The Customized Body, Photos & Interviews by Housk Randall

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The Customized Body, Photos & Interviews by Housk Randall

Postby admin » Thu Dec 13, 2018 8:59 pm

The Customized Body
Photos & Interviews by Housk Randall
Text by Ted Polhemus
© 1996 Ted Polhemus and Housk Randall
Designed by Adrian Gray
Illustrations by Jo Brocklehurst

NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT

YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.


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FOR THE TRADITIONAL PEOPLES OF THE WORLD FROM WHOM WE STILL HAVE SO MUCH TO LEARN

Table of Contents:

• Introduction
• Body Painting & Make-Up
• Tattooing & Scarification
• Jewellery & Piercing
• Hair & Nails
• The Foot & The Shoe
• Masks
• Second Skins
• Body Sculpting
• Gender Transformation
• Bibliography
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Re: The Customized Body, Photos & Interviews by Housk Randal

Postby admin » Thu Dec 13, 2018 9:02 pm

INTRODUCTION

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Back tattoo of Scythian chief, 5th Century B.C., Eastern Altai, Siberia

We are the only creature on this planet which chooses and manipulates its own appearance. This isn't something new. Human beings have been altering their appearance for as long as there have been human beings. Nor is customizing the body freakish or even exceptional. No society has ever been found where appearance is dictated only by genetic inheritance. Everywhere, to be normal, acceptable and attractive is to do certain things to your body -- rubbing bright red mud into the hair, cutting intricate patterns of scars in your skin, wearing a suit and tie, etc. -- which defy and subvert what nature intended.

Or, to put it the other way around, it is human nature -- indeed, at the very heart of human nature -- to customize the body. From the most technically 'primitive' societies to the most (so-called) 'advanced,' from half a million or so years ago to the present day, human appearance has always been a cultural as well as a biological creation. An individual born in another era or in a different society will acquire an entirely different standard of what a 'normal' human being should look like. And there have always been and will always be those -- like so many of the people who kindly agreed to be photographed for this book -- who bravely stretch and push forward the definition of acceptable appearance.

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Padaung woman of Burma with neck stretching produced by the gradual insertion of more brass rings

It has often been argued that it is language or tool use which sets us apart from other animals. But these apparently firm lines of separation have been blurred by recent discoveries -- the chimpanzees' adroit modification of twigs for extracting termites from their mounds, the previously unappreciated sophistication of other primates' non-verbal communication. What is beyond dispute is the uniqueness of humankind's determination to escape its physical inheritance. The chameleon may change its coloration but unlike us it has no control over this transformation -- it doesn't get up in the morning and ask itself "What colour shall I be today?'

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A Surma woman of Ethiopia with lower lip piercing which has been stretched to accommodate large wooden plate

This fact of human nature has often been seen as trivial and insignificant -- prompting only a 'So what?' shrug of the shoulders. Yet the persistence and universality of the customized body -- not to mention the sheer expenditure of effort and the acceptance of pain and discomfort for the sake of appearance -- surely points towards some reasons for such behaviour which cannot be so easily dismissed.

Why do human beings persistently alter their natural appearance? From the perspective of the (so-called) 'Developed World' the most likely and obvious reason is that such alteration of the body provides an invaluable means of self-expression. We want to stand out from the crowd -- to be different and unique -- and hair-styling, make-up, jewellery and other adornments, our choice of clothing, etc. offer a straight-forward means of accomplishing this. Furthermore, our particular choice of appearance style serves to tell others about our personal values, beliefs and approach to life. That is, our 'presentation of self' (to use the sociologist Erving Goffman's phrase) exploits a complex communication code which, arguably, says more about us than words ever can -- or, at least, unlike words, offers the means to broadcast 'where we're coming from' to people we've not even yet met. In this way our chosen appearance style functions as an advertisement for ourselves -- the first cr4ucial step in our interactions with others.

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Body painted mother and child (with distinctively shaved head) of the Tchikrin tribe, Brazil

But even today, in the modern world, that which appears to be done in the pursuit of individuality may actually serve to accomplish its opposite -- demonstrating our membership in some social group or 'tribe.' For example, within the arena of streetstyle, a keen sense of communality and group membership is often visually focused upon various dress and appearance styles which (while demonstrating a non-conformity in relationship to the mainstream) proclaim a compliance with the shared values and beliefs of a chosen subculture or style tribe. Such customizing of the body is in one sense a uniquely modern phenomenon -- with international groups like Hippies, Punks or Goths only possible within the context of the 'global village.' Yet at the same time, here is a contemporary revival of the most ancient function of body modification -- the visible realization of tribal identity, appearance as a marker of group membership.

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A Dzonokwa dancer wearing a mask with false hair, northwest coast, North America

The tribe is humankind's most important invention. An inter-generational system, it allowed our most distant ancestors to pass on and build upon the discoveries made within one lifetime. The tribe also imposes rules and regulations which make communal life efficient, productive and powerful. But 'our tribe' is only a vague mental construct until it is literally embodied in the form of our tribe's distinctive appearance style. If tribe A decrees that the body should be painted with red stripes while the neighbouring tribe B decrees that the body should be painted with blue dots then immediately a clear line has been drawn between 'us' and 'them.' In this way the customized body -- far from being frivolous -- played and continues to play a crucial role in human development.

But this isn't all. Because colour, pattern, adornments and so on all tap into and express deeper meanings -- that is, because red/blue, stripes/dots, etc. are a kind of language -- a tribe can use the customized body as a means of expressing complex values, beliefs and ideals. In this the customized body is the medium within which tribal customs are most succinctly and powerfully expressed. This is as true of our contemporary styletribes as it is of the ancient tribes of the Third World. For example, the different appearance styles of Hippies and Punks in the late 1970s or Travellers and Technos today each serve to express and realize the respective values, beliefs and ideals of each of these different subcultures. A Punk dressed as a Hippy, or vice versa, would be 'saying' all the wrong things -- his or her look in complete contradiction to his or her subculture's worldview.

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A Punan girl of Borneo with ear piercings stretched by the wearing of heavy brass rings

Where our contemporary world differs from that of the traditional tribes and peasant communities of the Third World is in the fact that we have choice -- in selecting which look (and therefore which tribe) we want to opt for. As well as choice and complexity our world is also characterised by rapid change and this too has a profound effect upon the customized body. New fashions come and go with each season and particular styletribes gain or lose popularity. The result is a perpetual motion machine of different, constantly changing ways of altering the appearance of the human form. All of which is in marked contrast with the situation in any traditional society where an appearance style may remain constant and unchanging through dozens of generations.

