Body Modification and Feminism: My Body, My Mods

Body modification has been on my mind quite a bit lately, because I have several piercings and tattoos and I’m about to get another piercing soon. While there is much less judgment now than there has been in the past regarding piercings and tattoos, a number of prejudices still linger, and I want to talk about them today on the blog.

General Judgment

One of the most common criticisms of tattoos and piercings is that they’re unprofessional. This is a belief that’s held on, and while it’s changing, it’s not changing quickly enough. I’m fortunate enough to work at a liberal school where my tattoos, visible piercings, and weirdly colored hair don’t get a second look. I know that if I were to teach at a more conservative place, I’d need to cover all that shit up. I’m not even upset about it; people have different ideas about what’s workplace appropriate.

Maybe I should be upset about it. Every time I start to make allowances for this kind of judgment, I think I need to stop and question those allowances. Why is it not okay for my best friend to wear her nose ring to the hospital where she works? Why can’t a Wall Street stockbroker have tattoos on her forearms?

(Wait, can she? I realize I’m making that assumption here, but I don’t know if that’s true. Do I have any readers who work in conservative places that don’t allow tattoos or visible piercings? Let me know.)

Workplace restrictions aside, people still comment on tattoos, especially on women. And you know what? It’s none of your damn business, people. I’ve been lucky enough not to get criticism for my tattoos, except a bit from my mom, bless her heart, who can’t quite reconcile herself to my expansive ink. I know of many other friends, though, who have heard critique of their full-sleeves and visible ink. The main criticism? Tattoos are “unfeminine.”

The Curse of Being Unfeminine

There are a couple of expectations at work here, causing this critique.

First, the expectation is that “feminine” is what a woman should always want to be. It’s not even a pinnacle to reach for; it’s a baseline. At the very least, a woman should be feminine, according to this way of thinking.

Well, fuck all that shit.

Second, there’s an expectation that feminine looks a certain way. You’re “feminine” if you look… how? Long hair, makeup, dresses or skirts, accentuated curves, fitting the expectations of what a woman should look like. Outdated expectations, of course. You should highlight your feminine figure without looking “slutty.” You can’t look like a woman who is trying to attract sexual attention, but you have to look attractive enough to garner sexual attention. Heterosexual attention, that is.

Fuck all that shit, too.

Feminine is not a woman’s defining quality. Women are not required to look or act a certain way to be worthy of taking up space. This belief is outdated and offensive, and it minimizes the experience of many women.

The Biggest Threat

The other aspect of the criticism, and one that plays into piercings as well – which I’ll get to in a moment – is that a woman who makes changes to her body without consulting a man is dangerous. The biggest threat is a woman who takes ownership of herself and marks that ownership in distinct ways.

octopus shoulder tattoo
Herman, my octopus arm tattoo

When I got my octopus arm tattoo, it was a decisive act of ownership over my own skin, flaws and all. It was me saying, “This is me too, this fat part, and I’m claiming it.” I decorated it, and I show it off.

Women owning their own bodies threatens the status quo, which is made up of tons of regulations trying to make men the owners of women’s bodies. We see this in the fight for basic reproductive rights, including abortion access, and even a woman’s decision about having children or not. It’s quite common for medical providers to ask a woman about her husband’s opinion on her reproductive decisions. Many still refuse to perform tubal ligations on women under a certain age in case they “change their mind” later or “their future husband might want kids.”

When a woman chooses to modify her body, she’s staking claim over it, regardless of whether this is her primary purpose or not. That ownership makes many people uncomfortable.

Good.

Piercings and Sexual Response

People get piercings for a number of reasons, generally aesthetic, but some piercings are also done for sensation. Many genital piercings have been reported to increase sexual stimulation, and it’s a frequent factor in the decision-making process. This doesn’t mean that this decision is met without criticism.

This morning, I read a post by The Radical Notion written by a woman who had an incorrectly performed genital piercing and was then mocked by her (male) gynecologist for getting a genital piercing in the first place. This article understandably infuriated me for a number of reasons. First, she was improperly pierced and had no recourse to rectify the situation. Second, she was treated as foolish for wanting to get a genital piercing, even if (especially if?) the purpose was to increase sexual sensation. To this doctor, even wanting this piercing was foolish, and getting it was ridiculous. Never mind the fact that the hood piercing is one of the simplest piercings, piercing less skin than an earlobe.

The gyno’s response here discounts the value of female sexuality pretty profoundly. Women’s genital piercings are not very rare, and while I don’t think anyone would call them common, they’re certainly not uncommon. Even if they weren’t common, though, what is wrong with a woman modifying her body to increase her sexual pleasure? There are uncomfortable implications in this prejudice, namely that women’s sexual pleasure isn’t that important.

Downplaying a woman’s sexual pleasure is nothing new, unfortunately. Female orgasms garner a stronger rating from the MPAA than male orgasms do, and sex toys are still a taboo conversation topic. (Not on this blog, though!) When I hear about doctors – and anyone- dismissing a woman’s desire for a healthy sex life, it makes me livid.

My Body Mods

In addition to my tattoos, lobe and cartilage piercings, and a nose ring, I have a vertical hood piercing as well. My piercer was excellent, probably the best in the area for this piercing (shoutout to Penelope at Haven Body Arts). The piercing itself was quick, my healing time amazing (about a week), and definitely not the pearl-clutching shame debacle implied by the gynecologist in the story above. I’ve never had any doctors comment on it, although it caused a bit of a spectacle in the laser hair removal office when they had to zap without hitting it.

As I move forward into getting more body mods – because I am, and quite soon – I think it’s a good reminder for me that I am the sole owner of my body. I can modify it however I want, including inking it up and poking holes through it. If these actions make me feel good, either mentally, sexually, or both, then that’s enough of a reason to continue.

What about you, readers? Do you have body mods? How have they been received? Do you want more body mods, but public perception is affecting your decision? I want to hear from you!

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2 thoughts on “Body Modification and Feminism: My Body, My Mods


  1. I have several tattoos and piercings, plus a scarification piece on my chest that isn’t easy to cover up. I’m not sure I’ll find a law office as liberal as the last one I worked at so we’ll see how my future goes in regards to my paralegal career.

    Otherwise, I don’t get too many comments but lots of stares and funny looks. People will question the dragonfly scar on my chest (usually did it hurt? Yes, yes it did) Not all of my family is really thrilled with my tattoos, but no one says anything because it is my body, my choice. And my boyfriend agrees.

    As for anything affecting my choice of mods, not really. All of my tattoos can be hidden, piercings can always, regretfully, be removed if needed, and that’s that. I don’t care enough what other people think to let them influence my decisions about my body.I love my mods!


  2. I know I saw a directory of “kink-friendly” Medical professionals at some point. Can’t remember where, right now, but they’d likely never give a piercing a second glance. In his defense, though, as someone who **ahem** works on the mistakes, he may have a skewed view of how dangerous it is.

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