Re: Body adornment

Fri, 5 Jul 1996 12:23:06 -0500

A few thoughts (that I have also conveyed to numerous newspaper reporters,
as for some reason (via our university PR fellow and a class I teach on
the Anthro of the Body) they keep calling me on this topic):

1. To understand some of what is going on in the US via body adornment,
you need to understand the symbolism of the body via control, power, and
society more generally. If the body is a symbol of society in the
nwo-Durkheimian sense of M. Douglas and others, including Bakhtin's
study of carnivalesque imagery in the medieval banquet, then why would
one want to pierce it, mark it, etc.. In other words, what messages are
people conveying about categories, norms, aesthetics, society, containment,
etc., when they inscribe (literally) on their body.

2. What one does to the body is often a symbolic gesture about what one
woudl desire to do to society, e.g., control it, beautify it according
to alternative standards, control the application of pain, etc.

3. Some folks speak about body piercing and the confrontation with pain in
much the same way that many sexually abused children discuss pain and why
they often cut themselves with knives, etc. Thus, I would not be surprised
if there is at least some correlation between at least some body piercing
adherents and early childhood experiences. I have no data on this, only
anecdotal information.

4. In the US at least, I think that recent body adornment interests are
tied to a much wider interest in the body per se via health, fitness, diet,
etc., which occurs at the very same time that people, I think, are less
and less enthusiastic about the 'state of health' of the body politic.

Just a few ideas.
-Eric Silverman, DePauw University