July 31, 1998 Ira Pilgrim

Body Modifications and Mutilations

What fools these mortals be.

Shakespeare(A Midsummer Night's Dream)

The title of this column is taken from a section in the Encyclopedia Britannica. In it they list a variety of human customs that involve altering the body. These customs usually involve pain to the person undergoing them. Nevertheless, people undergo these practices voluntarily, and sometimes eagerly.

The list includes the following: Deforming the heads of infants, perforation of the lower lip and the insertion of pegs or ornaments. Women of the Sara tribe of central Africa slit their lips and insert progressively larger saucer-shaped discs that make their lower lip protrude. Some cultures remove teeth for cosmetic purposes, some file front teeth to a point, insert gems into them, add metal, carve designs, or insert pegs between the teeth. All of these practices at the price of considerable pain.

Perforation of the ears and other body parts and the insertion of ornaments is very common . Even my wife has two more holes in her head than she was born with.

There is circumcision and other mutilations of the penis. I was subject to this as an infant. Some cultures circumcise as a puberty rite. Some remove one testicle. In women, some have the lips of their vaginas elongated, some have their vaginal opening almost closed, some have their clitoris amputated.

Amputation of fingers or toes is practiced by some cultures.

Scarification of the skin and tattooing is common. Some cultures place objects under the skin, including pebbles under the skin of the head of the penis.

The Paduang women of Myanmar use coiled brass neck rings to stretch their neck to a length of 15 inches. The rings, added progressively, result in pulling about 4 chest vertebrae into the neck.

Some cultures remove one or both nipples or one breast. Implants to enlarge the breasts are practiced in western countries. With the exception of the implants, most of these procedures are done without anaesthesia.

Up into this century, in western countries, upper class women wore corsets that permanently deformed their bodies.

In China, for over 1,000 years, female children had their feet bound in early childhood, forming "golden lily" feet. This practice was very painful throughout the life of the women. Peasant women were spared this practice and walked barefoot or with sandals or shoes. Foot binding was outlawed in China at the beginning of this century.This event heralded the beginning of woman's liberation in China. That type of liberation has not yet caught on in the western world.

The encyclopedia did not include the custom, in most shoe-wearing countries, of wearing shoes that conform more to some abstract idea of what a shoe should look like, rather than a shoe which is shaped like a human foot. These torture devices are advertised as being functional or even comfortable. The TV ads for Easy Spirit shoes are ludicrous. As would be expected, those torture devices made for women deform their feet worse than those made for men and dress shoes are much worse than so-called work shoes.

The pathology caused by pointed shoes is almost universal. If all shoe wearers decided to buy shoes that were shaped like feet, the profession of podiatry would probably cease to exist.

In the '60s There was a company in Sweden(Earth Shoes) that manufactured a shoe that was shaped like a foot, but they are now out of business. Now, there is only one company, the German company Birkenstock, that makes a shoe shaped like a human foot. Since they are the only company that makes such a shoe, they can charge what they please; and they do.

The fact that people willingly, or even eagerly, buy those torture devices, euphemistically called shoes, should tell you something about the intelligence of so-called civilized people and their customs. Perhaps if those ridiculous devices ceased to exist, maybe war would do the same. Sore feet can sure make a country's leader pretty irritable.

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