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Rajasthani girl, India, with nose piercing and three tattoo dots on chin (a protection against evil)

Yet it is also true that a growing number of people in contemporary society are shifting away from fashion's capricious imperative of constant change -- choosing instead to stick to a chosen appearance style year in and year out. In its most typical, mainstream form this is seen in a new appreciation of 'timeless classics' -- an Armani suit, a 'Perfecto' style black leather jacket, a pair of Levi 501s which look right whatever year it is and whatever Vogue may say is 'in' or 'out.' More radically, permanent alterations of the body first seen amongst traditional peoples -- tattooing or piercing, for example -- are employed to render the customized body a truly timeless creation. Responding to a world where everything is in flux the permanently customized body offers stability, continuity and (when desired) an enduring demonstration of tribal commitment.

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Finger jewellery of a Ramakien dancer, Thailand

Complexity, confusion, diversity, fragmentation and alienation increasingly characterise our post-modern world. When 'there is no such thing as society' (Margaret Thatcher) neither is there such a thing as one appearance style which defines normality and which is accepted as beautiful or desirable by one and all. Radically different, often extreme, apparently bizarre versions of the body compete for our attention. Reflecting on a half million years of our ancestors' experience in customizing the human form, fine-tuning our extraordinary abilities in using the body as a medium of expression, these experiments in the possibilities of appearance propose alternative visions of life in the next millennium.

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Mangbetu mother and baby with cranial shaping to point, Central Africa

Having left behind the dictatorship of fashion, able to choose between dozens of different styletribes -- or, increasingly, to simply go it alone as unique, extraordinary individuals -- we stand at an unprecedented point in human history. Never before have we had such choice and possibility in how to look/be. Never before has the customized body been so unfettered in its potential metamorphosis. This book attempts to trace the history of how we got to this point and to offer an index of possibilities for the future. For however extensive, various and innovative today's techniques and styles, the history of the customized body is far from complete. All that we can be certain of for the future is that -- as in the past -- human beings will go on finding ever more ingenious ways of transforming their flesh into art.
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Re: The Customized Body, Photos & Interviews by Housk Randal

Postby admin » Thu Dec 13, 2018 9:04 pm

BODY PAINTING & MAKE-UP

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Charlie: I'm a dancer, an ex circus performer, and dare I say ... one hell of an exhibitionist

Imagine the confusion of a group of Martians on a visit to earth. Touching down in the Mt. Hagen area of New Guinea they see a long line of women all with identical red, blue and white faces. Stopping off in the Amazon, they observe members of the Tchikrin tribe with red limbs and black torsos. In the Sudan, amongst the Nuba peoples they see men with bodies which are white on one side, black on the other and women with either red or yellow bodies. Setting down in New York's East Village they encounter a group of vibrantly multicoloured Punks and in London, a gathering of deathly white, vampiric Goths with huge, black, skull-like eyes and jet black lips.

So what colour are human beings?

Innately very dull creatures, human beings have always striven to and often succeeded at making themselves one of the most colourful and decorated of all species. In tribal and peasant societies this is particularly true of the males. Young Nuba men, for example, traditionally spent many hours a day -- every day -- applying their make-up in innovative, unique designs from head to toe -- while Nuba women simply slapped on the appropriate colour of their kinship group leaving them more time for their daily chores. This specific pattern is repeated throughout most traditional societies: as in the animal world, it is more often than not the males who are the exalted, elaborately decorated peacocks.

Body painting (the world's first art form?) turns human skin into a three-dimensional canvas. The transitory nature of such decorations allowed our ancestors to become the first animal which could, unlike the leopard, change its spots. Aside from the aesthetic potential of such decorations, they also soon acquired a communicative function -- their depiction of animals or seemingly abstract patterns, the choice of particular colours and so forth a sort of 'storyboard' of ancient myths and a schematic representation of tribal values, beliefs and organisation. By means of body painting (and, in time, the other body arts) humankind was set apart from the rest of the animal world, neighbouring tribes became visually distinct and individual personal differences within each tribe were 'colour coded' for instant identification.

While the permanent body arts like tattooing, scarification and piercing have a special role to play in marking life's irreversible changes (like the moment a young man or woman becomes a fully fledged member of society) here-today-and-gone-tomorrow body painting also has its unique role to play. For example, the action of applying elaborate, time-consuming designs can serve to underline the significant of special ritual events or festivals -- driving home the point that such occasions are set apart from the everyday and the mundane.

Also, the transitory nature of body painting makes it ideally suited to mark out the stages of personal development. Thus, amongst the already mentioned Nuba of the Sudan, particular age grades (groupings of those of a similar age) of males are immediately identifiable by the colours with which they paint their bodies (only the members of the older age grades, for example, being allowed the use of deep yellow or jet black). Finally, because such colours and patterns can be easily removed, they can be employed as 'warpaint' -- deliberately transforming the warrior temporarily into a terrifying and horrible being in order to strike fear in the heart of an enemy.

Clothing -- whether for protection from the elements or for modesty -- is the natural enemy of body painting for obvious reasons. At the same time, however, clothing tends to focus attention on whatever parts of the body remain uncovered and these -- typically the face, hands and feet -- are often decorated with special care.

This is certainly the case in our own society where eye make-up, powder and lipstick celebrate the feminine face while bright nail varnish may draw attention to the hands and feet. But only for women. While we share with many clothing-wearing societies in rendering huge parts of the body invisible, only our own society has so fully reversed the peacock principle to the extent that we define make-up as an exclusively feminine body decoration. (Interestingly, perhaps because of the pain involved, the permanent painting of the body -- that is, tattooing -- has tended to escape this woman only ban; in fact reversing the proportion of male and female involvement.)

The assumption that only women can paint themselves wasn't, of course, always held in the West. Right up to the time of the French Revolution, the upperclass men of Europe, Britain and America delighted in painting and preening. It has been argued by J.C. Flugellin The Psychology of Clothes that the subsequent 'Great Masculine Renunciation' of make-up and other adornments occurred as a response to the French Revolution -- a means by which the sober, respectable middle-class could distance itself from the frivolity and excess of the now suspect aristocracy. Whatever the reason, this extraordinary shift away from what must be considered a natural, universal human drive to decorate the body, has left the Western male in a uniquely dull, aesthetically frustrated, almost invisible position. And one which, as Western habits become the norm throughout the world, threatens the male peacock with extinction.

Even women's make-up in the West has rarely achieved the level of creativity so often found amongst tribal peoples (or, for that matter, of the ancient Egyptians many thousands of years ago). This is because make-up in the West -- at least that of mainstream fashion -- has typically served a cosmetic rather than an artistic purpose. That is, as with our cosmetic surgery, (see Chapter 8) the ideal sought is often one of invisible enhancement; an improvement of a person's actual face so that it more perfectly emulates a current fashionable ideal of physical beauty.

Thus lips and cheeks may be given a rosier glow, small eyes made to appear larger, a large nose made to appear smaller, the overall contours of the face invisibly sculpted and skin blemishes concealed. While it is true that the make-up and body paint of tribal peoples (with the exception of 'warpaint') are seen as aesthetically enhancing, the objective of invisibility is rarely if ever sought. Perhaps, the tribal person, by lifestyle inherently close to the environment, finds pleasure in a distancing from nature by means of deliberate artifice while we, living estranged from nature, seek the opposite effect.

