Cover That up! The Stigma around Body Modifications and their Potential as a Form of Resistance

Sage Reynolds

We all have marks on our bodies that distinguish us from others: birthmarks, freckles, stretch marks, wrinkles, veins, moles, scars, and much more. Some people show these unique marks while others do their best to hide them. Some people define their bodies through their marks while others don’t even recognize the freckles on their backs or birthmarks on their butts. The idea that we can add body marks through body modification — “altering the body via adornments” — can frighten, disgust, intrigue, or gratify, depending on the person (Hill et al). The body as a canvas is an idea that some people live by, and in those cases the body modification choice options are endless. This article, however, will focus on tattoos.

How can having body modifications such as tattoos, be a form of body activism and resistance? No matter the stigma, tattoos will always be man-made ink added to one’s skin; this can be seen as unnatural and therefore resistant to body norms. Mindy Fenske, in “Movement and Resistance: (Tattooed) Bodies and Performance,” adds that: “when the parts of the body unite in their active potential for movement… The movement is not designed to intentionally resist discourse; rather it illustrates the inherent incapacity of discourse to control the performance of the body’s materiality as well as the potential for the body to act out through discursive control.” The actual tattoo(s) are not a form of resistance but rather recognizing the body’s modifiability and taking control of the materiality of the body is perhaps an act of resistance and deviance from social norms. Judith Butler, in “From Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity,” continues this discussion of performance when comparing performativity and performance. Performativity is the rule or how it should be while performance has the potential to be resistant. Taking control of the performance of the body makes space for resistance rather than sticking with the performativity, or the prefigured roles and rules of the body (442).

Resistance varies from person to person. Micheal Atkinson discusses this variety of resistance in terms of gender. In his article/study “Pretty in Ink: Conformity, Resistance, and Negotiation in Women’s Tattooing,” he argues that “women’s tattoos are layered with culturally established, resistant, and negotiated images of femininity” (Atkinson 232). Within a heteronormative, cis-gendered society, women may feel pressure to modify their bodies for the pleasure of the man (hairless, small waist, big boobs, unblemished, etc.). For instance, According to Betty Friedan, in the mid-1900s, women would refuse cancer treatment because it was said to be unfeminine and also “eat a chalk called Metrecal instead of food” to shrink their waist” (Friedan 173). So, for some women, according to Atkinson, making individual decisions to body-modify through tattooing can be a mechanism of resistance to feminine norms. Merely challenging the association between masculinity and tattooing may be a form of resistance and activism within itself.

This idea of control may be the very essence of how tattoos can be a form of resistance. Fenske and Atkinson could be in conversation about mechanisms of resistance. First, Fenske encourages people to recognize the body’s modifiability and therefore take control of its materiality. Taking control of your own body, using personal autonomy, and therefore self-governing your body is a form of resistance against the social norms within a heteronormative, cis-gendered society that Atkinson speaks to. We are all born with natural birthmarks, but the stigma still surrounds how humans decide to mark their skin. When something is stigmatized, room for resistance opens up — resistance against social and gendered norms, against workplace discrimination, and stereotypes around people with body art.

Periphery

Periphery (Cover)

Created by Justina Zuckerman (Editor), Judy Fisher (Journalist), Montana Bass (Journalist), and Ryan Garcia (Graphic Designer) in Block 6 2017

“We recognize that this work is far from easy, but disrupting the status quo is never simple, and as Sara Ahmed writes, ‘Where there is hope there is difficulty.’ Feminism is the work that we do against oppression to attempt to foster hope, collectivity, and understanding. Femininst theory is how we live our lives. We combine these two ideologies and create a form of rebellion. One that is quintessentially tied to sharing the experiences of those historically denied a voice by giving their work a place to be seen and shared. We will not attempt to appropriate their words to be more palatable by translating them into normative prose, but simply give the avenue and the means for these works to be regarded as legimate and true. As bell hooks writes, ‘I found a place of sanctuary in theorizing,’ and to create a place of sanctuary for expression and thought is absolutely Periphery’s objective.”
—Justina Zuckerman, Editor

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Periphery (ToC)

Out of Line

Out of Line (Cover)

