Evil, Crazy, Broken, High

I’m a 24-year-old healthcare professional with eight ear piercings (five on the left and three on the right, five of which are through cartilage), three healed facial piercings, ongoing thoughts of a tattoo and long shaggy hair that my manager not only likes but requested.

As my work involves a lot of ears, and I use my own to demonstrate things on a daily basis, the piercings come up in conversation regularly – mostly starting around my work, but then usually veering off in another direction. The conversations are usually fun, and I don’t mind because I love my piercings and my general ‘look’, and I love that I can be considered ‘alternative’ simply by the job that I do and the jewellery that I wear.

The other day, someone asked me what it was that drove me to get my piercings.

In general, the reasons vary significantly – in more than one case the best answer is ‘I was bored’, and in at least another serious mental health issues played a part – and so the conversation tends to become more of a silly storytelling exercise than anything else.

However, the underlying question remains – why have I changed my body in such an obvious and permanent way? What was it that caused me to want that change, and how do people see me for wanting it in the first place?

In the case of my piercings, I’m reasonably certain that it’s put down to youthful indiscretion or a desire to be ‘different’ or an appreciation for the associated aesthetic. 1 In any case, it’s highly unlikely to be a negative connotation. 2

However, metal is not the only change that I desire for my body. I want to be thinner, I want to be fitter, I want to be more tanned. In general, these may be seen as sad reflections of my adherence to a societal view of bodily worth that glorifies the slender, muscled, bronzed bodies that glorify the pages of every GQ Magazine that I never bought. Alternatively, they may be seen as reflective of a genetic impetus to be considered a strong and capable mate, probably through hard work and exercise or somesuch.

Either way, the desire to be closer to a Platonic ideal of Photoshopped beauty is no negative in today’s society. Indeed, it’s so common as to be practically required for functioning in any job that requires regular in-person customer contact. 3

However, certain things that I might like to do to my body would not be considered appropriate. For example, I take very good care of my hair, which is reasonably long for a professional man, and very curly. Some time ago, I had considered dreadlocking it, as it’s a look that I particularly like, and have always wanted to wear.

A lecturer to whom I mentioned the idea was less than enthused.

Such a change, they said, would be tantamount to telling my future patients and employers that I really didn’t take them seriously, as I couldn’t even be bothered taking care of personal grooming properly. 4 As such, it would be considered a crazy decision, sabotaging my future career prospects for, as far as they could see, no possible gains.

However, a mere desire to change one’s appearance pales into significance next to the struggles of those who live with any of the various psychiatric disorders where a person’s body does not match what they know it should be. This may take the form of disorders of gender identity (GID), bodily integrity (BIID), bodily appearance (BDD) and so on. These various disorders are treated in many different ways, but with limited success, and few exceptionally effective treatments exist for them.

Wait.

See what happened there? We went from an idea that seemed like it would be crazy to actually calling someone crazy and giving them a diagnosis because we as a society believe that their desire to change their bodies to fit with their inner awareness of themselves is not only crazy but broken, something to be fixed.

Now, I’m not saying that we should simply allow people to do whatever they like to their bodies. I do believe that in certain circumstances body modification may be considered so severe and is so permanent that significant justification is not only desirable but required, and I would like to think that were I to find myself in this situation, I would appreciate being forced to ensure that my desire was a true self-knowledge and not a symptom of something else. 5

However, I do think that when we label people as ‘crazy’ for wanting to do something, we really, really need to come up with a decent justification for why it is so. Insanity was used as a reason for restricting the rights of women 6, of gay and lesbian people 7 and of minorities across the world 8.

If we are calling people ‘crazy’ because we don’t agree with their own self-assessment and self-determination, surely we need to take a step back and decide whether our attitude really is congruent with the kind of society that allows us to self-assess and self-determine.

To the limit that we are to be restricted, let us restrict others. To the limit that it affects others, let us be concerned with their behaviour. But no more.

Because otherwise we become that crazy Christian woman who informed me that I was going to Hell because the holes in my ears let in Satan.

Instead, let’s be like the young boy at the tram stop with whom I had the following conversation, a few weeks ago:

“Did those hurt?”
“Yes.”
“A lot?”
“Not too much.”
“I don’t think I’ll get any.”

Notes:

  1. Similar to an alliterative aesthetic I admire and abhor…
  2. Unless you’re that one crazy Christian who once told me that they were holes for Satan to get in through. Seriously.
  3. I’ve heard body type referred to as the ‘condition of employment’ in one particularly upmarket retail outlet.
  4. Seriously, do people have any idea how much work goes into dreadlocks?
  5. Although I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t appreciate it, having seen the hell that some of my friends have been through.
  6. See ‘Hysteria’, or ‘disease of the uterus’.
  7. And still is in many ways, see ‘corrective’ treatments.
  8. A lovely passage is available at http://books.google.com.au/books?id=EC5pdKPXIG0C&lpg=PA149&ots=aZJE-CRo0g&pg=PA149 

Posted in: Blog

Written by David

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