But there are exciting exceptions to this Western preoccupation with make-up as invisible enhancement. Particularly interesting in this regard are several youth-oriented subcultures which have emerged in recent decades. The psychedelic patterns and flowery designs of the Hippies' make-up (and, in some instances, body painting) were clearly intended to be seen as a form of art which used the body as a canvas. Glam Rockers like David Bowie or Marc Bolan (and a great many of their fans) further challenged traditional Western visual style -- in the case of Bowie's famous Aladdin Sane album cover, slashing his face with vibrant red and blue. The same can be said of the adventurous make-up of the Punks which was 'primitive' not only in its graphic aesthetics but also in its intent -- a celebration of body adornment as a creative art and a medium of visual experimentation. If only for a few brief moments in our history, these subcultures revived that ancient tradition of using paint to transform the human body into fantasy.

The Hippies, the Glam Rockers and the Punks were also important in that they strove to overturn 'The Great Masculine Renunciation' of body adornment, deliberately ignoring that peculiar Western assumption tat only women can indulge in flamboyant decoration, male Hippies, Glams and Punks re-discovered their potential as peacocks.

While these particular subcultural experiments in masculine adornment may have come and gone, new possibilities present themselves from what one would have thought was an unexpected quarter -- the football terraces. It is now commonplace to see football fans at particularly important matches with their faces brightly coloured in bold styles which are reminiscent of tribal male body artists like the Nuba of the Sudan. Significantly, these modern tribalists, aside from re-asserting their right to decoration, have also re-discovered body painting''s ancient function as a marker of special occasions and a badge of group identity.

Cherie: My boyfriend and I had an evening at home alone last night and ... this is what happened. He was supposed to do my hand but he decided to practise on himself first so I got tired of waiting and did my own. What's that saying? Oh yes, you know the one about idle hands and the Devil. This stuff takes weeks to wash off.


Andrea: I can really transform myself. I'm small and you probably wouldn't notice me in a crowd if I was just in my everyday clothes but give me make-up and a reason to dress up and I become a different person ... quite outrageous really.
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Re: The Customized Body, Photos & Interviews by Housk Randal

Postby admin » Thu Dec 13, 2018 9:10 pm

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Housk: It was wonderfully meditative while I was being painted. No conversation, I just had to keep still.

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Isa: My God, this is taking forever! Please excuse me, I have so little patience ... is it finished? Le me see. Oh, but this is really me! There is a serpent inside that can show itself when it needs to, this is very good!

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Pandora: I was a quiet child with little self-confidence; as an adult I grew not into a butterfly but a beautiful bat.

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Joe: As strange as this sounds I'm ashamed to be human sometimes and my look is a form of disassociation. I'd rather be a vampire creature than a person. I look like this all the time to remind myself not to slip into the uncaring, abusive ways of most people.

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Richard: This is my homage to the tough girls and SM dykes I love so much. It's great fun, though I don't know how long I'll do it for. When I went down to the clubs all the girls fell about, they almost didn't recognize me.

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Sam: Whew! I feel like I'm in drag. I don't normally wear glam make-up but this was fun ... weird, but fun. I don't recognize myself, who is that person?

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Rafit: I'm Israeli and the way I look in London would not be easily accepted back home. I like combining traditional with the modern to create my style.

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Sarah: I was at a club a while ago and I had been painted earlier, I was only wearing a jacket. Things got hot, as they do, and I removed the jacket. No-one realized I was nude ... at first. Then, as the men became very chatty, I noticed that all the women were blanking me -- interesting experience. I never felt vulnerable because the designs painted on me kept me from feeling truly nude. I did feel very powerful and attractive.

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Simon: What I like most of all about body painting is ... other people's bodies! Skin is wonderful and it might as well be different colours if it can be. Give me flesh ... it's so much fun.
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Re: The Customized Body, Photos & Interviews by Housk Randal

Postby admin » Thu Dec 13, 2018 9:10 pm

TATTOOING & SCARIFICATION

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Franko B: The scar in the centre of my chest was deliberately created during a stage performance; my fantasy is to extend it from my neck to my navel.

A permanent body art, a tattoo is created whenever pigment is injected into (rather than on top of) the skin. No doubt the first such markings were made accidentally when, for example, soot got rubbed into a cut. Our early ancestors could have then deliberately reproduced the effect using a sharp splinter of antler or bone dipped in a vegetable or fruit dye. Accuracy and efficiency could be enhanced by attaching such a needle (or cluster of needles) to a pole which could be pushed or tapped with another stick into flesh. Alternatively, as amongst the Eskimos, a sooty thread could be 'sewn' through the skin using a needle.

The only significant modification of these ancient techniques came in 1891 when 'Professor' Samuel O'Reilly patented the 'tattaugraph': the precursor of today's electric tattooing machines which insert needle and ink into skin at between 500 and 600 strokes per minute. (Prisoners have been known to make crude but effective copies of this device using a BIC pen, a piece of wire and a motor from a portable cassette player.) It was, however, the more ancient 'tat-tat' of two sticks which apparently inspired the Polynesian word ta (meaning, to strike or hit) which (via Captain Cook) eventually became tattoo in English (tatouage in French, tatowirung in German and tatuaggio in Italian).

Because it is usually only the bones and not the skin of our more distant ancestors which have survived, the full antiquity of tattooing is impossible to ascertain. The oldest surviving complete human body is that of the 'Iceman' discovered only a few years ago frozen in a glacier in the Alps. Some 5000 years old, this Neolithic hunter's body has 15 tattoos including rows of short lines to the right and left of the spine, parallel stripes around the left wrist and a large cruciform mark on the inside of the right knee. Two female Egyptian mummies from the XI Dynasty (2160-1994 BC) -- Amunet, a priestess of the goddess Hathor and an anonymous dancer -- have abstract patterns of dots and dashes tattooed on their bodies (the former with an elliptical pattern running across her abdomen beneath the navel). The 2500-year-old body of a Scythian chief found in Pazyryk, Siberia in 1948 (preserved by the constant cold of his burial place) has extraordinary animal tattoos on his arms, chest, back and lower legs. The breathtaking, colourful graphic clarity of this chief's designs -- and in particular the skill with which their placement fits with the natural contours of the body -- would be the envy of any tattoo enthusiast today.

Such accidental or deliberate mummification cannot, however, tell the whole story. Any human activity which is as geographically widespread as tattooing -- virtually covering the globe and appearing in places unlikely to have been historically linked -- must be very old indeed.

