Currently reading : How capitalism influenced body modification in 2014 and its expression through social media
If anything can be said with certainty about the closing of 2014, it’s that social media’s impact and practice has evolved to colossal levels in comparison to the previous year. Instagram’s use over the last twelve months has sky rocketed making our ever-evolving perceptions of our digital realities and the constructions of our own identities and others merge into some kind of endless and unknown narcissistic mythology.
The normalisation of the action and creation of a selfie has also drastically changed the way we look at ourselves in terms of how we present to the world conceptions of our beauty, popularity, sexuality, gender and class. The democratization of social media has also meant that we can hide behind it, essences of the truth behind how we actually are in person become blurred and stand beside one another in their physical form and digital form becoming paradoxes of one another.
A new idea of dedication and authenticity now consumes us, if most of our initial opinions of other individuals come from viewing them through a plastic screen rather than in the physical, how can we make ourselves stand out? The attention we all spend on creating our digital projections of self often make us question how real we are being? How authentic is the presentation of our image on social networks? Social media means that we can collect a fan base for doing nothing other than being constructed versions of ourselves.
But now the possibilities of how we create ourselves is so broad, and these ideas move so quickly, how can we really cement a translation of our dedication to others in both virtual and lived reality? Anyone can put on a piece of clothing, but at the end of the day you have to take the garment off. A tattoo is not so easy to remove, neither is plastic surgery or any other kind of modification, these decisions are undeniable, they can’t be Photoshopped or manipulated outside of physically meeting that person.
However, what we do have control over is our bodies. Our physiques are one of the only real possessions that we can ever truly own and through ones corporeal experiences, we can place ideas of who we want to be on to them.
The modification of our bodies involves a human meeting and physically touching other bodies with another tattoo artist, piercer, hairdresser, manicurist, beauty therapist or surgeon – the opposite of what social media offers us. Social media has the incredible effect to make us feel like no more than a number. We amass followers and count likes to satisfy some kind of meaningless feeling of content. However, it is addictive and fills us with emotions of importance and popularity.
So to really stand out many now feel the need to look dedicated, everyone wants to look individual but it takes far more now than it ever has done before.
Fashion is moving so fast and it is so easy to consume to the point where people are scared to buy clothes in case they go out of fashion next week; in some ways the only way to do interact with fashion that stands out now and might actually last is to modify the body. The irony of this though is that modifications also fall in and out of fashion. The tribal tattoo of the 90s will look just as dated as how many girls replicate Rihanna’s hand tattoo, script across her collar bone or figure under her breasts.
It is strange how people often think of fashion simply in terms of its physical presence and not in terms of how the body modification, plastic surgery and tattooing world are also affected by it too. Trends exist so strongly within these realms but we often only think of them in an immediate sense.
The body remains one of the most powerful tools for confrontation and progressive forms of subculture. What we do to ourselves leads the way for how clothes will looks on us. Bodies and faces also go in and out of fashion, it can be easy to forget that trends are not simply made of fabric but come from a place within where we all feel comfortable in our skin.
There have been a few examples of individuals in 2014 who have taken this desire to be either famous through the Internet or to irreversibly change their appearances to radical levels. These people have created followings for themselves for no other reason than for us to spectate their ever-changing silhouettes of their bodies and faces. We become voyeurs to them, a hunger to see how much further they can take their alterations, how ‘unnatural’ will their bodies become, how will we challenge our own perceptions of what modern beauty has become?
One of the most recent modifiers to become viral over the Internet is Jordan James, a make-up artist from the North of England who is aiming to emulate the facial features of Kim Kardashian. His attention boils down to nothing other than his Instagram where he’s amassed tens of thousands of followers who observe his curation of self. The dimensions of his lips defy biological reasoning, his eyebrows have been tattooed on to cartoon like effect, his make-up heavily contoured to the point of his face displaying a variety of facial tones and the impenetrable solidness to his skin from the insertion of botox makes him utterly expressionless. With Kim Kardashian being the most talked about woman in the world currently and undeniably the torch holder for what mainstream contemporary beauty and fashion is based on, it’s fascinating that her influence has crept down into the bizarreness of Jordan James’ permanent alterations.
But like any fashion icon, Kardashian will become dated in her projection of womanhood and fashionability which will leave James’ appearance in some strange purgatory state, especially of that as he clearly identifies as a cis-male. There is something to be said about his tattoos too, he’s almost exactly copied the tattoos of celebrities such as Cara Delevigne’s lion on her finger, he has a wall paper covering of the Louis Vuittion logo on his forearm and on the other a huge autograph of Mariah Carey’s name.
