I’ll rip that ring right out of your (insert name of pierced body part)!

As time goes by, the more I realize how much culture really affects one’s view of the world. Especially in the US, the typical sentiment is that if something is foreign to me, well then it must just be weird and useless. Take genital modification for example. Posts containing pictures of various genital mods are made almost every day here on Modblog. Among the many comments that always accompany these posts, one may find a few by readers who are less than impressed. In fact, some people will outright claim that these modded individuals are “sickâ€? or “wrong.â€? But what do they know? For all anyone knows (except the modded themselves, of course), genital modification just might be the key to the most pleasurable sex life one could imagine!

I wanted to make this point before continuing on to the real topic of this post because I feel that my opinions may not sit well with some people. But if you take the time to remove your culture goggles for a moment, and perhaps question the validity of some cultural conventions, you will see that there are very few things in this world that are truly “weird,â€? “sick,â€? or “wrong.â€?

babymod

Now, the minimum age one must be to attain a piercing or tattoo without parental consent around here is 18. Quite arbitrary, I always thought. This is not to say that I believe that we should all allow our children to get modded willy nilly. It is quite obvious to anyone who remembers their childhood that kids and many teens just aren’t mentally equipped to make good choices. But on the other hand, we need to let kids make their own decisions sometimes in order to learn about life first-hand. If we protect kids from everything that may cause them unhappiness (not harm, mind you), they will never be able to handle the unjust real world once they hit that golden age of 18. A heavily modded woman recently told me that the only way she was able to put her parents at ease about her mods was by explaining to them that although things may be harder for her now (in terms of finding employment, and social persecution in general), she has grown stronger because of these obstacles. Yet another advantage to youth modification is that the task of caring for a mod can teach kids a great lesson in responsibility.

So what is the answer? Should we allow those under the age of 18 to acquire mods? Many already do, may it be in a less than reputable tattoo shop or someone’s basement, both of which are invitations for infection. And what about the countless cultures that encourage body modification of their children? Then again, I look at the “Tattoos and Piercingsâ€? section of my local high school’s yearbook and see the same gaudy butterfly designs that I’ve seen on many a tattoo flash sheet. Will these designs be regretted, or remembered for the experiences that surround them? I believe that it depends on the wearer, much in the same way that one’s ability to make a modification decision depends on the wearer. If the meaning is truly there, or the mod really gives the young wearer a feeling of confidence and pride in their body, what’s the problem? After all, weren’t we always told as kids that it’s the inside that counts?

The Life Symmetric

For many people, body modification involves a lot of planning and decision-making. Many aspects of one’s life come into play during this time, such as job-related concerns and general aesthetic preferences. One commonality I have come across time and again when discussing specific modification choices with fellow modders is symmetry. I personally have never been concerned with the symmetry of my mods, but I know many people who have become so anxious over an asymmetrical piercing or tattoo that they are compelled to acquire its counterpart. Upon searching through the BME experience archives, I found a number of other people who seem to have a “thing for symmetry,â€? claim that they “believe in symmetry,â€? or even go so far as to say that they’re “obsessed with symmetry.â€? But why this focus on symmetrical modification?

One clue as to a possible reason behind this fixation is the need for symmetry or order that sometimes accompanies cases of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Persons afflicted with OCD often become extremely anxious if they feel that some particular aspect of life is not symmetrical, and often go to great lengths to achieve this balance. There is even a disorder called asymmetriphobia, which is (yea, you guessed it) the fear of asymmetry. So maybe there exists within some humans an inherent (or perhaps learned) anxiety in the presence of asymmetry.

FACE
Left
Right Face

Another clue comes in the form of scientific research that has led to the common belief that facial and bodily symmetry contribute greatly to one’s perceived attractiveness. Studies show that even babies are inherently attracted to symmetrical features, as they spend significantly longer looking at pictures of symmetrical than of asymmetrical faces. There’s even a website that utilizes a picture of your face to show what you might look like if your right side was perfectly symmetrical with your left side, or vice versa. I tried it (pictures above), but the results were not as ‘attractive’ as I had expected.

There may even be evidence of an evolutionary reason for the perceived attractiveness of bodily symmetry. An article on WebMD points out that “If the potential mate has a great degree of asymmetry, he or she is judged to be less than optimal. In numerous species, asymmetry is linked to greater rates of disease and early death, and lesser success in fertility — all important to their selection as mates.â€? So perhaps the acquisition of symmetrical body modifications is the outward expression of insecurity about one’s natural features, and an attempt to give the illusion of symmetry. After all, no one wants to be alone.

Okay, so now that I know that the symmetry issue is relevant even outside of the body modification sphere, I’m still left puzzled as to why humans are so drawn to it. I have begun to wonder whether it is simply the fact that our bodies (and those of many animal species) are naturally symmetrical in many ways. Our bodies contain mirror images of each arm, leg, ear, cheek, kidney and so on. Maybe we’ve just become so comfortable in our own skin that somewhere along the way we developed an affinity toward symmetry.

I’m sorry that I couldn’t offer an absolute answer to this query, but perhaps those of you modders out there who do indeed have a love for mod symmetry can help fill me in. Until then I feel just fine about the fact that my left profile contains 5 more holes and one more tattoo than my right :)