To appreciate the true antiquity of this body art it is necessary to appreciate its logic. Our ancestors were traditional peoples -- wary of change, determined to preserve the status quo -- and the permanent alteration of appearance made possible by the discovery of tattooing was (and is) perfectly suited to such a lifestyle. For example, the permanence of a tattoo could reflect the permanence of a rite of passage which marked (literally) a young man or woman's coming of age and lifelong membership in a tribe. While our modern world may celebrate change and impermanence with the ephemeral, here-today-gone-tomorrow cycles of fashion, traditional societies are naturally drawn to those body arts like tattooing which resist the transitory and underline enduring stability.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that so many traditional societies perfected tattooing into an elaborate, often exquisite, art form. Perhaps most famous of these aesthetic traditions is the delicate, facial swirls of the New Zealand Maori whose designs were actually chiselled into the face. But just as extraordinary are the distinctive tattooing styles found throughout the Pacific (in particular, Samoa, the Philippines, the Marquesas, Hawaii, Borneo and Melanesia) and the body adornment of the Arapaho, Mohave, Cree and Eskimo peoples of North America. Ceramic figurines from Neolithic Japan have mouth tattoos similar to those worn by Ainu women until recent times and the detailed, whole body style of Japanese tattooing which flourished in the Edo Period (1600-1868) and which survives to this day is considered by many to be the epitome of the tattooist's art. In Central America the Incas, Mayas and Aztecs all developed sophisticated tattooing styles while the same was true in Europe of the Iberians, Gauls, Goths, Teutons, Picts, Scots and the Britons who, like the Picts, derive their name from their stunning body adornment (Pict probably coming from a Celtic word meaning 'etched' and Briton from the Breton word Breizard meaning 'painted in various colours'.)

Indeed, with the exception of the ancient Greeks and romans, most Europeans -- like the 'Iceman' before them -- used tattooing to customize their bodies. This was true of hte early Christians as well and even many of the Crusaders returned home with tattooed tophies of their conquests. This attitude persisted until 325 A.D. when Constantine, declaring Christianity the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire, forbade tattooing of the face because it disfigured 'that fashioned in God's image.' In 787 AD Pope Hadrian banned tattooing anywhere on the body on the same grounds. Then, when the spirit of modernism flowered in the Renaissance -- delebrating change and progress -- it promoted interest in ephemeral fashion and, for the first time in human history, undermined the desirability of permanent body adornments like tattooing.

Nevertheless, those Westerners directly exposed to the tattooing arts of traditional peoples -- for example, sailors -- found the allure of such decorations irresistible. So did many aristocrats including Queen Victoria's grandsons Prince George and Prince Albert and also the future Nicolas II of Russia who all travelled to Japan in order to have themselves tattooed. The ever-growing ranks of the Western middle classes, however, continued to show disdain for tattooing -- vehemently labelling it as 'barbaric' and, worst of all, 'common.'

Ghettoized and stigmatized in this way, tattooing in the West became associated with the disreputable, the criminal and the freakish. Certainly in such conditions the odds were stacked against it developing as an art form. Yet despite this the 1960s saw the beginnings of a 'Tattoo Renaissance' which (reflecting a new awareness of and respect for non-Western cultures in general) has forced a new appreciation in the West of the aesthetic possibilities of this form of body decoration. Pioneering American tattooists like Cliff Raven and Ed Hardy had seen at first hand what could be achieved in Japan, Hawaii, Samoa and other traditional centres of tattooing excellence and they brought back to the West a new, enlightened perspective.

While Western tattooing had degenerated into a kind of haphazard graffiti with hackneyed hearts, sailing ships and bluebirds placed willy-nilly all over the body, the Japanese and other masters of the art showed how the three-dimensional nature of the body could be utilized rather than ignored -- carefully sculpting their designs around the contours of the body. And because many of this new generation of tattooists had trained as artists they were in a position to get away from simply re-using pre-existing 'flash' designs -- working together with their clients to create the unique and innovative. When famous pop stars like Janis Joplin proudly displayed such tattoos even their middle-class and university-educated fans followed in their footsteps. Suddenly it was cool to have a tattoo.

Two other changes in the West -- ironically contradictory -- have underlined this trend. On the one hand the growing conformity of our consumer society has generated a need for individual expression -- a need which can be satisfied by a unique, personal tattoo. On the other hand, our new 'tribalism' (from Hells Angels to Hippies, Punks to Modern Primitives) has brought us full circle back to that world of our most distant ancestors where a tattoo perfectly expresses group commitment and belonging.

However, while the West has been re-discovering the art of the Tattoo, it has been disappearing in those traditional societies where it originally flourished. Generations of Western missionaries have unfortunately done their job only too well -- succeeding in most instances in getting native peoples to 'modestly' cover themselves with clothes and to reject ancient forms of body decoration which 'mutilate' that which was created in God's image. Ironically, therefore, it is increasingly in the West, within the context of the 'Tattoo Renaissance,' that Samoan, Hawaiian, Maori, Filipino, Iban, Dyak and other traditional tattoo styles are being preserved and developed.

The one part of the world where tattooing has never thrived is Africa. This is of course because heavily pigmented skin doesn't show up traditional tattoo dyes effectively. Instead, Africa has seen the development of the art of scarification -- that is, the creation of patterns on the skin by means of cutting. These may be 'hollow' or 'raised'; the latter achieved by means of rubbing an irritant such as ashes, charcoal or indigo into the wound in order to create a more prominent scar (keloid) or, occasionally, by inserting pebbles or other objects within the wound.

Such body decoration may consist of anything from small designs on the face to amazingly complex patterns all over the body. Very often, as with tattooing, such scars are acquired at key, transitional moments of life -- thereby marking out personal development identity. For example, amongst the Nuba of the Sudan a young girl receives her first set of scars (covering the area between navel and breasts) when her breasts first begin to develop. The rest of the torso is covered when she has her first menstruation and the final set (on the back, the back of the legs, arms and neck) is created when her first child is weaned. (The patterns of hundreds of round scars are achieved by using a hooked thorn to raise the skin and a blade to cut off the raised flesh beneath the thorn.)

While few Westerners seem to find such decorations attractive, in the eyes of those Africans (or dark-skinned Australian aborigines) raised in traditional cultures where scarification is the norm they are an essential component of beauty -- an attractiveness and erotic enhancement experienced by means of touch as well as sight. Additionally, as amongst the Baule tribe of the Ivory Coast, such scars may be seen as the very mark of civilization -- that which distinguishes between those who do and do not live their lives with dignity and correctness.

Unfortunately the art of scarification is fast disappearing, with some African countries actually passing laws to ban it. Even where things have not gone this far most young people -- eager to move to the cities and leave tribal ways behind -- have shunned scarification. And while, as we have seen, traditional tattoo styles have been given a new lease of life within the West, there has, at least to date, been no equivalent 'Scarification Renaissance.' A few adventurous 'Modern Primitives' have experimented with scarification, but many of the resulting designs have been 'primitive' in more ways than one. And so, while traditional tattooing seems set to survive and even thrive, traditional scarification looks set to disappear. In the process, the customized body will become a more purely visual phenomenon, its tactile possibilities lost forever.
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Re: The Customized Body, Photos & Interviews by Housk Randal

Postby admin » Thu Dec 13, 2018 9:17 pm

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Anna: I had this Sagittarian symbol cut into my leg as a commemoration of a lover who died ... he was very important to me. It was my way of coming to terms with the grief I felt. It enabled me to always have him with me and to let him go.

