It is very easy, as individuals in today’s day and age, to be quick to judge others based on what alterations and modifications they choose to make to their body. Many stigmas come with these modifications, making it easy to see how some may view individuals who practice “body play” to have some sort of mental illness or defect. It is important, as members of a growing society, to understand that our opinions are structured mostly by what we have deemed as “normal” or “acceptable” as a whole, and not on what may be considered these terms by each and every individual.
Favazza discusses the complex and confusing concept of what he calls “self mutilation.” This phrase, in and of itself, naturally has a negative connotation to it. When hearing the word “mutilation,” I picture violent and unnecessary degradation of the human form. This, unfortunately, is not the way this phrase should be perceived. Many forms of body modification are viewed as self-mutilation, from small piercings to cutting; dependent on the person you speak with. Although cutting is a form of self mutilation, or body play, that is often frowned upon in modern society, it is important to remember the possibility of relief or peace it brings to the individual who practice it. This, out of all of the forms of body modification we have reviewed so far, is what truly sticks out to me as being commonly associated with mental illness due to its nature. Although this is typically the case, it is important to remember and note the individuals who use cutting to restore something within themselves that they may have lost due to physical and emotional stress or abuse. If they do not view this as “mutilation” and “harm” to their bodies, why should we?
When watching Modify, it was initially very difficult for me to understand the complex art of suspension. I am easily squeamish and struggled to watch the individuals add and remove hooks to and from different parts of their bodies. I was perplexed and confused as to why this specific act would be considered a normal and safe form of body modification. This was the case, at least until I heard the testimonials of the individuals who continually practiced suspension. One woman truly stuck out to me when she said that practicing this form made her feel like she was finally herself. This was the one thing she could do and feel absolutely, 100% at peace with who she was. That kind of statement immediately removed any negative feeling I had towards suspension after my initial impression. In my opinion, anything that makes an individual feel better about themselves or safer in their environment cannot be harmful to them. Some forms of modification cross the line over to actual mutilation when the feeling is no longer special and right, but instead painful and unsafe.
In the end, yes, I do believe it is possible to link those who practice body modification with mental illness. But no, I do not believe this applies to all individuals who partake in their own modification practices. Every individual is different. To judge if mental illness is a factor, one must take into consideration if the individual’s goal is to harm or to help himself or herself. If we aren’t going to take the time to learn the reasons behind why people choose to alter their bodies, we have no right to judge either.