Three Methods of Body Modification in U.S.A. Culture

Body modification is the deliberate alteration of the human body for aesthetic and non-medical purposes. It is a relatively ancient concept, which originated in parts of Asia and Africa and thereafter spread throughout the world. Its popularity grew in the U.S as a lot of teenagers and young adults found it as a means of self-expression that would set them apart from others. There are three major forms of body modification: body piercing, tattooing and body painting. Body piercing involves the placement of jewelery through an artificial opening in the body. Tattooing is a permanent method of striking indelible ink into the skin whereas body painting is the temporary version of a tattoo.

Body Piercing

Body piercing is a growing phenomenon in U.S.A culture. It is a form of body modification in which the human body is punctured to form a cut where a jewel or piece of metal can be worn. Evidence gathered from Egyptian mummies suggest that piercing can be dated back over five thousand years ago. Body piercing can be done on various parts of the body; a few common places are the ears, nose, eyebrows, lips, and tongue . Immense care needs to be taken for about fifteen days to one month after a body piercing is done. Body piercing can have certain harmful effects like allergies (if the metal doesn’t suit the skin), bacterial infections, and even oral trauma.


Tattoo has its roots in ancient times dating back to 2000 B.C. The word “tattoo” comes from the Tahitian term ‘tatu’ which translates to: a mark or strike that is made by an indelible ink on dermis layer of the skin to change the pigment for decorative purposes or other reasons. In ancient times, tattoos were found on the Egyptian mummies and could be used to designate a specific tribal group. Throughout many cultures, tattoos have varied significance including marks of status or rank or decoration for bravery, whereas in American culture it has become a mode of expression which reveals an individual's feelings and thoughts. There are numerous designs one can choose as a tattoo such as spiritual symbols, abstract pictures, writing, such as famous quotes, and anything an individual can imagine, since most tattoos in the US are uniquely designed. Although people might find tattoos set them aside from the crowd, there are some risks to this process. Using unclean needles can lead to infection, tattoos may also cause allergies to some people. Also, an extreme obsession with tattooing can lead to body dysmorphic disorder.

Body Painting

Body painting is a form of body modification that is temporary and stays on for a few hours or in some cases for a few weeks. People who do not like permanent tattoos usually opt for this option as painting on human skin is not very harmful. There are various types of body paintings ranging from face painting to full body painting. Traditionally body painting was done with clay and other pigments and was a part of many early cultures. At times, soldiers paint their faces to hide from their enemies, so it has practical uses also with aesthetic purposes. As this is a temporary form of body art, there are fewer health hazards involved except if a person is allergic to the paints being used.

Although body modification is becoming socially acceptable, many people are still repelled by tattooing and piercing in America more so than any other societies, though Americans widely accept ear-piercing and makeup. People who make an excessive habit of tattooing may end up with a body dysmorphic disorder. Though in some cultures body modification signifies adulthood or marital status, in modern US culture, it is often viewed as a youth indulgence for self-expression.

Additional Reading:

Experiment on Relationship Between Body Modification and Student GPA

Article on Which Body Modifications are Acceptable in the Job Hiring Process in the US

Body Modification as a Cultural Product