The change starts with YOU.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi

“I’m starting with the man in the mirror… If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make that change.” ~ Michael Jackson

This is probably the most important post I’ll ever make on this blog.

As a visibly modified person, I have experienced more than my fair share of negativity. Some of it is worse than others, some is just honest ignorance or curiosity and not knowing what to say or how to say it, and some is meant to be hurtful and mean. It’s important to recognize which is which and how you should handle each one. Negativity can take many forms: verbal comments, physical gestures, inappropriate touching or grabbing, things whispered behind your back or said when people think you’re out of earshot.

I want to stress this one point very much, so I’m going to be saying it over and over: We are all a representation of our modified community. How we act, what we say, and how we present ourselves is a reflection of this community as a whole. If people see us as mean, disrespectful, uneducated, dirty, or rude, they are going to believe that all modified people are the same way, and we really don’t need any more of that in the world. Many times, people react negatively to modified people just because they are uninformed about this art form, either because they choose to be misinformed or uninformed, their religious beliefs doesn’t allow them to be understanding or respectful, or they’ve just never been exposed to it. It is up to us to show and educate these people about our passion, and to do it in the right way.

Much of this entry will be personal stories from myself, as well as from others in the body mod community. I feel that personal experiences are the best way to show how to properly respond to people, strangers and family and friends alike. This entry will probably be very long, but stick with it, there will be a lot of helpful advice within.

The most important weapon you can use to combat negativity is education. If you educate yourself and know what you’re talking about, then you know when to correct people, how to correct them, and you’ll know that your information is correct and accurate. Talk to professionals, do your own objective research, talk to trusted friends and representatives of the community at large, read blogs like this one and others, the more people you can talk to the better. There is no such thing as too informed, too educated.

Another important weapon is confidence. If you KNOW that you made a good decision about your modification, then nothing anyone says can deter you. If you love yourself and whole heartedly believe that what you’re doing is good for you, in mind, body and soul, then nothing can ever change that.

One of my best personal stories about dealing with negativity took place a few years ago, when I still had my text armband tattoo on my left arm. It read “All the world is good material” and I always had people stopping me and asking me what it said and what it meant. One day I was standing in the grocery store, looking at one thing or another. I set the item back on the shelf, turned to my right to move along, and all of a sudden someone grabbed my left arm right above the elbow and pulled me back. What’s a woman’s first reaction to being grabbed? I just reacted and my fist went flying, hitting this strange man square in the chest. I hit him so hard it actually knocked some of the wind out of him. He starting raging at me, calling me horrible names and threatening to call the cops on me, when all he wanted was “to see my tattoo”. I threatened to file an assault claim against him because HE grabbed ME first, and I had the marks on my skin to prove it, and things just kept escalating. I eventually just left the store and never went back.

Admittedly, that wasn’t the best course of action to take in that situation, but this is also an extreme situation, one that’s actually pretty rare. Most people know not to grab others, but some feel that just because you’re modified it means that they can touch you and invade your personal space. This usually seems to happen to modified women more than men. I am going to make this incredibly clear right now: It is NEVER okay for someone to touch someone else without their express permission, so if someone ever grabs you or touches you in a way you are not okay with, do not ever be afraid to tell them that you are uncomfortable and that you want them to stop. Some people are just clueless and need to be told.

I have experienced more negativity about my modifications since moving to Utah than I ever did back when I was still living in Seattle, my home city. A lot of it has to do with this particular region and the beliefs down here, whereas Seattle is a very liberal city, a very artsy city, so people like me are more normal and barely warrant a second glance. I’ll get compliments every so often, but almost no negativity at all. Ever since moving to Utah, though, it’s been an entirely different story.

I’ve been asked to leave public places, by other patrons. I was sitting in a park once, reading a book while waiting for a friend. A group of kids and a few mothers were hanging out at the playground about thirty or forty feet from the bench I was sitting on. Suddenly a shadow moved over me and one of these mothers was standing in front of me. She said, and I’m paraphrasing a little bit, “I don’t want my daughter influenced by someone like you, or to see someone like you, so you need to leave this area.” She said a few other things, but that one really stuck out to me. I just looked at her, smiled, took another drag off my black cigarette, and went back to my book. By the way, there were no “No Smoking” signs anywhere around me, so I was free to have my once in a blue moon cigarette. It was a huge public park, which also had a playground in it, as most do. It’s not like it was JUST a playground park.

I’ve had horrible things yelled at me in public, in stores, grocery store parking lots, across produce departments, all over the place. People tell me I’m going to hell, that I’m a demon or the devil, that no one could or SHOULD love me because I’m ugly now, or that I’m destroying the temple that god gave me. I’ve had people ask me why I’d get “Oriental tattoos” when I’m not “Oriental” myself. I had a woman scoop up her child as she passed me and hiss “You think she’s a witch?” as I went by. I’ve been followed not very discretely by store security. Most of the time I don’t even acknowledge any of this, because most of these people are just over-grown bullies and until they get up in my face or physically assault me, they don’t even deserve my acknowledgement.

