Re: Classifying Our Navel

Adrienne Dearmas (DearmasA@AOL.COM)
Thu, 18 Jul 1996 11:57:36 -0400

In a message dated 96-07-17 10:45:31 EDT, (Martin
J. Quinn-Meyler) writes:

> Here the genus is "ritual"
> and the species in this butterfly collection cover everything from
> speculations on
> the role of tattooing in Latino gangs in the 1950s, to (now) the animal
> sacrifice of
> the ancient Greeks.

In an attempt to rein back the discussion to the practices I consider
mutilations (or body modifications) I offer my definition and list:

In my work, I define cross-cultural body mutilation as a culturally
sanctioned practice which results in the alteration, transformation,
deformation or modification of the human form in a permanent or visibly
distinguishable manner. As a matter of clarification, the term 'culturally
sanctioned' is intended to incorporate the intentions of any group or
sub-group of individuals who, either temporarily or permanently, share a
world view, value system or any other trait which would define them as a
culture, large or small.

The practices which I include under the term 'body mutilation' are as
Corseting and Tightlacing
Cosmetic Surgery
Cranial Deformation
Dental Ablation, Inlay and Filing (including Orthodontistry)
Female Genital Mutilation
Male Genital Mutilation (bifurcation, castration, circumcision, subincision)
Neck Stretching
Piercing (all, from ear to genital)

Some of these practices no longer exist, others exist as part of an
'underground movement,' a few are illegal, several are enjoying a new
popularity, and most are associated with a particular culture. The key
correlating element is permanence of the mutilation, although intent of
permanence can be substituted for the body's lack of cooperation.

While it is important to define what is meant by body mutilation, it is
equally important to define what is not. As the term mutilation tends to
inspire thoughts of such popular culture icons as the Texas Chainsaw
Massacre, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Hannibal Lecter, it is important to note that
not everyone who mutilates the body is insane. This does not mean that
insane people do not mutilate their bodies or the bodies of others. However,
there is a difference between an in-patient at a mental hospital burning her
arms with a cigarette and an African-American fraternity brother branding
his forearms. Body mutilations, as defined above, have meaning, either
conscious or subconscious, which are important to the individual and the
group, however defined.

Sophmoric perhaps, but I believe focused.

- Adrienne