While writing last week’s post, I stumbled into an area of body modification that I had admittedly not given much thought to. Sure, we often have people ask us if we can cover a childhood scar, or replace their medical I.D. bracelets with a tattoo, but it wasn’t until I began researching Julia Gnuse, one of the most tattooed people in the world, that I realised what a huge market “medical” and cosmetic tattooing is.
Most of us know cosmetic tattooing to mean exactly that: having permanent eyeliner, lipstick, etc., tattooed on. This type of tattoo first became popular in the 1930s, though it was often done secretly and, therefore, rarely advertised openly or discussed. Today, it is a fairly common procedure, particularly for busy, active women that want to look good without investing much time or effort into it each day. Perhaps surprisingly, this form of cosmetic tattooing is rarely done by professional artists; rather, it is most often offered by cosmeticians that have been specially trained to apply permanent make-up when asked.
“Medical” tattooing is similar to cosmetic, but includes medical I.D. tattoos and those that cover large scars, severe skin conditions, or improve one’s appearance after a medical procedure. These tattoos vary greatly – many women that have undergone complete mastectomies (that is, surgical removal of the breasts due to cancer) have opted for full chest tattoos to cover the scarring, and to turn a difficult procedure into a piece of art. Others go for a more subtle approach, having flesh coloured ink applied to their scars, or to even out their pigment, resulting in a much more natural look. Still others have chosen to replace their medical I.D. bracelets with tattoos that identify severe allergies, serious medical conditions, or instructions in case of emergencies. These types of tattoos are done by both professional artists and cosmetic artists.
There is perhaps no greater example of the evolution of body modification than this. Long viewed as a weird art-form enjoyed by weird people for weird reasons, it is refreshing to see the rest of the world opening up to what many of us already knew – that body modification is much more than just an act of defiance, or declaration of freakdom – it is a statement of ownership of one’s body, and an art that can enhance beauty, improve self-esteem, and create a stunning piece of art out of an otherwise negative condition. Body modification is exactly that: modifying your body, your way, so that you are happy and healthy in your own skin. I can think of few acts more powerful, or more profound, than that.