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Puncturing the Flesh

In parallel to skin coloration is the practice of piercing, puncturing, or putting objects inside the skin for ritualistic and decorative purposes or to communicate meaning. One of the most graphic and memorable is the Sioux Sun Dance during which young males enter manhood by twirling around a pole on ropes attached to their bodies with sticks pierced through their chests. Less dramatic but even more invasive are the stacked hoop necklaces worn by young Masai women in Kenya, the horrific practice of Japanese foot binding, and the extreme physical acts of the Indian sadhu or European monk scourging himself with whips and branches. It is a short distance from these practices to the extreme body modifiers, reshaping their form to ones they find more pleasing, even if it means having surgery to appear more like a tiger or a Vulcan (whether they live longer or prosper more has yet to be determined).

Self-injury and mutilation is deeply ingrained in culture and cannot be ignored in the continuum of embedding. These have strong historical precedents in Shamanic ritual and are in a way a distant beacon that anyone who desires to modify their body heads to in some sense. Body dismorphism and gender reassignment, female genital mutilation, and eunuchisation exist in many societies. Whether we see these acts as extreme behavior, oppressive cultural ritual, or as just a quirky part of the spectrum of human sexuality and self-image is not the discussion for today.

 
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