Posted inVisual Arts

Body Art: Why it should be a celebrated form of self-expression

Illustration by Khadijah Ali

I’m sure many of us have heard the phrases “but you don’t need make-up”, or “you’re naturally beautiful”, or even “you don’t need a tattoo”. For most of my life growing up, the belief was instilled within me that body art — tattoos, body piercings, makeup — was something bad, that wanting to express myself through colour and modification was a clear sign that I was insecure, so instead, I should work on accepting my natural appearance. I understand that for some people, body art is a way of covering up insecurities, or conforming to beauty standards, but that isn’t always the case. I believe that body art, when used as a positive form of self-expression, should be celebrated and recognised as a distinctive form of art. In a world of over 7 billion people, it’s easy to get drowned out, so for those of you who want to express yourself, what is stopping you?

What stops us?

I don’t know about you, but back when I was in school, even in sixth form, any form of body art was condemned as it was seen as “scruffy”, “unpresentable”, or “a sign of insecurity”. I remember watching YouTube videos when I was younger where people would describe their ideal “type” and an overwhelming number of people expressed how they thought make-up was a turn-off. Even more recently, when I told friends of my plans to get a tattoo, the concern was raised about how it would impact my career prospects. I was even asked whether I was getting a tattoo because I felt unhappy in my appearance, which seemed completely absurd and couldn’t be further from the truth. With all of these examples, I think the exact opposite is true; body art is a bold way of expressing yourself and letting your personality shine through. Why can’t body art go unquestioned just like any other form of art? After all, you wouldn’t infer that someone had become insecure because of their new-found love for Picasso or sculptures. But I suppose body art is different. In a world where our appearances are judged before personality, it makes sense that people are worried about what impression their body art could make on the world. 

What kind of art is it? 

The beauty of body art lies in the wide range for every taste and duration. Make-up can be a temporary form of expression for the day, you can try out a wacky eyeshadow, or, on the other end of the spectrum, you could get a tattoo; a permanent mark on your body. Even piercings can be temporary; back in my first year, I got a nose piercing as a symbol of my freedom (as I wasn’t allowed one at school) but have since taken it out as I felt that it no longer reflected how I wanted to express myself to the world. The beauty of body art, just like any other form of ‘traditional’ art, is that it is unique to the individual. I think we should celebrate and appreciate it as a form of visual art, just like we would a painting, photograph or model. This isn’t to say that you will like every type of body art, after all beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it is simply to say that many of us need to reconstruct our perception of makeup, tattoos, or piercings as another form of art.  

Is it a lesser form of art? 

Even if we shift our thinking about body art as ‘art’ in the traditional sense, there is still this notion that it is a lesser form. For some reason it does not hold as high of a value as a painting. Unfortunately, just as not everyone accepts certain types of modern art as ‘art’, it is impossible to convince everyone of the idea that body art is art. Instead, I would encourage individuals who want to use body art as a form of self-expression, to be the champions of the notion that it is without a doubt art. For example, when putting on make-up, I prefer to see it as a creative form of expression, the face as another canvas, rather than it just being another step in my ‘getting ready’ process. I would urge everyone to let their creative minds run free, and apply this to any form of body art they choose. 

I’d like to encourage readers to go away and think about the way that they perceive body art, whether that’s because of what they have been told by others or because of their own preconceived ideas. Body art can be a way of covering up insecurities, but it can also be a positive mode of self-expression. More and more, body art is celebrated as an art form in itself, but I think we still have a long way to go to break down the negative connotations that pervade about make-up, piercings and tattoos.