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Body Modification practices have been in existence for a long time but has only gained prominence in recent times. This can mostly be attributed to popularization by the media especially in the west. Today’s mass media promotes awareness of outward appearance and has the greatest influence in the promotion of excessive or unnecessary cosmetic surgery. These practices are characterized by serving no therapeutic purpose and are largely done for aesthetic purposes.
Modifications come in the form of socially acceptable ones and those that are shunned by the majority of the community mostly due to their profane nature. While the practices are not uniform across all cultures, there exists some form of universal acceptability. Of particular interest is the role in which they play in society which ranges from ritualistic roles to identity roles. In this study, the factors that lead people into body modifications shall be addressed and the effects that come from these surgeries shall be discussed.
Brief overview of body modification (cosmetic surgery)
Body Modification such as cosmetic surgery is the alteration of one’s body deliberately for non-therapeutic purposes. This means that these modifications serve no medical purposes and are merely aesthetic or ritualistic in nature (Rush, 76).
Various opinions are held regarding body modifications and the topic provoking impassioned emotions of admiration and rage from those that support as well as those that oppose it. Pitts notes that while some celebrate the practice as being a rich form of art, others condemn it for being socially problematic and for encouraging “self-mutilation” among society members (26).
Causes of Excessive or Unnecessary Cosmetic surgery
In the recent past, an interest in Body Modification has developed significantly in the west. The forms of body modifications that have enjoyed this resurgence are tattooing, plastic/cosmetic surgeries and excessive piercings. This occurrence can be attributed to the issue of self identity which has been prevalent on man’s mind since the Stone Age days.
Featherstone attributes body modification practices to the need to “take control of one’s body” and hence make a statement or create a unique identity for oneself (17). Body modification ranges from socially acceptable practices such as piercings to unacceptable practices such as self mutilation or deformation (Featherstone 19).
Racism and prejudice are among the most common causes of excessive body modifications. Sometimes, people prejudge other people by their appearances. So it is a common perception that the first impression is most important. Thus, people obsess over beauty to fit the standards of beauty which promoted by mass media and it often lead people to have excessive or unnecessary cosmetic surgery.
The concept of beauty has been known to differ amongst people and one person’s idea of beauty may not necessarily be the same for another. Through advertisements, individuals get a predetermined perception in regards to the human body and beauty.
This perception influences them and they start seeing faults in their physical appearance. As such, the need to change these “flaws” is overwhelming and pushes them into opting for surgeries so that they can look like the people in the adverts. For example, most main character of television shows tends to employ fascinating actors or actress.
Although there are some television shows whose main characters are not beautiful or handsome, they are often illustrated as freak or social misfits and the shows bring them into derision. While there is no universally acceptable standard of beauty, beauty is evaluated on a standard that is acceptable to the local community. With this constant pressure to fit in, people try to change the physical qualities that make them feel less beautiful or handsome.
Another cause that pulls people into excessive cosmetic surgeries is basically the lack of personal identity and low self esteem. The world today is very skeptical and everyone has to work extra hard to fit in. people who believe that they are ugly often fear to interact with their beautiful and handsome counterparts because they feel left out and unworthy.
As such, they end up trying to change their appearance so that they can fit in with other members of society. Evidence of this can be seen from the New York Times columnist who invented the word “Lookism”. The word means discrimination or prejudice against people based on their physical appearance.
Other people do cosmetic surgeries so that they can get back their confidence which has reduced. This is further worsened by the mass media which portrays beautiful and handsome people as confident with the ability to do anything. Featherstone claims that due to the popularization of beauty by the mass media, cosmetic surgeries and other forms of body modifications have become forms of self expression in nowadays (35).
Body modifications have evolved from the early days where it was the exclusive premise of either outcasts or royalty to being widely acceptable and even fashionable to the general population (Featherstone 24). The wide spread acceptance accompanied by the affordability and ease with which modifications can be carried out has led to the craft enjoying unprecedented boom.
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The availability of better medical facilities has brought about the assurance that if modifications occur within a health facility, there are almost no risks of fatalities. This is in contrast to the early days whereby the risk involved in cosmetic surgeries were great and often led to infections which at times proved to be fatal (Siebers 87).
