The Ambiguity of Art
There is not a particular line between body modification and mutilation; between the two lies a vast area of ambiguity. Those undergoing body modification to symbolize a cultural tradition and/or to feel positive about themselves are more widely accepted by society than those who mutilate themselves under a negative mindset or with no end benefit. Unlike mathematics, there is no definite answer to what body play is to body mutilation. Moreover, individuals have contributed a plethora of ideas to which is which. One strong viewpoint asks what the drive behind the body modification is. In either case, the way a society reacts to the modification plays a key role in whether the action may be considered abnormal or distraught.
For example, it was radical for flappers to chop their hair and wear short dresses in the twenties. Society was unsure of how to react to a drastic visual representation of this new viewpoint on life. Over time, however, the rather traditional viewpoint of how females should and should not dress softened. As a result, females can wear short skirts and bobbed haircuts across various situations in American culture today. In this case, the flappers’ actions were considered surprising but not particularly abnormal, as over a handful of years, the clothing and hairstyles became a cultural norm.
Mutilation, however, does not seem to follow a similar timeline. Over and over again, mutilation is persistently looked down on by society. The reason? Psychologists, psychiatrists, and outsiders alike have yet to discover a true benefit of self mutilation. On the other hand, what is considered as body art and modification is more widely accepted by those not participating in such actions. In “My 60 Years of Body Play,” Fakir Musafar described his suspension experiences as liberating out of body experience. Those who practice meditation, a widely accepted practice in many societies, may say the same. Musafar’s reason for his body modification is to achieve this relaxed, out of body state, a goal others attempt to achieve with accepted practices like meditation. As mentioned, the difference between a beneficial and deviant body modification depends on the underlying meaning.
Like flappers, those practicing body modification and self mutilation may use it as an outlet or symbolize a drive to make a statement.That statement, however, varies across cultures and moral standing (i.e. cultural body play versus self mutilation.) Further, two factors between the a remain the same: both may be practiced for instant recognition.For example, Aztec and Mayan females would wear a certain sized labret. This was for immediate identification of which stage of her life she was experiencing (e.g. entering adult life, getting married). In a more modern context, military personnel inked themselves with tattoos to be recognized as who they were in combat. Individuals considered to self mutilate may want to be recognized, as well. For example, those who cut or burn themselves with negative implications in visible places may do so to be recognized by others; it may be a quiet call for help in that he/she may not be able to speak the issue himself/herself. Further, the individual may be struggling to identify who they are in particular. In both cases of body modification and body mutilation, one who participates is one who must make choices: what is the underlying context for the action, what does it make one feel, and what is the benefit?