasers who were up to no good, then hoodlums and now rock and roll kids with no morals. So when I got my piercings, when I got my tattoo, I made a point to see if I would really be treated differently. I decided to compare my treatment from my teachers, my friends and store owners. I assumed in today’s society, with all of the problems going on in the world, a few piercings wouldn’t make anyone look twice. With the kind of things people were getting done today, like splitting their tongues in half, I believed that I would see little to no difference in the way people treated me before this.
Originally, I had long blonde hair and I wore fairly innocuous clothing; T-shirts and jeans, maybe a dress every once in a while. I was an average high school girl. When I moved to college, I flourished under the liberation of freedom and started to act out and do whatever I could to completely change myself from the girl I was before. I dyed my hair red, cut it short and started to wear more provocative clothing. I had always wanted to do more intense body modification, but something always held me back. This semester, I finally decided to go for it, to let any worries or fears stay behind and simply go for it. My boyfriend took me to a tattoo shop and I pierced my nose, I got my first tattoo, all the while I was gauging my ears up to a 6. My roommate teased me and said that I was having a midlife crisis, and maybe I was. I found that making these changes, some of them permanent, to my body was a powerful sign that I had ownership over my body.
My aunt, who is my legal guardian, was horrified. Every night I would get a call and she would lecture me about my appearance. She would tell me how important it was to present myself as a young professional and that with my appearance such that it was, no one would take me seriously. I would have no respect. What she failed to realize, was that the college campus is a bastion of liberalness, this is where students are supposed to find out who they are and what they want. The most surprising difference in treatment was from my teachers, but not in the way my aunt assumed it would be. Before, teachers didn’t quite notice me, with a ring hanging from my nose and giant holes in my ears, I kind of stood out. I found that my professors were slightly more interested in me. They seemed to listen to my opinions more raptly, they called on me more often and if I made a mistake they were more apt to overlook it. After class I would find myself staying behind and talking with a few of them, exchanging opinions on different subjects. At first I was quick to attribute my new found friendship with professors on my appearance change, but I realized soon it had nothing to do with that at all. These modifications gave me more presence because I became more comfortable with who I was as a person. By finding out one of my passions in life, I grew more confident and sure of whom I was which attracted respect from professors. I believe they have more respect for people who assert their opinions in class rather than quietly finish all of their work.
The change in my friends was actually, also a positive one. They would ask me questions; ask if it was ok to touch my gauges. This positivity, I believe, was much shallower though. They had always known the loud, vivacious me, so my personality had not changed at all. They were more of the opinion that my piercings were “cool” and that my tattoo was “bad-ass”. Always the first question out of their mouths was “how bad did it hurt?”. Of course, when I told them that the tattoo actually felt good to me, they were ecstatic, able to put me in this certain category. I went from the sarcastic girl in my group to the hardcore bitch in my group. Whereas before if someone was rude or mean to me, I would crush them with my acerbic wit, now I would simply crush them with my fists, according to them. My modifications were clearly a sign that I had engaged in numerous fist fights in my life. While it was certainly pleasant to have the air of being a badass around my name, it wasn’t who I was. I was still the same person, just modified. I found it to simply be a sign of how people in my age group want to stick everyone in a certain category.
Store owners would greet me warmly and welcome me into their store, paying me no mind until I checked out, beforehand. Now when I go into a store, I am experiencing something I have only heard about for the first time in my life. The managers of several different stores either followed me themselves or had employees follow me around. As a white woman, I have the privilege of other white people assuming I would never do such a thing. Once that privilege was taken away, I realized how infuriating it is to not be trusted when you have every intention of buying something. The disrespect is astonishing. It is amazing how such slight differences in your appearance make someone think the complete opposite of you all together. I believe though, that the modifications brought more attention to my age. America does not yet have a society in which tattooed and pierced adults are common. Perhaps I was only encouraging ageism in the store owners.
All in all, my liberating act helped me find out who I am as a person. It encouraged me to simply go forward and do the things I want to do. The most liberating part of body modification in my eyes, is having such extreme control over your body. I found that the majority of people in my life had a positive reaction to it. Those that had a negative reaction were those that didn’t know me at all. Stereotypes, I find with this exercise, are alive and well. Meaning, people still force others into them but the people being placed into the stereotype do not fit completely, in all actuality. To a certain extent I do, my appearance, my love for hard rock, my unhealthy habits, but I love reading philosophy and I secretly enjoy listening to N’Sync every once and a while. I enjoyed this project immensely and it will definitely help me keep other people in perspective instead of instantly pushing them into a stereotype and dismissing them.