This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Body modification" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (December 2013) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Scarification in progress

Body modification (or body alteration) is the deliberate altering of the human anatomy or human physical appearance.[1] In its broadest definition it includes skin tattooing, socially acceptable decoration (e.g., common ear piercing in many societies), and religious rites of passage (e.g., circumcision in a number of cultures), as well as the modern primitive movement.

Body modification is performed for a large variety of reasons, including aesthetics, sexual enhancement, rites of passage, religious beliefs, to display group membership or affiliation, in remembrance of lived experience, traditional symbolism such as axis mundi and mythology, to create body art, for shock value, and as self-expression, among other reasons.[1][2]


Early stages of getting a navel piercing

What counts as "body modification" varies in cultures. In western cultures, the cutting or removal of one's hair is not usually considered body modification.

Body modification can be contrasted with body adornment by defining body modification as "the physical alteration of the physical body [...] can be temporary or permanent, although most are permanent and modify the body forever".[3]


This section is empty. You can help by adding to it. (September 2022)

Non-consensual body modification

"Disfigurement" and "mutilation" (regardless of any appreciation this always applies objectively whenever a bodily function is gravely diminished or lost) are terms used by opponents of body modification to describe certain types of modifications, especially non-consensual ones. Those terms are used fairly uncontroversially to describe the victims of torture, who have endured damage to ears, eyes, feet, genitalia, hands, noses, teeth, and/or tongues, including amputation, burning, flagellation, piercing, skinning, and wheeling.[citation needed]

Some invasive procedures that modify human genitals are performed with the informed consent of the patient, using anesthesia or sterilised surgical tools[4][5] The phrase "genital mutilation" is sometimes used to describe procedures that individuals are forced to undergo castration, male circumcision, and female genital mutilation in this way.[6] Intersex campaigners say that childhood modification of genitals of individuals with intersex conditions without their informed consent is a form of mutilation.[7]

See also


  1. ^ a b Thompson, Tim; Black, Sue (2010). Forensic Human Identification: An Introduction. CRC Press. pp. 379–398. ISBN 978-1420005714. Retrieved 25 February 2013.
  2. ^ "What Is Body Modification?". Essortment. 16 May 1986. Archived from the original on 28 January 2016. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  3. ^ DeMello, Margo (2007). Encyclopedia of Body Adornment. United States of America: Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0313336959.
  4. ^ John R. Holman-Keith A. Stuessi (15 March 1999). "Adult Circumcision". American Family Physician. 59 (6): 1514–1518. PMID 10193593.
  5. ^ Manual for Male Circumcision under Local Anaesthesia (PDF) (3.1 ed.). World Health Organization. 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-11-25.
  6. ^ Hellsten, SK (June 2004). "Rationalising circumcision: from tradition to fashion, from public health to individual freedom—critical notes on cultural persistence of the practice of genital mutilation". J Med Ethics. 30 (3): 248–53. doi:10.1136/jme.2004.008888. PMC 1733870. PMID 15173357.
  7. ^ Wilchins, Riki. "A Girl's Right to Choose: Intersex Children and Parents Challenge Narrow Standards of Gender". NOW Times. National Organization for Women. Retrieved 12 September 2012.