Modification of the body, whether permanent or semi-permanent, has been happening for many generations and is done for various reasons, such as ritual, supposed beautification or aesthetics, rites of passage, religious beliefs or to display group membership or affiliation. It is even done to create shock value or simply as self-expression. In general, voluntary changes are modifications, while involuntary changes are considered mutilations.
Young men and women in many African communities have their bodies modified to fulfill custom. Such rites have often required some form of change to the head, limbs or torso. These rites involve practices that range from a mere head and eyebrow shaving to cutting patterns on the face or body using a razor blade, and the chipping, or filing, or removal of incisor teeth. Other forms of modification have included the wearing of wooden plugs designed to stretch the earlobes. This has been a common practice among the Maasai and Turkana people of Kenya, who begin to wear wooden earplugs at 10 years of age, a practice that is considered by many to be a form of child abuse.
Mutilation Used as Punishment
In the early days of America, horse thieves were secured in stocks while they were whipped and their cheeks branded with H T to identify their crime. Slaves, considered property by their masters, were branded for identification from ancient times. Today, in some countries, amputation of the right hand is the punishment for those convicted of theft.
For centuries, the Chinese thought it attractive to bind the feet of the little girls so their feet would not grow bigger than around five inches. This inhumane practice, which has been outlawed since the early 1900s, crippled the women for life.
For many, the skin is a canvas in need of decoration. Some display marks for all to see while some are hidden and only known to the wearer. Modifications such as body piercing and tattooing have become very popular in recent times from simple markings to altering bone structure. Devotees of extreme body modification say that tattoos, piercings, and skin implants are beautiful and that the sometimes-painful procedures used to create them can be emotionally and even spiritually uplifting.
Looking over His creation, God saw that “indeed it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Through Moses He gave explicit instructions to the Israelites that they were not to make any cuttings in their flesh for the dead or place any tattoo marks on themselves (Leviticus 19:28).
Paul wrote, “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own” (1 Corinthians 6:19). And again, “I beseech you therefore, brethren by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1, 2).
The only cutting to be done is the circumcision of the heart, the cutting away of sin from the life. It is a deception of the devil to believe that we can improve on what God has created by painting and mutilating our bodies which we have on loan in this life.
“It is right to love beauty and to desire it; but God desires us to love and to seek first the highest beauty—that which is imperishable. The choicest productions of human skill possess no beauty that can bear comparison with the that beauty of character which in His sight is of “great price.” Education, 249.