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Photo by Jason Scragz

Photo by Jason Scragz

From ear piercing to tattoos to plastic surgery to scarification, body modification has long played a significant role in worldwide culture, and still does today. It’s a nearly universal practice; historically, tattooing, scarring, piercing and the like have been used to mark rites of passage, to enhance beauty, to denote tribal or other affiliations, for spiritual reasons, and, especially in current Western culture, for self-expression and even shock value. On the other hand, body modification is still a taboo in many circles. To some, any kind of body modification that isn’t medically necessary is considered a desecration, a dishonoring of the sanctity of the body. In short, a form of self-mutilation. And, of course, there’s a wide range of opinion and feeling on the matter.

Considering the long and widespread history of body modification, and its cultural significance, this should be a fertile area to explore in fiction, especially for speculative fiction writers. Do the people who inhabit your worlds modify themselves? How? Why? Is modification a subculture or counterculture? Or is the absence of modification uncommon?

If you write contemporary mainstream fiction, consider your characters’ attitudes toward modification. Do your characters practice any sort of modification? What are their attitudes toward the common types of modification, such as piercings or tattoos? Are they likely to encounter the more uncommon types, such as scarification? What would their attitudes to such kinds of modification be?

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