I’m used to it by now. Every piercing, every tattoo, every wacky hair color, my exasperated mother tells me that I’m going to give her a heart attack — that my “antics” will be the death of her. She then frowns, and in a melodramatic plea, she asks me, “Can you PLEASE not do this again?”
She asks, as if my body and the choices I make regarding it are somehow up for debate. As if my happiness and self-expression are less important than her comfort with my appearance. It’s kind of wild, because my mother seems very concerned with my happiness most of the time, but the second I alter my appearance in a way that makes her unhappy, suddenly it’s not about me anymore.
And the problem I have with this isn’t so much her having an opinion, but rather, the problematic idea that parents — or anyone else, for that matter — feel entitled to instruct people on the decisions they make regarding their body.
Running interference with an adult’s bodily autonomy is, to me, a big no-no.
In a society with very stringent and unforgiving ideas of what a body should and should not look like, we should be celebrating those individuals who have the courage to express themselves in ways that run in opposition to these standards.
Parents who feel that they are entitled to control the bodies of their children — especially and particularly adult children — are misguided in that they are upholding the idea that their body does not belong to them. Further, this perpetuates the harmful idea that we have all grappled with — that how you look and how others perceive your body is far more important than a personal sense of happiness and fulfillment. This emphasis on an “acceptable” appearance creates an unhealthy relationship with our bodies.
I find it funny that so many parents tell young women in particular that who they are on the inside is what matters, and yet the second they modify their bodies or exercise their autonomy in a way that conflicts with their parents’ ideals, that message becomes irrelevant. I was told time and time again growing up that inner beauty was most important, but the second I stepped outside of gender norms or decided to pierce my nose, my external appearance was ridiculed. Many people in my life felt it was their obligation to tell me how they felt about my personal decisions regarding my body.
When I got my first tattoo, I felt a dazzling, dizzying sort of power. After years of being told how to look, how to behave, and how to be accepted, I made a choice for myself. I did something for me and only me. The idea that I could make a choice, at any time, to permanently install some artwork on my fucking body was a revelation for me. This freckled, vast terrain was my own and I could do with it what I wanted. As I was being tattooed, I felt in awe of all that my body could do and feel and become. I made a commitment — a sincere, ongoing commitment — to do what made me happy, regardless of the opinions and policing of others.
I was fed up with being told that a tattoo or a piercing would “ruin” me, as if my body was a commodity depreciating in value.
Hell no. My body is majestic and my body is mine, and it is not up for debate and it is not accepting feedback.
For me, my body modifications are a way of feeling a sense of connectedness with my body, and a stronger sense of my body belonging to me. I consider tattoos and piercings, among many things, a radical act of reclaiming ownership. In a culture which damns my personal self-expression, I am making a decision to pursue what I believe is beautiful in spite of a stigmatization of this body. This makes me feel empowered. I have chosen my own happiness over the contradicting and narrow ideals of what makes a body beautiful, and instead, I am celebrating my own ideals of beauty. I am adorning my body in a way that makes me feel both lovely and powerful.
If we truly want to raise young people to accept themselves and love themselves, we must stop policing their bodies. Whether it’s their size, their choice in clothing, their dye job, or their tattoos, if we want to be a society that celebrates uniqueness and inner beauty, we must stop being hypocritical and accept ALL bodies. This starts at home, with parents encouraging a healthy body image and exploration of self-expression. While everyone has an opinion these days, it is not your place or job to express that opinion in a way that makes the recipient feel pressured or shamed for exercising their bodily autonomy.
At the end of the day, a person’s body belongs to that individual alone, and it is their right to exist in that body and adorn it however they see fit.
And for the record, I think my purple hair and nose ring look hella cute, Mom.