Is body modification a beauty practice and is it misogynist?

(34 Posts)

Stuff like piercings and tattoos?

I've just finished reading Sheila Jeffreys Beauty and Misogyny and she makes a very strong case for beauty practices such as hair removal, make up, heels, cosmetic surgery etc. to be counted as 'harmful traditional/cultural practices' according to the UN definition:

In United Nations (UN) documents such as the Fact Sheet on "Harmful Traditional Practices" (UN, 1995), harmful cultural/traditional practices are understood to be damaging to the health of women and girls, to be performed for men's benefit, to create stereotyped roles for the sexes and to be justified by tradition.

So far so good, but she also includes body modification practices that are more normally associated with alternative culture, such as tattoos and piercings. I get that these practices can be seen as quite literally bodily harm but I don't think they are performed for men's benefit and I don't think they create stereotyped roles. Am I missing something?

ubersquiz Fri 17-Oct-14 21:36:16

I personally think that in western culture body modification is nothing to do with gender and more to do with individuality.

We live in the age of the individual and go to great lengths to distinguish ourselves from our peers. I think body modification is individual expression personified.

Some do it as part of a sub culture too. Emo's, punks, skaters, rockers etc etc are all familiar with modification.

Some people feel it makes them more attractive. Some people crave the attention.
What I'm saying is, people modify themselves for many reasons and its to simplistic to narrow it down to one or two reasons. What might be true for one person may have no relevance to another.

Gosh, I forgot about this thread blush sorry!

lucky, Jeffreys has quite a lot to say about postmodernism and about Orlan's practice in particular in this book. She's not a fan. It's hard to summarise but basically she sees little difference between Lolo Ferrari's bodily mutilation as 'cosmetic' surgery and Orlan's bodily mutilation as 'art' - both are fetishisations of the cutting up of women.

rosabud Sat 22-Sep-12 21:09:46

Interesting. I never thought of tattoos as in the same camp as hair removal. If anything, I think of tattoos in the opposite way to hair removal because when I was young, generally girls did not have tattoos! I think everyone forgets what a relatively recent fashion tattoos are. (In fact, tattos were not really that common on middle class men either.) So I think of tattoos as a kind of fashion thing that men and women have gone in for more over the last 20 years and that women who have them are actually breaking the bounds of traditional feminine expectations.

YoungerX Wed 12-Sep-12 17:24:37

Whilst it is likely that women will feel more of a backlash from society for a radically alternate appearance my experience is that all who look like this will be similarily treated.

Part of it i'm sure has to do with the "why aren't you looking good for me" attitude of men but I think a lot of the negative reactions people get for looking like this has more to do with people veiwing them as outsiders to the mainstream.

People who look so different from the norm are veiwed as a threat to that norm.

For the original question I do not consider tattoo's and piercings misogynist, though some of them and the reasons for getting them can be. The important thing with a tattoo in particular is what and why.

kickassangel Sun 29-Jul-12 15:08:04

I think that in western society at least, there is still a hangover from the days when tattoos etc were mainly sported by sailors and were seen as very masculine/lower class/rough. A bit like having a doberman and the name of 'your' prison' tattooed across your knuckles would be seen today.

so while it has expanded to become more gender inclusive, it still has connotations of masculinity, particularly aggressive masculinity. Therefore women who wear noticeable tattoos/piercings are seen as not being feminine enough. The 'tramp stamp' and navel piercing were a feminization of the fashion, but it was done in a far more sexualized way than traditional male tattoos were, so once again sticking to traditional misogynist values. (Then it became denigrated for being sexy or 'tramp'ish.)

So I think that in the eyes of some people, women who do these things but not in a sexy way are a double betrayal to the patriarchy - they don't look traditionally demure NOR do they look like they're advertising for sex. As there are no other roles for them, then the only option left is to tell them that they're a freak and wrong.

Tattoos are definitely seen as an expression of individuality. Which is why certain situations require that they are hidden, e.g. corporate jobs. In fact, the more formal a situation is, generally, the more we are expected to fit into an assigned role and be less of an individual.

