Pietts, V. 2010. “Reclaiming the Female Body: Women Body Modifiers and Feminist Debates.”

Pietts, Victoria. 2010. “Reclaiming the Female Body: Women Body Modifiers and Feminist Debates.” In The Politics of Women’s Bodies: Sexuality, Appearance, and Behavior, 3rd ed. Edited by Rose Weitz. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 268-282.

Shift from women meeting conformist demands to women embarking on “body projects” – engaging in long-term modifications to conform OR resist cultural norms of femininity. Third wave feminists emphasize agency in sexuality, modification – individual choices as empowering; post-modernists and post-essentialists deny that tattoos and modification have any central or complete meaning – that meanings compete and are multiplex. Modifications may act as sites of resistance against gender norms.

Deviations from Western norms about bodies is often considered to be debased, depraved – body modification is sometimes chosen as it places modifier in a liminal space; sometimes, this choice can be agentic but are influenced by larger social contexts – despite the meaning that women place on their modifications, they are susceptible to the multiple meanings that society can place upon the modification.

Some feminists (like Dworkin, MacKinnon) note that women’s body alterations are a demonstration of patriarchal control; that modification is sexualized and presses for inequality – patriarchal use and formation of the female body, and the psychic internalization of malleability, change. Instead, some explain that modification can act as an assertion of self-control over the body, reclamation (post-trauma, as a way of defending against harassment, obscuring or “scarring” the body to avoid ogling, etc.), representing transgression of and beyond the body/beauty, preventing rape (and its “phenomenologies of fear” – Cahill (Rethinking Rape – find cite)

MacKinnon (1997): “So many distinctive features of women’s status as second class – the restriction and constraint and contortion, the servility and the display, the self-mutilation and requisite presentation of self as a beautiful thing, the enforced passivity, the humiliation – are made into the content of sex for women”.

“Women are not individually responsible for situating their practices in all their larger collective and historical contexts, for predicting the political effects of their practices, or even wholly authoring their meanings” (279 – but, shouldn’t they try?!) – however, this practice is highly intersubjective – the meanings that are pressed upon women’s expressions may never fully be their own, being subject to audience interpretations.

Limitations: simply as the body is reclaimed, it doesn’t render that person absent from larger social contexts; using modifications post-rape does not erase larger rape cultures. Modifications become symbolic rebellions, and are often obscured within public and professional contexts. Exoticism of tattoos may commodify female body as the erotic Other.


MacKinnon, Catherine. 1997. “Sexuality” in The Second Wave, edited by Linda Nicholson. New York: Routledge. 197.


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