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Andy: I tend to jump head first into things and ask questions later ... I can be pretty intense. I was surprised at how calm I was during the cutting, I even watched in a mirror. It didn't hurt nearly as much as I'd imagined although I almost hit the ceiling when the salt and vinegar were rubbed in! It's basically my own design and I'm very pleased with it. I can get incredible reactions when people realize its deliberate ... that really gives me a buzz.

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Blue: My first tattoo was a little dagger and heart on my ankle. I was 18 and feeling dark, gothic and depressed, as you do. I was out of touch with myself and quite insecure but the tattoos have given me strength ... they've been a rite of passage for me. To be a woman and highly tattooed takes considerable courage and for me to be able to deal with people's reactions has required that I discover that in myself. Another important aspect is my need to keep the design un-unified, so to speak. I'm not completely sure why but part of the reason is the very fact of so many people telling me not to go on until I have an overall vision for my body ... I can be really stubborn.

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Cherie: I really like the necklace of Tibetan skulls on my boyfriend's backpiece. When I casually mentioned this his tattooist got all excited and I thought: this could get out of hand ... he likes to do really big work ... So I suggested we limit it. I'm very happy with my ankle band.

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David: If I'd known what I was taking on in the first place I'm not sure I'd have done it. There has been a lot of pain, both physical and psychological, and it's taken over thirty hours. The first few sessions lasted five hours each and then one day I went in and after twenty minutes said stop! ... and walked out. It was months before I could face it again. I always know it's there, even though I don't see it very often, and I'm glad I did it but at one point I thought this was a very bad idea.

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Dave: My scarification was done on stage. I was mummified and upside down. Once the cutting began I lost all sense of time ... it was the most painful thing I've ever done ... but I felt great afterwards, filled with a sense of strength and completion. Although I do these things more often than some, make no mistake, it never stops being frightening. For me, these rituals demonstrate how, as people, we only know differences ... happiness because we've felt sadness, comfort because we've known pain.

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Curly: It took a fair old while to get rolling but when I did ... ! It can be hard to explain why one goes through this sort of behaviour but a part of it is my need to be separate. I know that sounds silly when there are so many other tattooed and pierced people but that's the main truth of it. I began by drawing tattoo designs for other people and then decided to cut out the middle man. Things really got going once I started to tattoo myself. I've done my legs, arm, left hand, ribs, stomach and nipples ... it's not the highest quality but the designs are good enough to carry it.

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Franko B: I was raised at The Red Cross Institute for Battered Children and consider myself one Life's refugees.

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Housk: This tattoo is a visual representation of my life's path. The snake and sun are Aztec designs -- I'm half Mexican -- symbolizing rebirth and wisdom through the undergoing of suffering and near-death experience. It can be read not only as a passage from darkness to light but also as a symbol of sexuality and life ... the sperm into the ovum.

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Mark: People say that certain parts of the body are more painful to get tattooed than others. Well, guess what? ... it all hurts! I like the grinning Tibetan skulls on my back the most. I guess you could say they represent my view on things, sort of smiling in the face of death ... a sense of humour as the saving grace.

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King: I'm not interested in being a 'tattooed lady" but I wanted something special and I trusted the skill of my tattooist, he's a former lover. He did this by hand, not machine, and it evolved over the period of a year. I'd leave town, he'd leave town, and when we were in the same place we'd continue. It's a beautiful soft henna colour and if I get bored I can always grow my hair.

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Michelle: My mother's tattooed and pretty outrageous ... I used to be terribly embarrassed by her when I was young. Obviously, I've changed my mind and I seem to be following a similar path. Off the top of my head I don't think I have any deep inner reasons for my tattoos other than aesthetics but, having just said that, I'm about to contradict myself -- I feel a real kinship with tribal societies and the way they used body arts to help knit them together as a community ... that really appeals to me. I miss that sense of closeness and bonding in our modern Western world.

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relatively petite design he had this huge backpiece ready to go. I was hell-bent on getting something so I had him shrink it down and put it on my neck. A lot of people have said that I'm spoiling myself, "You'd be such a pretty girl ... if you didn't have these!" But chances are if I looked like everyone else they wouldn't have even noticed me.

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Tota: I come from quite an aristocratic family but I'm a rebel and very independent. I earn my own living and do what I want ... sort of. My mother doesn't know I'm tattooed, she'd be too upset if she found out. I also live with a boyfriend who can't stand my tattoos or my piercings. What am I doing?

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Michelle: I look tribal, I feel tribal, I am tribal.
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Re: The Customized Body, Photos & Interviews by Housk Randal

Postby admin » Thu Dec 13, 2018 9:17 pm

JEWELLERY & PIERCING

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Sarah: I feel sexual and powerful with all of my many and varied piercings.

Not The Naked Ape, we are and always have been The Adorned Ape. It is part of human nature to take beautiful objects from our surroundings -- flowers, leaves, feathers, stones, metals -- and attach them to our bodies.

We do this either to make ourselves more attractive or because the ornament itself is seen as magically powerful (a talisman). Just as importantly, such objects can serve to convey information about us -- our wealth (a diamond necklace, the precious shells worn by a native of New Guinea) or our status or role (a wedding ring, the huge feather headdress of a native American chief). Especially where clothing isn't worn (our Western assumptions about modesty being a comparatively recent invention) adornment serves to identify and summarize an individual -- to signal to others where he or she is 'coming from.'

Luckily the human body is an excellent medium for attaching things. The neck, the wrist, the waist, the ankle and the fingers all have a natural predisposition to keep such attachments in place. So useful are these points of attachment and so strong the human drive for adornment that necklaces, bracelets, belts or rings are found in all human societies. Occasionally such adornments cannot be removed, as was the case with the enormous, very heavy bronze anklets which long served as a status symbol in the forested regions of equatorial Africa and which in some societies were traditionally forged around a woman's ankles (a practice outlawed by the Liberian government in the mid-20th century).

Jewellery need not, of course, be made of metal. Long before our ancestors learned to hammer or cast malleable metals like gold or silver into desired shapes they were fashioning pebbles, shells, feathers, flowers and leather thongs into beautiful objects which they attached to their bodies. Typically, such decorations crafted by our most distant ancestors have disappeared without trace but such non-metal decorations are a valued part of life in all tribal and peasant societies and it is inconceivable that the same was not true throughout human history. (The 'Iceman' discovered recently preserved in a glacier in the Alps wore at his waist an ornamental leather tassel and a brilliantly white, polished marble bead with a hole cut through it to facilitate its attachment.)

