Monday, July 6, 2009

Reinventing Me


“The love of the body of a man or woman balks account, the body itself balks account. That of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect … I breathe the fragrance myself and know it and like it, the distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.”

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Many of us wish to look beautiful. We desire to insert ourselves and leave a mark of impression so we could be remembered. In our encounters with life we always ask the questions, “ Who am I?” “How should I look?” “How do I imprint myself a picture that would let others remember me and my uniqueness?” These questions bother some of us, most of us, and oftentimes, these questions prod us that primal desire to change what nature has decided we should have.

With methods ranging from a mere cosmetic makeover to more exotic touches like body painting, tattooing, piercing or more drastic solutions like surgical augmentations, we try to become a new person, even if only superficially. And we are not even talking about futuristic concepts like cloning, or any other yet-to-be-conceived means to create another bodily self through extraordinary reproductive means.

First, we were preoccupied with that part of our body that was quite open to change. History reveals that the decoration of the skin itself is ancient and elemental. Hints of body painting exist in ancient times using colors that have come to associate with blood, ritual and religion. Though today’s fascination with body painting seems to have lost that elemental purpose, it still harks back to what the ancients wanted to achieve – beauty.

It is quite evident that motivations are varied with regard to body decorations. Some see it as a way of initiating into adulthood a member of a group. Or calling attention to selected parts of the body, advertising one’s masculine or feminine nature. There’s a sense of belonging to be derived from it; also a sense of uniqueness. Simpler concerns would be wanting to feel good about the self, showing love and commitment to another person, memorializing a loved one, among others.

It could be an improvement – or a defilement of your own body. Whatever, there’s an effort to try to “personalize” the body, as if our own self wasn’t good enough. Surely, you must have seen men who’d have trouble walking through a metal detector as all the earrings, nose rings and studs on his eyebrows, lips, tongue, nipples, navel and genitals would set it off like crazy.

As for cosmetic surgery – that leaves a more deep and lasting modification of the body. Whether through augmentation or reduction – it’s there if you want to stay there. The historian Elizabeth Haiken traced the development of cosmetic surgery and although she pointed out attempts at constructing missing noses from cheek tissues in 600 B.C., the procedure was a recent phenomenon in acceptance and efficacy. There were attempts late in the nineteeth century to augment female breasts by injecting paraffin.

Now we have operations for just about every part of the body. Eye widening, liposuction, silicone breasts implants, face lifting, nose job, facial dermabrasion, hair transplant –it’s close to creating the Frankenstein monster. Yet the question will always have to be: How far can we look good in our lives?

/Rose Flores - Martinez
My old feature article from Tribune Newspaper