Since time began our ancestors have been modifying their bodies and faces. These piercings, tattoos, and scarring were for identification, rites of passage, and sometimes to act as scary deterrents to any potential foes.
Modern-day Western cultural styles of body modification as we know it today started with the punk rock movement of the late 1970s. This in turn, as with so much of modern culture, was heavily influenced by singer David Bowie from the beginning of the 1970s.
Bowie of course was famous for wearing make-up and having dangly earrings when men in regular society just didn’t wear earrings. At the time, as with the punks a few years later, there was utter outrage about this with headline stories in newspapers.
Before then, pirates were renowned for wearing large gold hoop earrings. It’s believed this was to ensure if their body washed ashore whoever found the body could use the gold hoop as payment for a funeral.
In the Gypsy or Romani communities earrings have also been traditionally worn by both men and women. One reason is that an earring was worn by children after the death of a male relative.
Some Native Americans had traditional tattoos. In fact, many indigenous people around the world – such as the Maoris of New Zealand and Koita people of Papua New Guinea – had tattoos that had been part of their culture for centuries.
America’s first tattooist and plastic surgeon
America’s first professional tattoo artist is considered to be a man called Martin Hildebrandt. He opened a New York City tattoo shop in 1846 that swiftly became popular with American Civil War soldiers.
What is commonly known today as plastic surgery also has a surprisingly long history. There are records of reconstructive surgery techniques being performed in India in 800 BC.
America’s first plastic surgeon was John Peter Mettauer based in Virginia. He performed the first cleft palate operation in the 1820s.
But the innovator of modern-day plastic surgery is considered to be Sir Harold Gillies in London. During the First World War, he developed many modern facial surgery techniques to treat soldiers with disfiguring facial injuries.
Most common cosmetic-surgery procedures
It’s really in the past few decades though that cosmetic surgery as a voluntarily chosen surgery has boomed. It is performed on various parts of the body in an attempt to improve a person’s appearance.
In fact, the amount of cosmetic procedures performed in America has nearly doubled in the past 20 years. The latest figures show that 16 million cosmetic procedures were performed in the US in just one year.
The most common procedures are eyelid surgery, liposuction, abdominoplasty (“tummy tuck”), and breast reduction or augmentation. But increasingly as well all sorts of body modifications are growing in popularity – piercings, getting branded, being scarified, having the tongue split, and subdermal implants.
Many people start with fully understandable reasons for tattoos, plastic surgery, and other body modifications. These are such as seeking to enhance attractiveness and sex appeal, to be an individual, and to tell their story, because they love the creativity involved and to deliver a resistant message to normal society.
Other reasons are that people like the challenge of the pain they will have to endure in getting their body modification done. No form of anesthesia is allowed as they are not performed by physicians.
Some say the physical pain gives them mental clarity and boosts spirituality. This creates a feeling of increased connection to a greater power.
Body modification addiction
But all of these body modifications can become an addiction. The reasons behind it are much like any addiction whether that’s to alcohol, drugs, or a behavioral addiction such as shopping, work, sex, or gambling.
That includes getting some sort of high from it. This is due to the release of adrenaline and endorphins.
Another is that it acts as a distraction. That’s not just the procedure itself – but the entire preparation, recovery, and then the modification itself with all the attention it will usually bring.
In this way, it can be an attractive short-term method to mask or numb painful memories and feelings. People who get addicted to something are nearly always intensely hurting inside.
It’s an inside job
Most frequently this is from childhood trauma. But some people do suffer from traumas later in life that harshly affects them too – including experiencing war or a terrible accident, being the victim of a crime, or losing loved ones, especially suddenly and unexpectedly.
Tragically any addiction usually gets progressively worse. That is unless what is underneath it is looked at and treated.
For many people who get into what is now frequently known as “body mods”, it becomes an addiction. They have a new tattoo, piercing, or a cosmetic procedure – but are very soon craving another.
Perhaps this can be because they are seeking a new high, and most likely unbeknown to them another distraction as painful feelings start to push up again. As with addiction to a drug, alcohol, or behavior, there is the attempt to use something external to deal with what is internal.
Certain mental health disorders can be behind it. For instance, some people who look to change their appearance have body dysmorphic disorder.
This is a psychological disorder in which a person becomes obsessed with imaginary or perceived defects in their appearance. Sometimes it can lead to a plastic surgery addiction.
If you or someone you know might be addicted to a form of body modification, then professional help is most likely needed from someone with expertise in these matters.