In their eagerness to adorn their bodies with valued, precious and powerful objects our ancestors devised and perfected yet another technique for altering the appearance of the human body. Piercing -- puncturing small holes in flesh for decorative purposes -- is arguably the most widespread of all the permanent body arts. (Actually, technically, simple piercings are only a semi-permanent body art because they will usually heal over and disappear in time if their jewellery is removed.)

While the earlobe (seemingly existing for no other reason than that of piercing and the wearing of earrings) is no doubt the most popular site, the nose (either nostrils or septum) and the lips are also popular piercing sites throughout the world. And once such artificially made places for attachment were created the full scope of the human imagination was unleashed on finding and fashioning objects with which to adorn them.

Nor is this the end of the story as regards the possibilities of the piercing art. Once a small piercing has been made it can be stretched by inserting ever larger plugs or heavier adornments. In some instances (as with the huge, elongated earlobes visible on the mysterious statues of Easter Island) the desired result is in stretching flesh into new, fantastic shapes. Alternatively, the aim is simply to make it possible to wear ever larger adornments. In either case the results can be truly extraordinary and must rate as one of humankind's foremost achievements in the customizing of the body.

Both in the Amazon and in West Africa -- for example, amongst the Suya and the Sara peoples -- examples can be found of lips which have been stretched to accommodate wooden plugs the size of saucers. What is astounding about these decorations is both the extent to which normal, everyday activities like eating or drinking have been (one would have thought) made extremely difficult and, secondly, the fact that such similar, extreme decorations are to be found in two such geographically disparate locations. The most likely explanation is that the Amazonian and the African lip adornments represent parallel independent discoveries and developments. (And the same can presumably be said of the large labret plugs which many Eskimo peoples wore above or below their lips and the visually similar labret adornments found amongst the Lobi and Kirdi tribes of West Africa.

The choice of which part of the body or face to decorate with piercing and jewellery often reflects a special regard for that feature or body part: a regard which, more than simply an aesthetic fascination, underlines a people's mythic, moral or spiritual views about human achievement and existence. For example, the enormous lip plus of the Amazon tend to be found amongst those tribes where the art of oratory is highly developed and respected while the most startling examples of nose piercing found in New Guinea tend to occur in societies where smell is accorded great significance and where breath is equated with the life-force.

As with tattooing and other forms of permanent (or semi-permanent) body decoration, piercing has not traditionally been popular in the West. Only 30 or 40 years ago it was extremely rare to see any such decoration except for the occasional woman with pierced ears. Everything else (and even ear piercing on men) was seen as suspect, 'barbaric' and 'primitive.'

Perhaps we still associate this technique of body modification with the so-called 'primitive' but what seems to have changed is that now a growing number of people in the West see the 'primitive' in a positive rather than a negative light. Arguably such a revaluation began way back with Rousseau, but in terms of people actually altering their lifestyle, attitudes and appearance it was only with the Hippies' emulation of native Americans or Asian peasants and the Punks' wholesale adoption of 'primitive' adornments and attitudes that this became more than simply a whimsical yearning after a long lost way of life.

Piercing is now without doubt the fastest growing form of body decoration in the modern world. Ultimately, the reason for this is a shift in attitude and a fundamental reappraisal of the deficiencies of our modern way of life (why, for example, do we as a culture no longer see the obvious values of a rite of passage ritual to mark a young person's coming of age?) but a few key individuals greatly assisted this process on its way. In America, Doug Malloy, Fakir Musafar and Jim Ward played a key, pioneering part (the latter as the founder of Gauntlet which made safe piercing jewellery readily available and the creator of the first regular piercing magazine, Piercing Fans International Quarterly). In the UK, Alan Oversby (Mr. Sebastian) carried on Doug Malloy's original experiments -- recently being charged with 'grievous bodily harm' by the British authorities for his efforts. Although not an original pioneer, Pauline Clarke in the UK deserves mention as the author of the most comprehensive book on the subject of piercing -- The Eye of the Needle -- which offers sound and valuable advice for anyone contemplating acquiring this form of adornment. By both reviving ancient practices and pioneering new ones, today's 'Modern Primitives' have created a huge repertoire of contemporary piercing possibilities. As well as multiple ear piercings, nostril, septum, labret (under the lip), eyebrow and navel piercings have all become a common sight on American, British and European streets. In the private sphere, genital and nipple piercings have become de rigueur in certain -- ever growing -- circles. Here, perhaps more than in any other area of body customizing, we see the extent of the 'Modern Primitive' revolution -- the rediscovery of ritual, of body arts previously condemned as 'barbaric' and, most importantly of all, of the fact that it is our bodies and what we do to them which define us as human beings. In an age which increasingly shows signs of being out of control, the most fundamental sphere of control is re-employed: mastery over one's own body.
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Re: The Customized Body, Photos & Interviews by Housk Randal

Postby admin » Thu Dec 13, 2018 9:22 pm

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Alex: My persona is based on transgression ... sort of Wake Up! This is reality, not the fairy tales you've been fed. I'll cut myself, pierce myself ... anything to get a reaction or provoke thought, dispel hypocrisy. You see, when I was young I based my decisions on facts given to me by the adults I knew ... They lied.

Ruth: I've always identified with the monster, normality is so cruel. Western society provides strict guidelines governing how you're supposed to look and since inside I've always felt like an outsider I decided to visually look the part, too.

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Anita: I'm not sure what bodies these skulls inhabited before, maybe I'm creating royal chickens or pigeons ... or rats!

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Arthur: I look so much like my mother in this photograph it's scary! Even though I love my septum ring I can get fed up with it sometimes ... it can be damned uncomfortable ... but I think I'll keep it in, it's so distinguished.

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Cordelia: My body wasn't mine until I claimed it through piercing. I didn't do it for fashion. I make all my own jewellery and use it to create balance within me, that is very important. I like modifying and recreating my body in many ways, this is exciting ... I want to be somewhere between a man and a woman.

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Eva: I love stretching my piercings because it's going for something bigger and bigger ... more, more, more!

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Fabian: I've always liked looking fabulous, like a genie or some mad creature out of a fairy tale. Life can be drab and dreary and if you're theatrical, that's not enough, you want more! When I started piercing myself ... I'd seen pictures in National Geographic and loved the look ... it was a sexual as well as a visual thing. Now I get them done professionally, too. I sometimes lose a piercing ... too much stretching or whatever ... and I feel a real sense of grief when it happens.

Nigel: I'm an attention-seeker, too ... just want to be noticed. I got my first piercing when I was 15 and just never stopped ... I wanted more and more. Although Punk started me off, since meeting Fabian I've really gone for it, he's my guide ... my perfect companion.

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Xed: I was a great believer that tattoos and piercings don't mix. Then, to my complete and utter horror, I woke up one morning and knew I had to pierce my nipples ... it was like I had no choice in the matter. Afterwards, things calmed down and got back to normal until suddenly ... the urge happened again ... it was really distressing. Now I look back and smile at myself because I really love them, but for a while it was pretty touch and go.

