I don’t think there are many people out there who can safely say that they have never altered their body in some way. Growing up, we are surrounded by celebrities and now influencers who have enhanced their image through body modification, and we are conditioned to think that we should be like them.
I remember the reason why I begged my parents to let me get my belly button pierced was because Britney Spears had it done. They refused, which I’m glad they did. So I waited until I left home, when I was old enough to make sure it was still definitely what I wanted, not what the media said I should do.
From make-up and hair dye to piercings and tattoos, there are endless options when it comes to customising our bodies. And there are many reasons why people make these modifications:
- to fit in with beauty ideals
- to mark that they belong to a certain group
- to be rebellious
- to show self-expression
…all of which may increase self-esteem. But sometimes these can be taken too far, which can affect wellbeing, and therefore self-esteem, while negative perceptions could reduce self-esteem further.
Make-up and hair dye
In a study carried out by Superdrug it was found that one in three women wear make-up every time they leave the house, and six out of ten won’t go to work without applying cosmetics. Sara Wolverson, of Superdrug, argues that make-up is not about vanity, but giving women the confidence to succeed.
In terms of hair dye, about half of women say they regularly colour their hair, according to a poll conducted by ShopSmart. And a study commissioned by Clairol revealed that women who dye their hair blonde feel more attractive to the opposite sex and are generally more confident.
However, we shouldn’t have to conform to unrealistic beauty ideals the media has created in order to feel better about ourselves. Encouragingly, there are now more and more images of normal, natural women in the media, like the Dove campaigns embracing all body shapes, colours and hair types and this is fostering more body acceptance and positivity.
Piercing and tattooing
Once associated with rebellious sub-cultures these are now becoming more mainstream. According to a survey issued by Laumann & Derick, of 500 people between the ages of 18 and 50, 24% reported having a tattoo and 14% had a body piercing in a location other than the ear lobe.
A study by Carroll & Anderson has suggested that individuals who were moderately to heavily tattooed have an increased sense of self-confidence. Tattoos can commemorate an important experience as well as help people move on from negative experiences.
Sociologist Michael Atkinson has found that trauma victims, those with disabilities or serious illnesses, or marginalized groups, may tattoo themselves as a way of claiming positive ownership of their own bodies. Tattooing can therefore heal, empower and promote body acceptance and self-esteem.
Unfortunately, tattoos and piercings can sometimes be seen by otheres in a negative way, which could affect self-esteem. According to career website, Valut.com, more than half the managers surveyed would be less likely to hire an applicant with obvious tattoos and body piercings, which could make those fitting this description feel like they’re being punished for their form of self-expression.
Look good, feel good?
I agree with this mantra to a certain extent. I know I feel a bit better when I’ve just coloured my hair or got a new piercing. Not only does the small change give you a boost, but the compliments that follow can also raise your self-confidence.
But this mantra can only be sustained for so long. Lasting self-esteem comes from within, in the form of self-acceptance of our bodies, as well as our minds. Confidence in your beliefs and actions will shine through, no matter what you look like.
Can body modification be taken too far?
Some attempts at body modification can have unintended negative consequences that might reduce self-esteem. We all know that too much make-up can cause skin problems, hair can be damaged from over-dyeing, and piercings can cause infections and irritations, yet we continue to apply, dye and pierce.
Many women seek to create a ‘Barbie’ image by dyeing their hair bleach blonde, using tanning beds and wearing heavy make-up. It’s as if they’re wearing a mask to become that idealised image of beauty in order to boost their self-esteem, at the detriment of their health.
That said, celebrities like Lady Gaga take their various alterations to the extreme for the sake of art. It’s also a way of expressing and experimenting with their identity, which empowers others to do the same.
Modification in moderation
- As with everything, I believe any alterations should be in small doses and shouldn’t be too drastic
- If you decide to modify yourself in some way, and for whatever reason, make sure it is your own decision
- You should be 100% certain of the change you want and aware of the potential consequences
- If you aren’t sure about a more permanent modification, there are many ways to ‘try before you buy’, such as semi-permanent hair dyes, stick-on gems and of course transfer and henna tattoos.
At the end of the day, you’re in charge of what you do with your body, and you are beautiful whatever you decide to do.
As Mother Monster would say, ‘There’s nothing wrong with loving who you are’.