I hate to bring up this aspect of negativity, but it seems to be a big motivator for the negative people. Their religion tells them that modified people like you and me are bad, or somehow “less” than they are. Don’t get me wrong, some of the best people I’ve ever met claim to be very devout believers in whatever religion they choose to follow, they’re honest, hardworking, accepting, intelligent and very loving people. I would trust many of them with my very life. But unfortunately, most of the time, these super nice people are overshadowed by the very mean ones. Sadly, with these extremists, there’s not much you can do to sway them away from what they so firmly believe in. The best response is just no response. Don’t feed the trolls, as it were.

It’s really unfortunate that these so called “followers of a loving god” hate people who are different than they are, or who believe in something different, so much. I don’t want to name any particular religions specifically, since I’ve received negativity from someone who claimed to follow one of nearly all of the major ones, at least. It’s probably childish of me to do this, but it is pretty fun to know more about these people’s religions than they do. Take Christianity, for example, since it’s one of the largest religions in the world and has some of the most diverse denominations.

I’m going to say this loud and clear before I continue:

I DO NOT hate Christians, I don’t hate anyone. NOT ALL Christians are this way, I know and understand that. I am NOT picking on Christians purposely, or intentionally, or for any other reason. I’m simply using it as an example because it’s probably the largest religion throughout the world, and the one I’m personally the most familiar with.

My family is, historically, Catholic. Meaning back as far as anyone can remember, we’ve been a Catholic family. My grandmother is now a “fair weather” Catholic, as it were, since she’s gotten older, and even then she goes mostly for the social aspect of it, something to do, really. My father went to Catholic elementary school, then public junior and high school. My dad never forced my sister or me to go to church, and we went to public schools our whole lives. Growing up, my grandmother took us to Sunday Mass and holiday Mass, whenever we were around. We were never forced, really, but we went because we were respectful enough of our grandmother to do as she asked and told us. One of the best things she ever told me about negative religious people was: “God knows I love Him, why do I have to go to church and prove that to anyone else?” I’ve been living by that ever since I heard it.

I, personally, do not identify as Catholic, or hold any other religious affiliation. But because of my background, I at least know and understand Catholicism and at least the basic teachings of the Bible. So like I said, it may be childish of me, but I actually really enjoy contradicting people on their own religion.

I’ve done this several times when confronted by religious negativity. Someone once told me “Jesus doesn’t love you now that you’ve done that to yourself. How does that make you feel?” I smiled and said “Jesus doesn’t love YOU because of how mean and judgmental you are. How does that make YOU feel?” I shouldn’t have been mean back, but sometimes it’s honestly just needed, especially when confronted with something THAT mean. These are the people not worth educating, because they’ll never listen to what you have to say, or be receptive to any education you may have to offer. The best you can do is tell them in one way or another that you don’t appreciate what they have to say, and recite either “Treat others they way you want to be treated,” or “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I’ve done that before, too. The trick is to develop a very sharp silver tongue, so these people don’t even realize that you’ve insulted them.

One of my favorite things that people do is quote the various Laws of Leviticus or Deuteronomy at me. Here’s a basic refresher on those laws, as well as others. This first page looks a little scary, but I read the whole thing and it’s okay. Disclaimer: I know that various editions and forms of the Bible DO vary in quotes and certain lines, but most of them are at least similar.

http://biblebabble.curbjaw.com/laws.htm

The Wikipedia page:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Leviticus

The cutest Lego version of various Bible verses and scenes.
http://www.bricktestament.com/the_law/index.html#fashion

If someone tries to quote Bible verses at me, trying to shame me or make me feel bad about how I’ve chosen to decorate myself, some of my FAVORITE laws to quote back are:

Don’t cut your hair nor shave. (Leviticus 19:27)

Don’t wear clothes made of more than one fabric. (Leviticus 19:19)

Who DOESN’T do these two things on a fairly regular basis? So if you quote one Law at me, namely Leviticus 19:28: “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord.” then you better know and follow the REST of those oh so important Laws that you claim to live by, and you better know and understand the context in which these laws were written. The Bible is incredibly easy to misrepresent when taken out of context, as most people actually do. You can’t pick and choose parts of the Bible to follow and say are relevant to modern times, then ignore the ones that contradict themselves or that you don’t want to accept. Stoning disobedient children to death, anyone? You either adhere to it, ALL of it, fully and wholly, or not at all. And you can’t pick and choose parts of certain passages to quote and shame people with, you either use the entire passage in the proper context, or you shouldn’t be using it at all.