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Fran: I like looking tough. When you're a female who looks butch you can get a lot of hassle on the street so it helps to look as if you can take care of trouble ... and I can ... but I'd rather not have to fight every time I go shopping, so I use my appearance to back people off.

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Fido: I thought I was going to be a farmer when I grew up but evidently not. I guess it all started with getting my ears pierced ... my father was convinced only gay men did this so to wind him up I did it myself ... and I haven't stopped piercing myself yet.

Lorraine: I was just a quiet girl who liked tattoos and piercings ... then I met Fido.

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Pete: Hello? Hello? Anyone out there? I guess I've always been a bit of a character ... a prankster ... a fame seeker. When I was a kid I wanted to be a cartoonist pop star ... and guess what? ... I've become a chaos clown! I attach myself to things by my piercings, with little bungee ropes, and then madly fling my bits about ... it's spectacular! My persona keeps evolving in mysterious ways ... I'm a genuine urban pirate and unregenerate sodomite, yes dear ... shocking but true.

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Tracey: People say it hurts but I like that. Also, the more you have the less they hurt ... you get over the fear. I think they're appealing, other people find them fascinating and they do add to sexual sensations as well. Actually, I sometimes get pierced just to feel the pain. It can be good.

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Sally: I used to get piercings whenever I was stressed out. There was a time in my life when I allowed myself to be manipulated by men, and some were quite violent. I acquired an addiction to pain. I'd need a painfix now and then, and piercing became a safe way to achieve this. I figured I could either have a fight and possibly end up scarred or with a broken nose or have a piercing and end up with some new jewellery, which seemed more productive. I no longer get pierced for this reason but it helped wean me off my self-destructive habits.
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Re: The Customized Body, Photos & Interviews by Housk Randal

Postby admin » Thu Dec 13, 2018 9:24 pm

HAIR & NAILS

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Shelly: I love my hair ... but only where I want it.

Why do human beings have hair? Why, in other words, are we not truly 'naked apes'?

As Desmond Morris's famous phrase reminds us, unlike all other primates, our species lost its thick covering of fur. Yet in certain key areas -- the crotch, the underarms, the top of the head and, for men, the chest and lowerpart of the face -- rather than disappearing, our original fur was gradually transformed into hair. Male hairiness can be explained as a simple marker of gender. The positioning of hairy patches at the crotch and underarms is probably linked to the fact that these are also the sites of myriad scent-producing glands -- the thatch of hair serving to retain scents which, while increasingly perceived as undesirable, were at least originally highly sexually arousing.

Head hair, however, eludes simple explanation. Arguably, in cold climates it helps in keeping the head warm and, conversely, in very hot places it helps to ward off the direct rays of the sun. But while there is no doubt truth in this, the role of hair as insulation doesn't seem to provide a full explanation. Why, for example, was hair retained (or at least not noticeably reduced in quantity) in geographically temperate areas where neither extreme cold nor extreme sun posed a threat?

Desmond Morris has suggested that head hair developed primarily as a marker of species -- our ancestors' naked bodies topped by flowing manes of hair immediately setting them apart from other species. This makes sense but I doubt that it is the whole story. What strikes me is the extraordinary extent to which human hair can be customized by cutting to varying lengths, braiding, knotting into ornamental shapes, razing off, dyeing, coating with mud, wax, animal fats, etc., colouring with powders or dyes, tying with cords or ribbons, curling, frizzing, backcombing or straightening, extending with animals or human hair, adorning with anything from feathers to flowers, beads to bones. More so even than skin, our hair seems to have been designed specifically as a medium of expression. There's simply so much you can do with it.

Put crudely, I'm suggesting that we have hair so that we can have hairdressers. If this seems a frivolous explanation this is only because we so persistently underrate the practical, even crucial, significance of body decoration. Like all species, our ancestors needed vidual differentiation from other animals but, uniquely, as a tribally organized species our ancestors needed the means of differentiating themselves according to which tribe they belonged to. We have already seen how modifications of the skin (for example, by means of body painting, tattooing, scarification and piercing) can serve this purpose but positioned so prominently at the top of the body, so perfectly suited to customizing and so minimally 'functional' in other senses of the term, head hair seems to be that part of the body most purpose-built as a medium of expression.

While Desmond Morris's explanation hinges simply on the assumption that early humans had hair on their heads, my explanation derives from the view that our ancestors -- like present day traditional peoples -- customized their hair in tribally distinctive ways. Unlike Morris, who visualizes the original Homo sapiens with 'unadorned and unstyled' hair, I see head hair as developing in tandem with -- stimulated by -- early experiments in its adornment and styling.

Of course, as with skin, the hair of our more distant ancestors has long since disappeared. Yet the fact that no human society has ever been discovered in which hair is left to simply grow naturally points towards the view that the practice of customizing hair is of great antiquity. Contemporary barbering equipment, permanent wave machines, dyeing techniques and so forth may make 'hair art' easier, but evidence from surviving tribal societies makes it clear that extraordinary results can be achieved by technologically simple means -- techniques which could well have been developed and exploited long, long ago.

Consider, for example, the amazing hairstyles sported by the males of the Nuba tribes of the Sudan:

"To the closely cropped hair (hair is never allowed to exceed about 1/2 to 1/3 of an inch in length) is added beeswax. This results in a type of cake, as the beeswax is not rubbed in but simply stuck on. The wax cake is stippled with a comb or small stick, and then dusted by shaking on the appropriate colour ... Young men may attach feathers along the sagittal crest -- perhaps reversing the direction of the feathers on either side of the rum. Sometimes a series of thorns or seedpods will be used ... The entire hair fashion may also be sprinkled with herbs (tao) for protection -- or with bits of blueing or ground mica for decorative flair." -- [James C. Faris, Nuba Personal Art, p. 65]

Or, those worn by young Masai warriors:

"The typical Masai warrior, known as a moran, grew his hair very long and had it styled by a fellow mora. This arduous task sometimes took 15 or 20 hours to perform. First, the hair was parted from ear to ear, smeared with fat, red ochre and clay and twisted into as many as 400 individual strands. The strands at the back of the head were then grouped into 3 pigtails around long, pliant sticks, and the hair ends were bound to the sticks neatly with sheep skin, so that they tapered to a point. The strands of hair at the front of the head were arranged to fall forward over the face." [ Esi Sagay, African Hairstyles, pp. 30-31]

Not only do such distinctive hairstyles prominently proclaim tribal identity, they also vividly mark personal differences of status within each tribe. While it is only recently in the West that hairstyles have served to signal 'tribal' membership (for example, the Teddy Boy's quiff, the Skinhead's crop, the Punk's mohican or the Rapper's razored designs) hair and status have long been linked in Western history. Typically, the more 'impractical' a hairstyle the more it demonstrated wealth and aristocratic standing. This reached amazing extremes in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries when the hair of high-status women reached for the skies with the aid of complex hidden structures and was adorned with everything from birdcages filled with live butterflies to spinning, clockwork windmills.

