Thursday, November 5, 2009

"Taboo" Provides Look at Body Modification

The other day I was flipping through the channels when I came across a show called Taboo on National Geographic. The show’s website provides this description of the show, “Taboo takes you on a journey beyond the comfort zones and cultural borders to explore rituals and customs that are acceptable in some cultures, but forbidden, illegal, or reviled in others. Understand seemingly bizarre and shocking practices from around the world.”

The particular episode that I watched was titled “Body Modification.” The show covered procedures and customs that people underwent in different cultures with the purpose of altering their bodies. First, it covered the long-necked women of the Kayan tribe in Thailand who wear brass rings around the neck, which, overtime, elongate the neck. The show also talks about the surgery which people undergo in China where the legs are broken and lengthened. Finally, the show covers the subculture of corset-wearers.

After watching this show, I was thoroughly disgusted. How could people do all this to change their bodies? Then I thought about the plastic surgery phenomenon in the US, and, as the show pointed out, the Western practice of attaching metal to teeth and twisting and moving them around (braces). Although I am not personally a proponent of plastic surgery (as many are), I have never thought of braces as something unnatural or wrong. So why do we normalize some types of body modification and cast off others? What makes one practice “ok” and the others wrong? Furthermore, why do we have such an obsession with changing our bodies?

I hope that this blog is thought-provoking and helps to open dialogue on the subject of body modification. Also, kudos to National Geographic and Taboo for bringing different cultures and topics to light in a way that many shows do not.

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