So there. Now anyway, MOVING ON!!!

Many people don’t fully understand the impact their words can have. What you think is just a harmless comment can actually be very rude to whoever you direct it at. A religious person telling you that you’re going to hell is not helpful, even if THEY might think it is, like if they tell you that what you’re doing is bad, that you’ll stop the behavior and be “saved”. This frustrates me so much, but in more ways than just the modification front.

Cheryl, 22, from Canada says about her experiences with negativity:
When I worked around people a long time ago I’d have people that would straight up avoid my till because of my facial piercings, and honestly I couldn’t say anything about it or confront them because I would get fired. If people did come to my till though and say negative things about them I’d just smile and say “Well, not everyone likes them.” and be as polite and nice as possible so they’d feel bad about the comment.

That’s a good way to deal with negativity in the workplace. You REALLY don’t want to make a scene at your place of employment when someone confronts you, but you also don’t want to let them think it’s okay to harass you just because you’re at work. Either ignore the comments, which is absolutely the best reaction, or brush it off with one simple statement like the one above. You never want to feed negativity, because that just makes it worse. Cheryl goes on to say:

This one man walked up to me in a grocery store and told me that I was a freak and that having piercings is not natural. I responded by telling him that his wife bleaching her hair was not natural either, but she still does it and I don’t call her a freak.

This is where education can come into play. Remember the previous post about “What is body modification”? Educate people that they perform some sort of body modification every day, you just chose to go farther down the spectrum than they do. Cheryl also says:

Another man walked up to me and told me that having piercings was destroying the temple that god gave me. The funny thing was though, he had an arm tattoo! So of course I had to say “And clearly you came out of the womb with that tattoo right? Or else you’d be destroying the temple that god gave YOU.” He gave me an odd look and walked away.

This is something that REALLY bothers me about people in the modified community, the hypocrisy that sometimes rears its ugly head. Some believe that you’re “not really modified” if you don’t have lots of piercings, lots of tattoos, certain kinds of tattoos or piercings, etc. This is the opposite end of that spectrum; people who are only slightly modified looking down on those who are more modified. We are ALL modified, we are ALL part of the same community, so why are we comparing each other? Also, that sort of hypocrisy with religious modified people really makes me angry and sad. These people will have pierced ears and maybe a navel ring, or a helix piercing, but will vehemently condemn people with a nose stud or lip ring. You are modified in the same way, just different location. Someone having their lip pierced is no worse than someone who had their ears pierced.

Dealing with family is a little bit harder than dealing with strangers. Family is important, and most people want their approval. To me, my dad is THE most important person in my life. Even if I lost everyone else in the entire world, so long as I had him, I’d be alright. I would never do anything that would make him not proud of me. Without his approval, I would be devastated. How does he feel about my modifications? He’s very old fashioned about beauty and appearance, and believes that I’m beautiful no matter what I do. He thinks I look better without makeup, with my naturally crazy curly hair, as au natural as I can get. I very much appreciate that, of course, but I, personally, feel more complete with my modifications. He doesn’t exactly like my modifications, but he doesn’t hate them either. He’s once said “I know you’re smart enough to not do anything detrimental or harmful, so whatever. You’re an adult.” And that’s the best I can hope for. I have sort of talked him into wanting to get a tattoo, which is fun. I’m helping him design it, too, which makes it even more awesome.

I’ve been lucky, my family is pretty neutral about my modifications. The general consensus among my family is “You’re an adult, you can make these decisions. Just don’t do anything stupid or that you’ll regret.” But many others aren’t as lucky as I am. Religious influences, family traditions, and old fashioned beliefs can make getting modified a very tough thing for many people.

Jeni, 22, from Arizona says:

When I first got tattooed, my family was okay with it. It was a simple ankle tattoo that they hardly saw. But as I got into piercings, my family became a bit more negative, especially when I got my septum pierced. They love to call it a “bullring” and they said that I don’t look any prettier with it. I told them straight up, “It’s my body, I can do what I want to it. I love the piercings I have, and I think that they make me more unique.” They of course, never really liked that answer. It basically shut them up for a time before they saw it hanging out in the open again.