If Kim Kardashian’s face is considered the pinnacle of desirability we can’t avoid talking about how her own body has also warped how women consider their own in context to contemporary culture. For a woman who became famous through a sex tape, it’s of no surprise that her body has become some strange worship ground for what is considered as sexually aspirational.
Following on from this new trend of a woman’s body displaying impossible sexual exaggeration is a young woman called Chloe Khan who also receives overwhelming social media attention for the way she curates her lifestyle through photographing her body and capturing images of objects that she has bought on social media. You might remember Chloe for appearing on the X Factor under the name of Chloe Mafia a few years ago, but of recent she’s morphed into a plastic surgery explosion where the angles of her body shimmer with an impossible patriarchal desire. Khan’s appearance has become very much like that of a porn star, the absurdness to the way her chest, lips and hair have been exaggerated filters into the uncanny, but simultaneously looks terrifyingly modern. It’s almost like the plastic insertions to her body fulfill a kind of sexuality impossible on a non-modified body.
The escalation of the falsity of Khan’s body can only really be compared to the modern re-occurrence of pornographic images and film in our culture. Young girls now watch X rated films more than they ever have before, meaning that their perceptions of what a naked female body looks like has morphed into a caricature of a woman. A girl with no plastic surgery but the same measurements of another with would look utterly different in the nude.
Pornography has now set a standard for how many women now feel they should look naked. A particular shape of breast and buttocks are now driving how many women expect their sexualities should look and feel. However this obviously isn’t the case for all women, but a surprising amount of women are falling into these trappings of plastic formulations of beauty. Another woman who exists as a perfect contrast for Jordan James and Chloe Khan’s surreally exaggerated forms of mainstream beauty is Grace Neutral.
Grace Neutral is the tattoo artist based in Shoreditch, East London whose Instagram presence is overwhelming, at 170,000 followers and counting, her popularity is as much to do with her craft as it is to do with her lifestyle. With the whites of her eyelids tattooed with the colour lilac, her belly button being removed, tongue split in half, manga and Disney characters illustrated into her skin and scarification on her face, her image is far away from the constant drone of impossible ideals implanted onto women on a daily basis. Although the modifications which Grace has embedded on to her body seem almost violent in their performance, in person she is one of the most gentle and sweet characters, like the kind of girl that you would want to have a sleepover with. The rest of her image is more adolescent and looks more based within the aesthetic of a fairy tale rather than the stereotypical gothic looks associated with body modification – and it’s the mixture of these two extremes, which keeps her digital profile skyrocketing. Young women love her because she’s created a playful alternative to male driven visions of femininity and sexuality.
Grace, Jordan and Chloe grab our attention because they have taken the use of their bodies’ appearance to such intense and irreversible levels. The more they modify themselves the more people become interested, like a hunger to see how far they can go, how far removed will they become from what we consider normal? However different these young people are, they all share a desire to be seen as individuals and their bodies have become the platform for an exceptionally modern setting.
Even though these two women and young man are drastically different, what they both have in common is the ownership and control of their bodies and how they present themselves; which is a totally new phenomenon for people to follow. Before this the only other comparison would have been looking at the work of artists such as Orlan or Marina Abromavic creating this kind of attention, but now we all scavenge to spectate and judge one another. Besides from these highly intellectual artists our wider knowledge of highly modified people would lie within the realm of the Guinness Book of Records or magazines like Bizarre which fulfill the space of the ‘freak show’ rather than the aspirational edge which social media offers us. We can follow the daily updates of these young people and the ways they adapt their lives for our voyeuristic pleasure.
In a world where notions of subculture are becoming more and more difficult to define or access before the internet drains them before their full formation, it could be argued that these domesticated individuals who have taken their bodies to such radical levels are the most progressive. The capitalistic nature of Jordan and Chloe’s influences have formed them into bizarre versions the reality of our consumerist and celebrity-obsessed world. It can be argued that Chloe and Jordan’s bodies have become the very essence of capitalisms greed manifested itself under the skin rather through physical objects. These two young people under the ages of twenty-five have sacrificed their bodies in a soon to be dated and alien way. But what is possibly the most interesting notion about these individuals is that they’ve amassed attention while existing within quite mundane day to day existences, living outside of the capital of Britain in suburban 9-5 settings.
What has come out of social media networks and its relationship to beauty is the desire to set ourselves aside from others in a new way and always keep on our toes about new ideas or trends. Individualism means that straying away from conservative ideals put against us can change not only how we feel about ourselves but create a shift in wider culture.
Neither Chloe or Jordan fit into any particular cutting edge or avant-garde social circles and their transformations have no greater meaning other than for their own pleasure. However they all come from the same generation where the Internet has skewed our understandings of where and how we exist in the world and the consequence of this has escalated their bodies into some of the most modern forms of physical humanity about.