16th Apr2017

Black Conservative Christianity and Body Modification

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I recently had a conversation with my mother on why, growing up, she told me I was not allowed to get any tattoos and piercings. I expected her to respond with a sermon regarding why I could not participate in any kind of body modification. Instead she wrote down a list of Bible verses to answer my question and that was the end of our conversation. This was probably because she wanted me to read the Bible myself as well as her being aware of how her role as a parent had changed. She was no longer in a position to dictate my actions, but rather help me make my own. Bakang Akoonyatse’s work on black females and body autonomy made me curious about the experience of other black females regarding their decisions to get tattoos or piercings and their Christian parent’s perception of body modification . I conducted face-to face interviews with Nthabiseng and Mpho who already have tattoos, as well as Pusetso who is interested in getting piercings on different parts of her body.

Corinthians 6: 19-20: The Lord’s Temple

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own. You were bought at a price, therefore honour God with your bodies”. When my mother wrote down this verse for me to read, she probably did it with the expectation that I would view my body as pure and in no need of altering. She was wrong. Body autonomy has become extremely important for me and the idea that my body was not my own did not sit well with me. It also insinuated that a tattoo or piercing would make my body dirty. One of my interviewees Nthabiseng had a similar experience. After seeing the ink on her forearm, her mother told her that tattoos were for loose women. She also faced stigma from her peer group at her Roman Catholic Church. “When the youth leader found out about my tattoo he told me I could no longer serve on the altar because I was dirty” she says.

Leviticus 19; 28

“You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you.” This verse is straighter forward than the last – simply do not get a tattoo because God says so. Pusetso and Mpho’s parents took on a very different approach to my mine. For Pusetso’s mom, getting a tattoo or piercing is an indicator of demonic possession. “My mother’s beliefs on body piercings always narrow down to religious views. She says that they are satanic and are markings of the devil. I am also Christian but I don’t think it’s that deep”. Mpho’s grandmother brings in the question of race. “When I first showed my grandmother my tattoo she told me that I am adopting things done by white people” Her grandmother’s concerns are not exactly accurate. Body modification has always been, and is still, prevalent in many African cultures.

From the interviews I conducted I saw that my interviewees and I had one thing in common – we prioritised body autonomy over our parent’s feelings. We were all raised by Christian parents who instilled in us that respectable women were the ones without tattoos and piercings and we went ahead and got them anyway. We knew that by getting our bodies pierced and tattooed would come with being labelled as dirty and promiscuous but we didn’t care. We freely gave up our rights to be called good Christian women without any remorse. My biggest celebration here is not that I went against my mother’s teachings and God’s will without dying, but that I got a chance to practice body autonomy and really make my body my own.

 

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