I don’t think there are many women out there who can safely say that they have never altered their body in some way. Growing up, we are surrounded by celebrities who have enhanced their image through body modification, and we are conditioned to think that we should be like them. I remember the reason why I pleaded with my parents to let me get my belly button pierced was because Britney Spears had it done.
From make-up and hair dye to piercings and tattoos, there are endless options when it comes to customising our bodies. There’s no denying that there are many reasons why people make these modifications; to fit in with beauty ideals, to mark that they belong to a certain group, to be rebellious or to show self-expression, all of which may increase self esteem.
Confucius once said, “True quality of life comes from a lasting harmony between the body and the mind”. I completely agree with this ‘look good, feel good’ mantra. We all feel a bit better when we have just coloured our hair or got a sun-kissed glow on holiday. Not only does the small change give us a boost, but the compliments that follow can raise our self-confidence. Rosie Molinary, author of Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance, says that regular complimenting can positively affect our self esteem.
It has been found that make-up and hair dye can directly affect self esteem. In a study carried out by Superdrug it was found that one in three women wear make-up every time they leave the house, and six out of ten won’t go to work without applying cosmetics. Sara Wolverson, of Superdrug, argues that make up is not about vanity but giving women the confidence to succeed. In terms of hair dye, about half of women say they regularly colour their hair, according to a poll conducted by ShopSmart. A study commissioned by Clairol revealed that women who dye their hair blonde feel more attractive to the opposite sex and are generally more confident. However, the fact is women seem to rely on conforming to beauty ideals in order to feel confident. There definitely needs to be more images of natural women in the media, much like the campaigns for embracing all body shapes. It would definitely save us all a lot of money!
Piercing and tattooing, once associated with rebellious sub-cultures is now becoming more mainstream. According to a survey – issued by Laumann & Derick – of 500 people between the ages of 18 and 50, 24 percent reported having a tattoo and 14 percent had a body piercing in a location other than the ear lobe. A study by Carroll & Anderson has suggested that individuals who were moderately to heavily tattooed have an increased sense of self-confidence. Tattoos can commemorate an important experience as well as help people move on from negative experiences. Sociologist Michael Atkinson has found that trauma victims, those with disabilities or serious illnesses, or marginalized groups may tattoo themselves as a way of claiming positive ownership of their own bodies and, in effect, their own identities. Tattooing can therefore heal, empower and promote body acceptance and self-esteem.
The painful truth
Despite its growing popularity, there are still negative connotations surrounding certain kinds of body modification. There are no end of women who create a Barbie image by dyeing their hair bleach blond and tanning and applying gallons of make-up until they are ‘bronzed’. This seems to be frowned upon as it is so unnatural and they’re trying to be something that is beyond embracing their beauty. Lady Gaga’s various alterations are a way of expressing and experimenting with her image, with the aim of empowering women to do the same, yet people still criticise her for being too wacky.
I do think body modification can go too far. I recently read about a girl named Venus who has been dubbed ‘the living, breathing teenage doll’. The 15 year old says she already had doll-like features so transforming herself into one was a natural progression. She has had a lot of attention from the videos of herself she puts on Youtube, with over 16 million hits. This has no doubt confirmed her behaviour and increased her confidence to continue her obsession with perfection, however living such a lifestyle may effect not only her chances of getting a future career but seeking the ultimate level of doll perfection may lead to dangerous plastic surgeries she may not be ready for.
When it comes to the more permanent alterations there is even more controversy. In a survey by career Web site, Valut.com, it was found that more than half the managers surveyed would be less likely to hire an applicant with obvious tattoos and body piercing, surely dampening their spirits. This is why I think body modification is acceptable if it is tasteful, not too obvious and emphasises your already beautiful self.
Some attempts at body modification can also have unintended negative consequences that might reduce self-esteem. We all know that too much make-up can cause skin problems, hair can be damaged from over-dyeing, and infections and irritations can be caused due to piercings (though generally this is not a problem if you have been pierced by a trained professional, and have properly taken care of your piercing), yet we continue to apply, dye and pierce. Tattoos can trigger a whole range of insecurities, from regretting a poor choice of body art, to feeling uncomfortable about how people view your inked body.
Modification in moderation
As with everything I believe alternations should be in small doses and shouldn’t be too drastic. If you decide to modify yourself in some way, and for whatever reason, make sure it is your own decision. You should be 100% certain of the change you want and aware of the potential consequences. If you are not sure about a more permanent modification, there are many ways to ‘try before you buy’. For instance, wash-out dyes, fake tan, stick-on gems and of course transfer and henna tattoos. At the end of the day, you’re in charge of what you do with your body, and you are beautiful whatever you decide to do, and as the Mother Monster would say, ‘There’s nothing wrong with loving who you are’.