Encyclopedia of Body Adornment

Encyclopedia of Body Adornment

Encyclopedia of Body Adornment

Encyclopedia of Body Adornment

Synopsis

All cultures everywhere have attempted to change their bodies in an attempt to meet their cultural standards of beauty, as well as their religious and/or social obligations. In addition, people modify and adorn their bodies as part of the complex process of creating and re-creating personal and social identities. Body painting has probably been practiced since the Paleolithic as archaeological evidence indicates, and the earliest human evidence of tattooing goes back to the Neolithic with mummies found in Europe, Central Asia, the Andes and the Middle East. Adornments such as jewelry have been found in the earliest human graves and bodies unearthed from five thousand years ago show signs of intentional head shaping. It is clear that adorning and modifying the body is a central human practice. Over 200 entries address the major adornments and modifications, their historical and cross-cultural locations, and the major cultural groups and places in which body modification has been central to social and cultural practices. This encyclopedia also includes background information on the some of the central figures involved in creating and popularizing tattooing, piercing, and other body modifications in the modern world. Finally, the book addresses some of the major theoretical issues surrounding the temporary and permanent modification of the body, the laws and customs regarding the marking of the body, and the social movements that have influenced or embraced body modification, and those which have been affected by it.

Excerpt

Humans have been adorning and modifying the human (and animal) body for thousands of years, and most likely, since humans became human. All cultures everywhere have attempted to change their body in an attempt to meet their cultural standards of beauty, as well as their religious and/or social obligations. In addition, people modify and adorn their bodies as part of the complex process of creating and recreating their personal and social identities.

Body adornment refers to the practice of physically enhancing the body by styling and decorating the hair, painting and embellishing the fingernails, wearing makeup, painting the body, wearing jewelry, and the use of clothing. Body adornments are by definition temporary. Body modification, on the other hand, refers to the physical alteration of the body through the use of surgery, tattooing, piercing, scarification, branding, genital mutilation, implants, and other practices. Body modifications can be permanent or temporary, although most are permanent and alter the body forever.

Body painting has probably been practiced since the Paleolithic as archaeological evidence indicates, and the earliest human evidence of tattooing goes back to the Neolithic with mummies found in Europe, Central Asia, the Andes, and the Middle East. Adornments such as jewelry have been found in the earliest human graves and bodies unearthed from five thousand years ago show signs of intentional head shaping. It is clear that adorning and modifying the body is a central human practice.

Today, tattooing, scarification, piercing, body painting, and other forms of permanent and temporary body modification are found in every culture around the world, and are seen by anthropologists as visible markers of age, social status, family position, tribal affiliation, and other social features. Scholars who have studied the ways in which humans mark their bodies note that bodily displays create, communicate, and maintain status and identity. This has been found not only in traditional societies, but in state-level societies as well. Succinctly put, the modification of the body is the simplest means by which human beings are turned into social beings—they move from “raw” to “cooked” as the body goes from naked to marked. According to theorist Michel Thevoz, “there is no body but the painted body,” because the body must always be stamped with the mark of culture and society; without marking, the body cannot move within the channels of social exchange.

But in reality, human bodies are never “blank” or unmarked, even when not explicitly marked through adornment or modification. Bodies can be fat or thin, dark or light, male or female, young or old. In these ways, too, social position is . . .

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