Created by Mari Young (Editor), Griffin Shaffer (Journalist), Stefani Messick (Journalist), and Lauren Larrabee (Graphic Designer) in Block 6 2017

“We at Out of Line recognize that existing in liminal and/or undefined spaces is an act that requires immense courage. We understand that it is easy to fall trap to normative guidelines and that we ‘line ourselves up to avoid the consequences of being out of line because we have been there and we can’t face it anymore’ (Ahmed 55). Liberation is nonlinear, and there are bumps in the road—of that we are certain. So we encourage you to be resilient, no matter what stage in the process of living outside the lines you find yoruself. You are not alone. You are not wrong. You never have been.”
—Mari Young, Editor

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PEELS

PEELS (Cover)

Created by Emily Gaston (Editor), Olivia Blackmon (Journalist), Kelsey Maxwell (Journalist), and Will Cannistraro (Graphic Designer) during Block 6 2017

“We hope to share critical information and insight about the operations of the prison system within the United States and consider various connections and contradictions between the numerous marginalized communities it targets. Ultimately, the goal is to contemplate identity and difference, to recognize the impact that such realities have on persons within and outside of the prison industrial complex (PIC), and to educate about—and advocate for—those impacted by the prison system. In the words of Audre Lorde, ‘In a society where the good is defined in terms of profit rather than in terms of human need, there must always be some group of people who, through systematized oppression, can be made to feel surplus, to occupy the place of the dehumanized inferior’ (289). The PIC is deeply representative of this dynamic of inequality.”
—Emily Gaston, Editor

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Binary Schminary

Gender BinaryBy Taylor Knight (‘18)

Softly glowing, my laptop throws a timid presence of light over the room. On the login screen, the name “Taylor” blinks back at me below a small picture of me until tears streak down my cheeks. At first, I can’t find the words to capture the ethereal feeling of pure bliss in my chest. For the first time, I am given the chance to remove the lens of cisnormativity, and I am suddenly aware that this gender-neutral name fits me better than my birth name ever did. Since then, I have openly identified as non-binary and plan on changing my legal name later in the spring.

Gender is simply performative. We pretend that our performative identities are natural instead of fabricated, and we imitate internalized “regulatory fictions” (Butler, Gender Trouble 180) just to repeat a story that society has repeated from generation to generation. In this way, Judith Butler argues that gender liberation requires an abandonment of “gender coherence” (119). It is nearly impossible to be objective under the glaring lens of a cultural narrative for gender; every member of every society is harnessed to systematic constraints and conditioned through disciplinary methods to internalize the narrative of their own culture.

Queer theory’s concept of gender fluidity allows for us to approach gender in more complex ways—as a gray area instead of black and white, which would allow for stratified limitations to be broken. Non-binary identities exist within the transgender community for people who don’t fit into the gender binary, including terms like agender, gender-fluid, demiboy, and more.​

Despite the unfamiliarity of the term, non-binary communities have existed as long as gender structures—they simply lacked a platform to improve awareness or the terms necessary to figure out why the gender binary felt so rigid to them. Thankfully, the rise of social media has made it increasingly possible for non-binary people to find one another. Just like any other community, there are certainly complex discussions within it. One such issue is the notion of “passing” as non-binary, similar to a struggle of transgender people who identify as either male or female, whether or not people could assume, based on appearance, that they are transgender. Androgyny is the typical expected ideal in non-binary appearance, but it tends to be geared towards masculine expression. When the default is considered masculine, femininity is Othered and becomes a symbol of excess indulgence—the anticipation of masculinity marginalizes the femme non-binary community and casts further shame on femininity. Moreover, the pressure of femininity should not be thrown upon non-binary people who were designated female at birth and neither should masculinity for those who were designated male at birth. “Passing” should be a moot point in the non-binary community, as it only divides and alienates us.

I can still taste the salt from the tears of joy in January; what I felt then is still present and far from fleeting. Every time I hear my name, my eyes light up. We have a tendency of shoving everything into the cultural categories that our superegos are socialized to accept but then we refuse to admit that gender structures are relative and performative—but once we do, it suddenly becomes apparent that no oppressive system is fundamentally indispensable or essential to our nature. We must demand fiercer critical analysis of the social constructions from ourselves and embrace the rejection of compulsory cisnormativity.