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Modifying our bodies.

If you had asked me when I was 13 if I wanted plastic surgery, I would have said, "Oh, my God. Fix everything. I'm so ugly and gross. Make me look like Brooke Shields, please!" I've changed a lot since then. Today, I wouldn't dream of having plastic surgery, if for no other reason than that my fear of surgery now outweighs my vanity (but only by a slim margin).

Ironically, though, I am both pierced and tattooed. What's more, I've had conversations with women with impossibly large breasts and slim noses who say, "Ouch! Didn't that hurt?" when they see my tongue piercing. I realize that we're coming from totally different places with our body modifications. I've now seen scars, botched jobs, and plastic surgery bills. But I take no high road here: I'm not rich, and I'm chicken.

My body modifications, which are less expensive and much quicker than most plastic surgeries, are nonetheless permanent and often more visible than plastic surgery at first glance. I'm sure my pierced tongue has elicited way more gasps than the average nose job, and people point to the tattoo on my foot much more than they would if I had fake breasts. So there's the difference: The surgery is meant to look real, natural, invisible, and the tattoos and piercings are meant to say, "Look at me, I'm a nonconformist!"

Let's backtrack. I got my tattoo, plain and simple, because I thought it would be a cool thing to do. I'm able to admit this now because my tattoo is faded and crappy-looking, and I curse the 17-year-old me who sat in Jim's Tattoo Shack on the Massachusetts--New Hampshire border saying, "Yeah, let's make it a fish."

My tongue piercing, well, that was different. It was seven years later, and I decided I was getting pretty straight-looking in my old age and that I needed a gay signifier, something to trigger gaydar, something that raised a sexuality-related eyebrow. I realize that this kind of thinking was equally lame. I'm just being honest here. However, it pretty much had the desired effect, but I was kind of cheating. You may not know this, but piercing your tongue has a high attention versus permanence ratio. It's all dramatic and rough-seeming, but the tongue is actually the fastest-healing tissue in the body. Twenty-four hours after you take it out, it heals up with little lasting damage. Good thing for me too because now, six years later, the only symbolic message a tongue piercing gives is that you might be from the suburbs and be 14 to 19 years old.

In some ways it's all about peer pressure. I have a friend whose parents encouraged her to get a nose job when she was 15. Most of the other girls in her school already had one. She got tattoos instead and hid them from her parents. Now she's getting the tattoos lasered off, and her nose is intact. What does it all mean? It would seem that while on one level plastic surgery and tattooing/piercing stem from the same place, namely, a dissatisfaction with what you've been given, on another level they are opposites. Plastic surgery is born out of a need to conform (to society's ideas of what one should be) and tattooing/piercing evolves out of a need to announce one's nonconformity to the world. Although now plastic surgery can be pretty damn convincing, and tattoos are pretty easy to remove.

I'm reminded of the old Dr. Seuss story of the Star-bellied Sneeches. Some Sneeches had stars on their bellies, and some did not. The non-starred Sneeches invented a machine to make belly stars, and then the Star-bellied Sneeches invented a machine to take stars off, and soon nobody could figure out who was born with stars and who wasn't, and everyone was nice to each other.

I cast no stones. The need to conform and the need to stand out seem to me to stem from the same place. The way we choose to modify our bodies simply depends on whose attention we crave. I accidentally clamped down on my tongue piercing with my back teeth the other day and swallowed a piece of tooth. Not sexy. I took out the piercing and put it in my pocket, relieved that it was so easy to undo my particular conceit.

Turner is an actress and screenwriter who cowrote and will appear in the upcoming American Psycho.
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Article Details
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Author:Turner, Guinevere
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 21, 1999
Words:744
Previous Article:THE ADVOCATE POLL.
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