Tattoos are amazing. So are piercings. Hell, body modification in general is the most interesting thing that humans do to beautify themselves. Ironically enough, modifying is the only thing humans can do to beautify their outward appearance. I was on the train not too long ago and a man stepped on with tattoos covering his entire face. Not only did people stare, they did so with no concern for his feelings and I felt offended by their blatant lack of respect. So, it's about time I put up a post regarding the issue of body modification.
Naturally I think I should start with something that most people consider extreme (or weird or crazy or what-have-you). This brought me immediately to someone from my own neck of the woods. Catman, as he is now legally called, lives on Whidbey Island (that's in Washington State) and is one of the more extreme examples of how humans can, and do, change their appearance.
First, before anyone gets all hyped up in judgments and suppositions, a little background on body modification. Humans have been adorning their bodies for basically as long as we have existed. In fact, we are not alone in this respect. Other animals do things to "beautify" themselves, or to appear larger or stronger than they may actually be. Think of any male bird who shows off his plumage to attract a mate. Or a cat that fluffs its hair when it feels threatened. Though humans might be the only animal to use objects not already attached to our bodies, the basic concept is still the same. We love adornment.
Every culture in history has found some way of concerning themselves with adding to what we were given. If we didn't, we would all be running around naked all the time. Tattooing has a known history that dates as far back as fourth or fifth century BC. That same mummy was also found with piercings. Those and other modifications are still practiced to this day, including branding, neck rings, implants, binding and countless more, in places from Thailand to Japan, Africa, the Arctic and to the Amazon. Things we take for granted such as painting our nails or cutting our hair are forms of modifying the body to create a specific, desired look.
Catman is one man who is, in his own words, "...following a very old Huron Tradition [and] I am transforming myself into my totem, a tiger." He has filed his teeth to a permanent point, tattooed most of his body, wears cat-contacts, has whisker implants, and has had more surgery than Joan and Melissa Rivers combined (no really). Not only is he partaking in a tradition that relates to him personally, he is also part of the larger tradition of modification.
So why do people such as Catman become the essence of a freak to the masses? Personally, I have only one answer for that, and it's the fact that most people have welcomed a more conservative taste in this modern era. If one can remember that men used to regularly wear makeup and wigs only a few hundred years ago, then we might not be so quick to judge nowadays. It is most unfortunate that the people who are simply living honestly become the butt of jokes, and can only find acceptance in places such as tattoo conventions, where luckily the people honor them for who they are.
As a personal collector of body art, and appreciator of all modification, I applaud the men, women and transgender people who are able to be themselves in a world that does not yet understand. Though such extremes may not be for everyone, we should all be able to accept those who find solace in making themselves beautiful in the way they see fit.
The World of Tattoo by Maarten Hesselt van Dinter
The Customized Body by Ted Polhemus and Housk Randall