Body Decoration, Personal Adornment as Social Cue

9cleopatra1Personal adornment is as ancient as it rife with meaning and significance. Adornments are generally known as an accessory or ornament which is worn to enhance the beauty or status of the wearer. They are often worn to distinguish oneself from others, or to enhance or embellish. Additionally, decorative pieces are worn to define cultural, social or religious affiliations within any certain community. When worn to show economic status, the items are either rare or prohibitively expensive to others. Adornments can be colorful and can be used to attract attention. They can include (but are not limited to) such items as jewelry, cosmetics, clothing accessories, facial hair, fingernail modification, piercing, lip plates, tattooing, braiding and head gear.

There is an elaborate worldwide history when it comes to embellishment. From feathers and bone in ancient tribes, to white powdered wigs in the 18th century, from medals to showcase military rank and expensive watches worn by moneyed men, this tradition is as old as time. Certain historical figures were quite lauded for certain attributes and these adornments were utilized to further distinguish themselves from the masses. Cleopatra is a prime example well known for her beauty and seduction wore elaborate plated headdresses, hair beading and kohl eyeliner as accoutrement. Che Guevara famously always wore his beret with five pointed star which was notoriously fraught with intention and personal purpose/mission. Kings, Queens and those of the various Royal House always separated themselves from the general peasant populations with jewels, elaborate costume and at times white face paint (which at certain point contained lead and was followed by some premature deaths). The jewels and clothing signified a status that separated and elevated them and the ivory facial cream showcased a life of a sedentary nature, not having to slave in working class conditions and in the bright midday sun.  Mother Theresa wore a complete white headpiece and caftan to signal her religious purity, good intention and humility. This lack of physical adornment carried great significance. The Massai tribe in Kenya distinguish themselves by their weaponry, colourful beaded arrangements and body paint.

Today, we have many varied examples which aren’t necessarily as traditional in intent. The waters have become muddied, but there are certain signals which we still do send to the community and to the opposite sex, to employers and to friends that are meant to convey certain attributes. It’s also a way of examining and defining an inner life and carrying it to the surface. It informs someone, this is who I am, without having to actually say anthing at all.

The adornment of the body is a human need. I don’t see anything superficial about it unless your life becomes very materialistic.”

-David La Chapelle


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