Alternatively, enormous wigs were worn -- by European men as well as women. This was not, however, a new or even uniquely Western invention. The aristocracy of ancient Egypt, for example, had worn dazzling wigs in colours like indigo blue or copper red. The wigs worn by certain 'Big Men' in the highlands of Papua New Guinea make even those4 of 17th-century Europeans seem discreet in comparison:

"The wig was built on a frame of pliant cane strips, bound with lianas. To this the manufacturers fastened lengths of hair, sewing them with a flying-fox bone needle and bark thread. They placed the completed wig on a stand underneath a banana stem which was slung horizontally across supports. Lumps of melted resin from the kilt tree ... were placed on the banana stem and allowed to drip on to the wig in order to set the hair hard. The makers next smoothed the surfaced down with a rolling-pin, and rubbed pig or pandanus grease over it. Inside the frame they placed a bark-cloth lining. Finally they painted the wig in bright colours with chevrons, streaks, triangles ... On the day of dancing its wearer and his helpers would further fringe the wig with scarab beetles enclosed in bands of yellow orchid vine, light-coloured furs, and the leaves of a plant which is used in moka ritual to attract valuables. The topknot was left unpainted, but round it twined another bright fur, while from it sprang a medley of feathers set in a circlet." [Andrew and Marilyn Strathern, Self-Decoration in Mount Hagen, pp. 87-88]

'Bigwigs' in every sense, such headpieces are seen as a source of great power (especially in attracting women) and for this reason their manufacture is ritually protected -- the process taking place in great secrecy, the wig-maker prohibited from having sex until the wig's completion. Of course, the equation of hair (even in the form of a wig) and power is hardly unique to New Guinea -- as is well illustrated by the biblical story of Samson. On the one hand, the extraordinary power of hair clearly derives from and reflects its almost limitless capacities as a medium of expression. On the other hand, its power seems to derive from its strange nature -- a part of us (what could be more personal?) which is actually dead and alien to us.

This is the point of overlap between hair and nails. Both, of course, can be decorated (in the case of nails, a body art which, especially in America and amongst black communities in Britain, has reached great sophistication in recent years) but just as importantly, both share a unique, intermediary status between the living and the (un) dead. In many traditional societies this indeterminate status causes great concern over hair and nail clippings -- obliging people to bury them secretly to keep enemies from casting dangerous spells over them.

We in the contemporary West are more nonchalant about such things -- our locks mingling with others on the floor of the hairdresser's, our nail clippings flicked casually on the bathroom floor. But can we really and truly be nonchalant about that which -- only a moment before -- was an intrinsic part of ourselves? The Victorians at least seem to have been aware of the unique power of such 'waste products' -- the lock of hair secreted in a gold case like a religious relic or fetishistically braided into a watch chain as a constant reminder of one's beloved and a symbol of intimacy.

What we do not explicitly acknowledge in our day to day practices nevertheless seems to surface powerfully in our erotic imaginations. The Vamp's sexy long nails only one step removed from the Vampire's talons, the 'chest wig' of the Disco dandy only one step removed from the werewolf's fur. That which is halfway between me/not me, the living and the dead, is also halfway between the human and the animal.

"Both hair and nails remind us of what we once were. Yet at the same time, in their decoration, their customizing, they clearly set us apart from all other creatures. This is especially true of hair which, while reminiscent of fur, is a uniquely human feature -- not only in its intrinsic characteristics, but more significantly, in its capacity for modification.

For the Nuba, the significance of proper hair grooming extends all the way to the definition of the human species. Hair grooming, the ability to remove hair, and smooth bodies are all characteristics of humans -- characteristics not all shared by animals. It is not language (which monkeys, in Southeastern Nuba myths, once shared with man), but shaving -- the choice to have or not to have hair -- that distinguishes humans from other 'moving species.'" [James C. Faris, Nuba Personal Art, pp. 55-56]

Surely the Nuba are right. For only human beings -- The Customized Ape -- would transform fur into a 'crowning glory' and claws into 'nail art.'
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Re: The Customized Body, Photos & Interviews by Housk Randal

Postby admin » Thu Dec 13, 2018 9:30 pm

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Kathryn: I can type 80 words a minute. I work as a temp for my sins ... and never crack a nail. I've been doing this since I was 15 and I've learned how to keep them safe. Some people are repulsed by them but then I can always find something I don't like about them, too. Creating nails like this takes a lot of time and effort but they're more than just part of my dress sense, they're a living expression of me.

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Clair: I started bleaching my hair when I was 15 and letting it grow. I did more and more and more to it and I'll be damned if this isn't where it's ended up! I can do it on a Friday and if I sleep on my back and don't move it'll last until the following Wednesday. Although a lot of people can be rude about it, you know ... laugh at me, it's the only hairstyle I've ever been comfortable with so I carry on regardless.

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Arthur: I'm always playing with my hair ... shaving it, bleaching it, growing it ... if I don't like what I've done or I get bored it doesn't take long before I can start again.

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Alison: I've dyed my hair black since you took these photos. I doubt anyone would recognize me at first glace, it depends on my mood, you know, how I present myself.

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Valentina: The story of my hairstyle is not so dramatic. I'm a photographer too and aware of visual impact so I had a friend who is a hairdresser do something fun before I came here.

Lucrecia: When I was 16 I wanted to shave my head. It was because I was very sad inside and I wanted to show this ... but I didn't, then. Later, I finally did shave it ... and for similar reasons. Now, I love it so much I can't imagine ever growing it back.

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Jo: I guess I'm a bit uncontrollable, not housebroken, so yeah ... I've always looked a bit unusual ... made my own clothes, that sort of thing.

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Lucy: I cut my hair like this accidentally and I thought it was funny so I kept it. Now it's been a while since we did these photographs and I've shaved them into little devils horns ... or insect antennae, take your pick ... and they're even more humorous. I find it hard to take myself too seriously.

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Alex: I feel like a cruel Caliph from ancient Babylonia with my beard. I've been shaving it like this for many years and it's hard to imagine myself without it.

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Sonny: I wanted to be an actress, a famous actress, when I was growing up. I was made to feel nothing as a child so I have this strong desire to be seen and accepted. I know we haven't talked about our hair but that's not so important.

Sophie: I also wanted to be an actress but only in the movies, I prefer them to the stage. Like Sonny, I felt small and neglected as a child ... my older sister got all the attention.

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Suzy: My sister's gone respectable, got a farm and everything, but I can't help it ... I just do enjoy shocking people, I can be so disgraceful. I must admit I try to outdress others whenever I get a chance, anything to get noticed. You see, in my job I have to look quite drab so I find it's great fun to re-create myself ... wigs, nails, make-up ... the lot. I'm a bit like a magpie, I love anything that glitters.
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