LurkingAndLearningLovesCats Sun 29-Jul-12 07:12:38

It was a joke.

luckybarsteward Sat 28-Jul-12 23:27:01

a double-jointed nose? are you Nick Clegg?

LurkingAndLearningForNow Thu 19-Jul-12 20:49:42

My nose ha a large bump and is kinda 'boneless' if that makes sense. I have a double jointed nose grin

luckybarsteward Thu 19-Jul-12 14:57:13

Foucault considers the body the inscribed surface of events and, moreover, alterable, a cultural construction scored with gender, social behavior, and identity. In this view, cosmetic surgery can be construed as "the literal and explicit enactment of this process of inscription." so if it is simply a way that cultural norms are enacted on your body then I suppose that is likely to beoppressive. But, with body modification, I think it is more likely oppositional - especially if you look at the concept of the grotesque body versus the classical body -

Having said that about cosmetic surgery, somebody like Orlan certainly challenges that.

MooncupGoddess Thu 19-Jul-12 13:25:47

Hmm. I think for me it would depend what your nose looks like. If it's sticking out at an odd angle and is one of the first things people notice about your face, then I don't think it would be conforming to the beauty myth to fix it. After all, it would just be returning it to its original appearance.

Similarly I wouldn't criticise people who got snarled-up teeth straightened up (which I've done myself) or had breast implants following a mastectomy. It's normal for humans to care about their appearance, to some extent, the problem comes when people focus on it above anything else.

Of course it may be that your nose has a tiny kink that no one but you has ever spotted... be honest with yourself! Lots of people have non-ideal noses without it having any effect on their lives at all.

LurkingAndLearningForNow Thu 19-Jul-12 00:46:02

I desperately want Rhinoplasty because as a child a man broke my nose and it was poorly set.

Honest question, not snarky: Is this conforming to the beauty myth or not?

Thing is, the likes of Jeffries would try to take an example like that bloke who wants to be a tiger and has had all sorts of implants and tattoos, and say he Shouldn't Be Allowed because it's antifeminist and playing into the patriarchy's hands. Because anything anyone else does that she and her crew don't fancy is EEEEEVILLL!

MooncupGoddess Tue 17-Jul-12 20:25:14

Well yes SGB, and we have the right to analyse the social attitudes that make people to decide to do those things.

Of course you're quite right about different cultures and body modifications (I still shudder when I recall a description of the ritual circumcision of teenage boys in one African culture). Overall, though, I still think women have it worse than men.

(I saw Sheila Jeffreys speak at the weekend; she was surprisingly good fun though clearly in mourning for the lost 1980s days of political lesbianism.)

Despite the odd bit of smart analysis, Sheila Jeffries is at bottom a dishonest whinyarse who hates pretty much everything and everyone.

It is worth remembering that permanent 'disfiguring' body modification for men is not actually a new thing: quite a few African tribes have been known to go in for deliberate facial scarring, there's those rainforest types with the plates in their lips, etc etc (am not an expert and just picking examples at random, no racism or condemnation intended). And the sort of drastic and permanent facial modifications that some people have these days (ear stretching, tongue bifircation) is slightly more common among men than women.

I still maintain that people have the right to do what they want with their bodies.

From a personal POV I do what I want to my body, for my own personal gratification. From a wider POV I would worry that any large scale fashion trend, whether it's botox or tattoos or getting tango'd in the local salon, is due to societal pressure and therefore starts becoming something women 'have' to do in order to conform to men's perceptions of sexual norms (and that's a long sentence, sorry)

I think generally body modification should not be classed with hair removal and such, because it is more of a subculture that includes men and women fairly equally.

I think there are some gender aspects to it. The 'tramp stamp' tattoo, for example -- how many women got that because it was something perceived as sexy to men? Even as it garnered such a tasteless nickname?

Alternative-looking women being challenged for being unfeminine is another issue, although some alternative-looking men will also be challenged for looking unmasculine.

