What is Body Modification?

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  • Written By: Rhonda Rivera
  • Edited By: John Allen
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  • Last Modified Date: 21 December 2019
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Body modification is the altering of the body for non-medical reasons. This includes common alterations like tattoos, piercings, and cosmetic surgery. It also includes genital modifications and the shaping of body parts through force, such as tightlacing, foot binding, and breast ironing. The popularity and legality of a body modification depends on the region, the procedure, and the age of the person being modified. Most alterations of the body hold religious, aesthetic, or artistic significance to the person getting them.

Tattoos are a popular form of body modification around the world. There are both temporary and permanent tattoos, though even permanent tattoos can be removed if necessary. Temporary tattoos are primarily used by children and people that do not want a tattoo for longer than a few days to a couple weeks. Unlike temporary tattoos, permanent tattoos penetrate the skin and cannot be removed without expensive and time consuming laser procedures.

Body piercings are often acquired for artistic, aesthetic, or sexual reasons. Piercings can be placed almost anywhere on the body, including the arms, genitals, and nipples. Some people experience an increase in sensation after receiving a genital or nipple piercing.

There are a lot of different cosmetic surgeries, including breast implants and subdermal implants. These surgeries are usually expensive and purely cosmetic in nature, but the results are sometimes reversible with another surgery. Some cosmetic surgeries are far more invasive than others.


Male circumcision, headsplitting, and female genital cutting fall under genital body modification. Circumcision, the removal of a man’s foreskin, is performed for religious reasons, cleanliness concerns, or both. Headsplitting is the splitting of the head of a penis, and is done for either health or aesthetic reasons. Female genital cutting, also known as female genital mutilation, is the removal of some or all parts of the external genitalia. This last form of body modification is extremely dangerous because it is usually performed by people with no medical experience, painkillers, or sterile tools.

Tightlacing, foot binding, and breast ironing are all types of body modification performed by force over a long period of time. Corsetry, also known as tightlacing, is a method of gaining a smaller waist by wearing a constrictive garment. Foot binding is the act of binding a young girl’s feet to keep them small, which severely deforms them in the process. Breast ironing is the act of pounding and massaging a young girl’s breasts to stop or hinder their development. In some parts of the world, this is believed to reduce the chances of the girl being raped or sexually harassed by local men.


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