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TABLE OF CONTENTS Body Modification


Head and Neck Modifications




Aztec China

Egyptian Kayan

Traumatic Tattoos Professional Identifiacation Cosmetic Medical

BODY MODIFICATION Body Modification or also known as body altering is the deliberate altering of the human body for aesthetic, religious reasoning, tradition, self-expression and for any other non-medical reasons. In it’s most broad definition in today’s society it includes tattoos, piercing, and plastic surgery. Body modification is done around the world. It has been practiced for thousands of years. The main focus areas in this essay are 5 particular regions. The 5 cultures to be discussed are Aztec, China, Egypt, Africa, and America.

This young boy is shown with his arm crossed and his teeth filed into T-shape to imitate the gods of his region.

AZTECS The Aztecs, like other Mesoamerican cultures used modification as fashion. Facial piercing using precious gems and jewels was a part of their culture and considered normal. One of the more curious and abnormal body modifications of the Aztecs were the practice of reshaping human teeth by filing them into a T-shape. It is not know if this was done for fashion or religious means. There are Aztec hieroglyphics that depict their gods with T- shaped teeth. This may or may not be the inspiration behind this out of the ordinary act. The teeth were also filed as a rite of passage for adolescents. Teeth were sharpened to imitate animals as well.

CHINA China has one of the most disturbing body modifications in the world. From the 10th to early 20th century, foot binding was practiced throughout China. This practice was done for beauty. The tiny feet were considered beautiful and to make a woman’s movements more feminine and dainty. The desired size of the bound foot was just over 3 inches. The process involved breaking the arch of the foot and wrapping them up. It took over 2 years for the foot to grow and finally heal into its new shape. Parents enforced this process because they believed it would bring their daughters a better future. Foot-binding resulted in lifelong disabilities for most of the individual who practiced this awful act.



A man has his teeth chiseled in a ceremony to make him a man in the local village.

An XRAY of a young woman’s bounded feet after the process of breaking the arch and wrapping the feet in cloth.



HEAD AND NECK MODIFICATIONS The Egyptian and Kayan culture are regions in the western world that use ear stretching and neck stretching as a common ritual body modifications as a use of stylizing and differentiating their religious ways. It is the most common body modification used in theses areas and each culture tweaks the modification a little bit differently. EGYPTIAN The ancient Egyptians are not well known for body modification but we know it existed in their culture. Ear stretching was most common in this area. Egyptians jewelry was very thick and ear stretching would be needed to accommodate this aesthetic. The group of Egyptians who stretched their ears were a very wealthy, elite, and devoted group. Ear stretching is also very common in other places. Stretching is usually done in small increments to minimize the potential damaging the ear or creating unwanted scar tissue. Bone, horn, wood, and stone were generally carved for ear stretching. In Thailand women were also known for ear stretching.

KAYAN Near the borders of Thailand live the Kayan people. They are known for the illusion of an elongated neck. At an early age, brass rings are placed around a girl’s neck and more rings are added on over an extended period of time. The brass rings slowly compress and crush the collarbone. Kayan people say it is a cultural tradition. It is passed down from generation to generation. When the coils are removed, there is no health danger. The only negative effect is the concern of the weakened neck muscles. There are certainly much weaker than the rest of the body. Tourists pay money to come see these women who are commonly referred to as “Giraffe Women” of Burma.



This is an Egyptian mask that has holes in the ear lob showing where the earring or jewelry was place in the left and right ear.

Two Kayan Lahwi (Long-Necked Karen) woman with neck rings.



TATTOOS Tattoos are the largest human decorative body modification in the US. A tattoo is a form of body art, which is created by inserting indelible ink into the dermis layer of the skin to change the pigment. Like other body modifications this practice started with the east. It has been a practice since the Neolithic times dating from the fourth to fifth millennium BC. The Ainu people of Japan traditionally had facial tattoos. Tattooing was also widespread thru Africa, South Africa, Europe, Cambodia, New Zealand and Micronesia. AMERICA In America body modification is mostly done from curiosity, spiritual exploration, and fashion. Religion no longer plays a major role like it has in the past societies and cultures. Pop culture is the medium for getting tattoos, piercing, and other body art. Depending on how extreme some body art is, is how people gauge if they are socially accepted or not. Ear piercing are the most popular in the United States. Heavy earrings are used to stretch men and women’s ears. This is also called gauging. Other piercing which have become less popular in the 21st century include eyebrow, tongue, and navel, and other creative places. We live in a society where we are surrounded by body modification, whether it be a hair cut or breast augmentation. The American Academy of Dermatology distinguishes 5 types of tattoos, which include traumatic tattoos, professional tattoos, identification tattoos, cosmetic tattoos, and medical tattoos.

The woman below is shown with tattoos on her arms and body done for an aesthetic purpose.



TRAMAUTIC TATTOOS Coal miners can develop traumatic or “natural tattoos,” that result from injury on the job. This can happen when coal dust get into wounds. This occurrence can also happen with gunpowder.

PROFESSIONAL TATTOOS Professional tattoos are served as a rite of passage. These tattoos can mark the individual’s status, rank, spiritual devotion, punishment, etc. Today people choose a certain tattoo for cosmetic, sentiment, and identification within a particular group.

A woman in lingerie shows two full sleeves and right leg covered in body art.

An emo girl lifting her shirt to show body art tattoos.



IDENTIFICATION TATTOOS This identification process can also be people who have been forced into getting an unwanted tattoo. For instance, the Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust made inmates get a number tattooed on their forearm to identify themselves as Jews.

An identification tattoo on a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

A tribe is shown of 5 men with identification tattoos to show their conformity to their group.

COSMETIC TATTOOS Cosmetic tattoos include eyebrows, lips, and even moles to resemble make up. This make is now permanent so the individual no longer has to apply it on a daily basis. This is also done for an aesthetic purpoe to make the person feel better about their apperance they give to others in public spaces.

A human eye is shown with an eye brow tattooed in brown ink.


The woman above is shown with cosmetic tattoos shown on her lip, eye brow, and eye lid.


Samoan tattooing was practiced continuously despite attempts at suppression by Christian colonists.

MEDICAL Lastly medical tattoos are used to ensure instruments are properly located and are most commonly used for breast reconstruction. Breast enlargement, Rhinoplasty, and laser eye surgery are a few body modification that are socially accepted. In the west, we are still exploring this new idea of altering the human body. Many argue that body modification is the next step in human evolution. It can certainly enhance our bodies for the better in some cases. The future is also in the hands of technology and innovation. We see body modification as a success especially for transplants, pace makers, and prosthetics. A pacemaker monitors the electrical impulses in the heart. When needed, it delivers electrical pulses to make the heart beat in a more normal rhythm. A pacemaker may be helpful when the heart beats too slowly or has other abnormal rhythms. An ICD is a device that monitors heart rhythms. If it senses dangerous rhythms, it delivers shocks. Many ICDs record the heart’s electrical patterns when there is an abnormal heartbeat. This can help the doctor plan future treatment.

A man is shown with a right leg prostethic.

A pacemaker which is implanted under the skin.



Philadephia Museum of Art

finaly body mod  

finaly body mod