I guess I see tattoos and piercings as often challenging conventional notions of beauty.... except where they seem to get mainstreamed into conventional society, and then they might take on more of a gendered aspect.

MooncupGoddess Tue 17-Jul-12 19:46:57

Having read the utterly terrifying clit piercing thread, I am now aware that I know essentially nothing about 'body modification'. And frankly I'd rather keep it that way!

Mini - yes, I have a friend with rather a lot of facial piercings and I've seen her get really quite angry reactions from men. One said 'why do you want to make yourself look ugly?' in a tone that sounded more like, 'how dare you not make yourself look beautiful (for me)?'

MooncupGoddess - they seem to reflect a desire to belong to a particular subculture, or maybe rebel against the prevailing culture? yes, I think this is a reason for a lot of people. I'm less sure about this bit - I wonder, if we didn't have ridiculous patriarchal beauty practices, people would feel less inspired to cause themselves damage in an attempt to define themselves as different from the mainstream? - I don't think it's a reaction against just beauty practices, after all, there are a lot of men who do it.

OatyBeatie - that's a really good point about the mainstreaming of tattoos and piercings. There was that godawful fashion a few years ago for bare midriffs with pierced belly buttons and a tattoo across the lower back - that did seem a particularly 'feminine' fashion. I also had a read of the clit piercing thread - I'd be interested in figures for female vs. male genital piercings. Maybe it is becoming more gendered? I doubt it's something any woman would think of doing if she hadn't already removed her pubic hair and from what I hear from youngsters, there's definitely a pressure to do that.

I really hope that performing femininity has not started to extend to genital piercings. sad

Hi thanks for the replies. I'm not ignoring this thread, I'm snowed under with work at the moment (in a good way smile). I'll be back with proper responses soon.

EclecticShock Sat 14-Jul-12 23:11:52

I think whatever you do to your body is generally for your own satisfaction. Whether that's because you like it or you like that someone else likes it, is your choice. Taking steps to be attractive to the object of your desire is something most people do at some point, whether that's reading poetry or putting in lipstick.

OatyBeatie Thu 12-Jul-12 15:32:14

I certainly agree with that Mooncup. Men are feeling more pressure than they did, but it is still way less than that which women are subjected to. And as well as massively more consumerist pressure around their own appearance, look at the obscene way that parenthood has been consumerized in the last couple of decades, with the invention of a million new silly products to accessorize childrearing. Women get the brunt of that. It is an important part of the business model of a site like Mumsnet.

OatyBeatie Thu 12-Jul-12 15:28:54

I hope it has a natural limit, and that consumer fatigue, plus the implosion of the debt economy that generated a alleged duty to spend spend spend for the sake of the economy, will eventually turn us away from this madness.

You'd think that when consumer capitalism had reached the point of telling us to pay for fish to eat the skin off our feet it would pretty much have burnt itself out, but it seems to have a few more consumerist death-twitches up its sleeve.

MooncupGoddess Thu 12-Jul-12 15:28:24

That is all true... BUT women are still much more the focus of such pressure than men, and their beauty standards much more rigorously enforced. Generally speaking men can still get away with shaving their chins and an overall neat and clean appearance. A woman who did the same would be perceived as dowdy, unattractive and at some fundamental level inadequate.

MiniTheMinx Thu 12-Jul-12 15:17:41

Need is created I think by making people feel insecure, so that we all start to perceive inflated lips and massive breasts as normal, anyone who doesn't subscribe is now abnormal, lacking in integrity, standards and money. The same is happening in health in general, as capital looks to find ways of making money here in the uk. Doctors have been given massive bribes to hand out anti-depressants like smarties and yet it is little wonder, we are all suffering from consumer fatigue and insecurity abounds.

OatyBeatie Thu 12-Jul-12 14:52:36

YY, its the dynamics of capital: look for new markets, always and relentlessly. Often that means developing new spurious "needs", such as hairless genitals, inflated lips, tattoos. But it also means drilling spurious needs into into men in ways that have been formerly restricted to women.

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