To Each His Own
Why do we practice body art on university campuses?
I believe that there is no common answer to that question, and we have individual reasons for its practice.
Writing is a very useful practice for spreading beliefs and ideas. That statement itself may be something that most of us take for granted, but it is an important idea to remember when it is applied to the concept of body art. Body art comes in many forms, from face-paint to writing on oneself to piercings and tattoos. The important thing to remember is that no matter what form it is in, it still exists for a reason. On college campuses, body art is present for a variety of reasons. John Soyland writes in his essay Speaking the Decorated Body: “…beyond personal desire, there is no common element in the interest in decoration” (229). It would be idealistic to try to categorize all of the reasons for the existence of body art because, as Soyland states, people have different reasons for decorating themselves. There are, however, some common reasons that university students practice body art and writing on the body.
For instance, one of the most commonly practiced forms of body art involves decorating oneself with school colors in order to show school spirit. When I googled “school spirit,” I found a topic concerning the meaning of those words on a high school’s official website. It stated: “…to ask of spirit is to inquire of stated or agreed upon purpose which, in turn, leads to the question of a collective will.” A general goal, or “agreed upon purpose,” for a university is to see its students succeed, whether academically, athletically, or both. Because of this, sports games are generally good spots to find people decorating themselves in order to promote school spirit. Students might feel that the more they decorate their bodies, the more they are promoting their school. Others may feel that, by dressing in their school colors, they are amplifying their support for their university.
The written word also finds its way onto students’ bodies by means of quick messages, notes, and reminders. I often see students writing their homework assignments, phone numbers, and even test dates on their hands. Unlike promoting school spirit, this form of writing on the body is not generally meant to be a social statement. The messages are reminders for students about important things. The messages do create small impressions that people can pick up on, however. For example, a homework assignment written on someone’s arm may give the impression that the student either doesn’t have an assignment book or is too lazy or busy to write in one. Neither of those two reasons may be true; the student may intend to write in an assignment book later. If the two students do not know each other, the impression that is created is based only on what the other student sees before him.
A third category in university body art includes one’s personal appearance. Tattoos and piercings are a way that a student might express himself without necessarily using direct language. Clothing is another way that students may express themselves. As John Soyland claims, there are many reasons why a person may decorate himself. Most of the reasons that he found tended to be social ones, whether involving one person or everyone. Body art is a quick way to create an impression, as it doesn’t involve the person having to make any sort of action in order to make an impression.
Body art on university campuses is a truly social activity. Even things such as messages written on one’s arm can be noticed and interpreted by others. Although people may try to make a unifying claim to explain its existence, there is none. Personal desire may be common in most cases, but we do not all think alike. In short, the true reasons for practicing body art are known only to the individual students themselves.