Another cause though not so popular reason as to why individuals indulge in cosmetic surgeries is to hide their identities. As Siebers explains, criminals as well as people willing to turn a new leaf in their lives (start afresh) often change their appearances so as to run from their pasts, enemies and in the case of criminals; the law enforcement agencies (72).
This has been very effective especially in cases where the law enforcement agencies need to protect valuable witnesses from the wrath of criminal masterminds that may try to harm them so as to protect themselves.
“Money is the root of all happiness” this cliché holds true because the more money one has, the more he/she can achieve. In regards to this topic, cosmetic surgeries are not as cheap as expected. Therefore, the more money one has the more the results and cosmetic work he/she gets. Ordinarily, cosmetic surgeries are very addictive and having money in abundance only fuels this need to get more different.
Effects of Excessive or Unnecessary Cosmetic surgery
Despite the large scale acceptance and wide spread embrace of body modification in modern culture, most forms of body modification still remain a touchy issue with majority of the people. This is because of the negative connotation that is attached to some forms of modifications e.g. loss of identity and pretence; academics are seen to invariably agree in their description of cosmetic surgeries as being a sign of cultural deviance (Slosar 154).
In addition to this prejudice against some body modifications, others can have adverse health impacts on the subject. This is especially so when the modifications are done without adhering to health standards. This is especially an issue with body reconstructive surgeries which may have adverse effects on the nervous system and lead to serious illnesses.
Having excessive surgeries is very dangerous and may affect the quality of health of the person getting these surgeries. For example, due to excessive surgeries, Michael Jackson had serious health issues, could not stay under the sun and affected his mental status (he became obsessed about his looks).
Slosar explains that the human body since birth is well balanced (49). As such, changing any aspect from the original form leads to a situation whereby the individual constantly needs to change other things. This leads to an obsession since the patients often strive for perfection; which is unattainable.
Another effect is that the chemicals and medical substances used may have serious side effects on other bodily functions. As mentioned earlier, repetitive surgeries may affect the nervous system, lead to cancers and other illnesses due to an increase in chemical substances in the body or overexposure to radiation. To this end, the patients end up spending more money in treating other diseases or living a secluded life because they cannot function normally.
In addition, excessive cosmetic surgeries may have devastating effects on one’s social life. The more one changes his/her appearance, the further they divert from who they were originally. This is because and physical modification made affects one’s personality leading to change. This affects how the people interact with others as well as their perception of other people.
As mentioned earlier, cosmetic surgeries are often obsessive and costly. Therefore, they may have serious impacts on one’s financial status and in some cases; people have been left bankrupt because they overspent on these surgeries. On the same note, due to this obsession, cosmetic surgeries have caused serious marital and family issues because the individuals cannot fully perform their duties as required.
There exist laws that prohibit some forms of body modifications which are deemed as destructive to ones body. It should however be taken into consideration that body modifications are strictly a matter of personal taste and preference and the democratic rights of a person which guarantee freedom of expression imply that one can perform most of the modifications without fear of any retribution.
However, the responsible authorities should ensure that the practitioners do not take advantage of the patients and use beauty to exploit them. Laws should be set to regulate the number of surgeries permitted to an individual so as to protect them from harming themselves.
This paper set out to find out the causes and effects of body modification particularly excessive cosmetic surgeries. It has been observed that this practice is mostly undertaken as a form of self expression with an aim of creating a unique identity for oneself.
The practice is in some forms seen to be socially acceptable while in other forms as unacceptable. Its roles have also been seen to vary from aesthetic to personal gratification. The implications of body modifications to a person can be both gratifying and detrimental and as such care should be taken when choosing to engage in them.
Featherstone, Mike. Body modification. CA: Sage, 2000. Print.
Pitts, Victoria. In the flesh: the cultural politics of body modification. LA: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Print.
Rush, A. John. Spiritual Tattoo: a cultural History of tattooing, piercing and Scarification. USA: Book First, 2005. Print.
Siebers, Tobin. The body aesthetic: from fine art to body modification. Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2000. Print.
Slosar, R. Jay. The culture of excess: how America lost self-control and why we need to redefine success. CA: ABC-CLIO, 2009. Print.