Body modification at Union: looking past physical differences

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By Kylie Gorski

We don’t look like Union looks, but we are a vibrant part of Union. And, therefore, we are part of what Union looks like. From the metal in our faces to the ink in our skin, we physically set ourselves apart from the rest. However, these modifications are where our differences end. Unfortunately, people don’t always perceive it this way.

Some of the misconceptions about modified people are that we are the lesser, we are unclean delinquents, who are unemployed, unemployable and dangerous. It’s this other-ing that we have set out to combat. This concern is not entirely without grounding in history. The origins of modern day tattooing come, in large part, from the stylistic elements and techniques of prison tattoos. In fact, the modern day grayscale and photorealistic styles all grew from prison style tattooing being picked up and expanded on by tattoo studios. While the roots of these designs are not the most favorable, what has come from them has bloomed into a beautiful art form and a culture all its own.

Many alternative cultures have drawn on body modification as a way to separate themselves from the mainstream. Punk, Riot Grrrl, Grunge, Hip-hop and many other movements  have shown their departure from conformity using their bodies.

These past perceptions of body modification still echo in the modern consciousness, despite the growth of body modification as a form of self- expression. While it is true that for many it is a form of non-conformity, for some, it is spiritually motivated, for others it is an expression of themselves and their art, and for almost everyone it is a way to achieve happiness and comfort in their own skin. But, whatever the reason, body policing has hung oppressively over the modified community.

To “body police” is to dictate what others can do to their own bodies. It can be controlling or judging something as simple as a person getting a certain style haircut to as invasive as getting plastic surgery. This idea that one’s opinion of how another should maintain his or her body is something that we all must fight, and one that the body modification community has been fighting actively for decades. But, while we are the loudest voices, we should not be the only voices. Ownership of self is something that holds meaning for everyone.

Our modifications make us different, but what makes us the same is our belief in academic integrity, our commitment to improving the campus environment, our acceptance of diversity and our work ethic. We are no less qualified to be teachers, doctors or engineers than any other Union student. What we do with our bodies does not make us lesser students or lesser members of the community. However, this issue is bigger than just us, and it is bigger than just Union.

The important question to be asked is what can one do to change the perceptions of body modification at Union and beyond?

For those that are modified, this means attempting to satisfy the natural curiosity of children and changing the next generation’s perception of body modification. Furthermore, it means being comfortable enough with yourself that people see beyond the external. For people without modifications, this means being willing and able to get to know people beyond their physicality, as well as trying to understand and accept the choices that they have made for themselves. One should never try to control what other people do with their bodies.

Ultimately, it comes down to taking ownership of your own body and self, and accepting other people. We believe that this has the potential to make Union and the rest of the world a better place.

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