Some families believe that harassment and negative comments will make people change their minds and do what they want them to do. This is very much not true. Harmful comments only serve to make people feel bad, and make them want to rebel, or withdraw. If someone in your family has a modification you don’t particularly care for, you can say something like “I’m not a huge fan of it, but if you like it, that’s all that matters.” Then leave it at that. Insults and negative comments don’t make any situation any better. Jeni continues:

When i got my chest piece, shit sorta hit the fan. My family wasn’t used to seeing so much artwork in one place. They of course said that it would affect my professional look and that it would be harder to get a job. Which, of course, they were partly correct. After I got my guns colored in, work back in California went downhill. Even though I was a supervisor, I was barely getting any hours to survive. But when I moved down here to Arizona, let’s just say people are beyond easy going. I actually have a lot of elderly couples ask me about my tattoo at work and want to see it, they absolutely love it, especially when I tell them the story behind it. My boss has straight up told me that even though I’m more modded than most, my tattoos and piercings will not affect his outlook of me. And on another note, every time I mention getting a tattoo or a piercing, my dad simply says “Another one?” but as of lately he’s been responding with “Well, when are you going to help me get mine?” So after years of being judged with negativity, my dad has come to a point where he is enjoying my body mods. Hell, I even got him to the point where he wants a tattoo.

Most of the time, family is out for your best interest. They worry that certain modifications will really hinder your future prospects for school, jobs, relationships, etc. They just don’t know how express it in a positive way.

Lauren, 19, from the USA has this to say:
Ah negativity. I have dealt a lot with it especially in my family, strangers tend to ask about my tattoos but then leave me alone. Every time I get a new tattoo my family has some downer comment to make except my grandfather because he loves tattoos and would have more but he is on blood thinners. When people ask me the age old question, “How do you think they will look when you are 80?” I respond with, “Well, when I am 80, I am going have more to worry about than my tattoos. I got them for all sorts of reasons, when I am 80 I am going to love the saggy, wrinkly, faded look they will have. To me it shows character and just like me they will age with me, reminding me of my past of who I was.” I get a WTF look, but I don’t care I guess they weren’t expecting a thought out response.

This is something I’ve done myself, have thought-out responses to common questions or comments that are presented to me. It might sound silly to have pre-made responses to give to people, but when you get the same questions or comments over and over and over again, it just makes it easier. It’s best to just have one or two lines to say, so you and they can move on. If they end up being really nice or interested, or if you’re willing to answer more questions, then by all means, stick around, you just might make a new friend. But sometimes, we are in a hurry or a bad mood and just don’t want to talk to people. In this case, I’ve actually gone around with headphones on with my iPod, even though it’s not on all the time. People see you’re listening to something and tend to leave you alone, or not bother you. This is GREAT when I just really don’t want to listen to anyone. Lauren continues:

My labret stud no one really cares about, I guess it is the fact it can be removed so my family doesn’t care. My stretched lobes (0ga) drive my mom nuts. She loathes them. I always get the “Oh god, your ears can fit Coke cans in them, they looks stupid, oh god that is hideous, they stink (they don’t), they are ugly.” I eventually told her to shut the hell up about it. I told her that her bitching about them isn’t going to make me take out my plugs and let them shrink up, and is going to put a wall between us which for a while it did. She then came around and realized that they aren’t THAT big and they don’t stink. She still hates them, but she realized that I am not like most people and I don’t wish to look like the “normal” person.

Sometimes, with family, it has to come down to this. But don’t be mean or hurtful in return! Just stand your ground, tell them that what they say to you is hurtful and that you do not appreciate it. And if that they continue to only have negative things to say, you will no longer come around them, or allow them in your house. You absolutely have the right to control who comes in and out of your life, and you deserve to not have negative people in your life, even if they are family. Lauren concludes:

She became more accepting of my body mods because I have recently decided to make tattoos and piercings my life’s work. I don’t care what people say about my body mods, I got them for me, not my husband, my mom, my friends, my peers, no one. It is all me. People can bash (which I had a few people bash my mods) and my family can hate/bash my mods, but I just tell them how I feel and blow off what they say. I love my tattoos and would feel naked without them. I love my skin, I love my body and I feel the tattoos add to them.

Ultimately, at the end of the day, it really is YOUR body to do with as you please. So long as what you do is safe, sane, clean and done with positive intentions, you can do what makes you feel good. Don’t be too influenced by family or strangers on what you want to do. Opinions and thoughts are nice, but at the end of the day, you need to do what makes YOU feel good about yourself. If getting your lip pierced will make you happy, then do it, just make sure you do it properly and take care of it.

Humans are social creatures. We all, deep down, want to be accepted and loved by the people around us. Some of us need to find a new group to belong to if our current one doesn’t accept us. The body modification community is a very accepting place, for all people who want to be a part of it. We’re all the same, we’ve all experienced similar things from non-modified people, we sometimes even share similar backgrounds and feelings and morals and values.

As members of this still at least partially oppressed community, we need to start making the change to better the world’s view of us. WE need to be the change, WE need to start with ourselves and how WE react to other people. Reacting negatively to negativity only further breeds it, feeds it, and allows it to spread. I understand that we all have bad days, we all snap and say things we wish we could take back, but on the whole, we need to remain positive even in the face of ignorance, hate, and lack of education.

Change starts with YOU. So go out there and start being the change that YOU want to see.

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