Skin: The Body’s Canvas 1

The Body’s Canvas
Wes Wheeler’s tattoos, which cover his entire back, took 70 hours
to complete. “Getting the tattoo was painful,” he says, “but sometimes
I look in the mirror and say, wow, that’s beautiful, and it’s on me.”
If you took off your skin and laid it flat, it
would cover an area of about 1.9 square meters
(21 square feet), making it by far the body’s
largest organ. Covering almost the entire body,
skin protects us from a variety of external
forces, such as extremes of temperature,
damaging sunlight, harmful chemicals, and
dangerous infections. Skin is also packed with
nerves, which keeps the brain in touch with the
outside world.
The health of our skin and its ability to perform
its protective functions are crucial to our
well-being. However, the appearance of our
skin is equally—if not more—important to
many people on this planet.
Take skin color, for example. Your genes
determine your skin’s color, but for centuries,
humans have tried to lighten or darken their
skin in an attempt to be more attractive. In
the 1800s, white skin was desirable for many
Europeans. Skin this color meant that its owner
was a member of the upper class and did not
have to work in the sun. Among darker-skinned
people in some parts of the world, products
used to lighten skin are still popular today.
In other cultures during the 20th century, as
cities grew and work moved indoors, attitudes
toward light skin shifted in the opposite
direction. Tanned skin began to indicate leisure
time and health. In many places today, sun
tanning on the beach or in a salon2 remains
popular, even though people are more aware of
the dangers of UV rays.3
Just as people have altered their skin’s color
to denote wealth and beauty, so too have
cultures around the globe marked their skin
to indicate cultural identity or community
status. Tattooing, for example, has been carried
out for thousands of years. Leaders in places
including ancient Egypt, Britain, and Peru wore
tattoos to mark their status, or their bravery.
Today, among the Maori people of New
Zealand as well as in cultures in Samoa, Tahiti,
and Borneo, full facial tattoos, called moko, are
still used to identify the wearer as a member of
a certain family and to symbolize the person’s
achievements in life. 1
28 Unit 2 Skin Deep
anvas is a strong, heavy cloth often used to do oil pants on.
A salon is a place where people have their hair cut or colored, or have
beauty treatments.
A group of children from Washington International Primary
School shows a range of different skin tones.
In Japan, tattooing has been practiced since
around the fifth century b.c. The government
made tattooing illegal in 1870, and though
there are no laws against it today, tattoos are
still strongly associated with criminals—
particularly the yakuza, or the Japanese mafia,3
who are known for their full-body tattoos.
The complex design of a yakuza member’s
tattoo usually includes symbols of character
traits that the wearer wants to have. The
process of getting a full-body tattoo is both
slow and painful and can take up to two years
to complete.
In some cultures, scarring—a marking caused
by cutting or burning the skin—is practiced,
usually among people who have darker skin on
which a tattoo would be difficult to see. For
many men in West Africa, for instance, scarring
is a rite of passage—an act that symbolizes that
a male has matured from a child into an adult.
In Australia, among some native peoples, cuts
are made on the skin of both men and women
when they reach 16 or 17. Without these scars,
members were traditionally not permitted to
trade, sing ceremonial songs, or participate in
other activities.
appealing to those living in modern cities?
According to photographer Chris Rainier,
whose book Ancient Marks examines body
markings around the globe, people are looking
for a connection with the traditional world.
“There is a whole sector of modern society—
people in search of identity, people in search
of meaning . . .,” says Rainier. “Hence, [there
has been]a huge explosion of tattooing and
body marking . . . [I]t’s . . . mankind wanting
identity, wanting a sense of place . . . and a
sense of culture within their community.”
The Mafia is a criminal organization that makes money illegally.
An industrialized nation is a country which has a lot of industry,
such as factories, businesses, etc.
Not all skin markings are permanent, though.
In countries such as Morocco and India,
women decorate their skin with colorful henna
designs for celebrations such as weddings
and important religious holidays. The henna
coloring, which comes from a plant, fades and
disappears over time.
In recent years in many industrialized
nations,4 tattooing, henna body art, and, to
a lesser degree, scarring have been gaining
in popularity. What makes these practices
The scars on the face of a Gobir woman from
Niger indicate her membership in the tribe.
2B Unmasking Skin
Reading Comprehension
A. Multiple Choice. Choose the best answer for each question.
:.::l:,:1. 1. What is this reading mainly about?
a. the importance of skin to health
b. the ways people change the appearance of their skin
c. reasons people get tattoos
d, cultural ceremonies
2. Why are tattoos disapproved of in Japanese society?
a. They are often associated with crime.
b, They are painful.
c, They take too long to complete.
d. They are illegal.
3. What is NOT true about henna tattoos?
a, They are used to celebrate religious holidays.
b. Some lndian brides decorate their skin with them.
c, They are permanent.
d, They are made with ink.
How are tattcr:
viewed in you'
culture? Do ychave one, or \j,: - you consider
getting one?
4. ln the final paragraph, the word explosion can be
replaced with
a. bombing
b. destruction
c, increase
d. decrease
5. What is the main idea of paragraph B (stafting line Bl)?
a. Body marking is used today as a means of identity.
b. Body marking is a dying art.
c. Body marking is an old practice.
d. Body marking is a modern phenomenon.
B. Matching. Match the ways in which people have changed the
appearance of their skin (1-5) with their reasons for doing
so (a-e),
Ways of changing appearance
a. to show bravery or indicate achievements
skin whitening
Unit 2 Skin Deep
b. to celebrate weddings and festivals
C. to show leisure time and health
d. to indicate membership of the upper class
€. to mark the reaching of adulthood,
padicularly on darker-skinned people
Vocabulary Practice
Completion. Complete the information with the correct form of words
='om the box, Two words are extra.
part of life for members of the Iban
Tattooing was traditionally a(n) 1.
:ribe of Sirarvak, Malaysia. Iban tattooing was considered a spiritual art form, and it
as believed that the tattoos helped protect the Iban people from harm and disease.
Common images for tattoos related to the world around them, and images of plant and
:nimal life were predominant.
3r-simply looking at the tattoos) which were first done when a child grew into a(n)
adult, other members of the tribe could know things about the
ific designs like flowers and spirals
such as his or her life experiences.
-_r --in fighting, or
concepts such as a man's skill and 4.
. s-oman's skill in weaving, dancing, or singing. In the past, rveaving was considered
:re tbmale's equivalent to fighting, and was knorvn as "women's
-,.,'er." Nowadays, Iban women weave as a(n) 5.
:ctiviq,, or to provide souvenirs for the tourist market.
the tattooing was done using ancient recipes involving
:atural dyes from plants and traditional wooden tools. The dyes
.:e 6,
; they cannot be removed. Newly-done,
i:'an tattoos look dark, but they gradually 7.
:cme\\'hnt from sunlight, or as the dye is absorbed into the skin.
^oclar', for the Iban people, Western tattoos are more popular
-ran traditional designs, and modern tattooing machines
d)'es have mainly replaced
::e used. Modern 8.
re plant-based ones.
Definitions. Use the correci form of words
:, nplete the definitions.
1, A person who breaks the law is a(n)
in the box in
A to
2. ; you walk at a slow pace, you are walking
3. i something
, it lasts forever.
'4. 'something is on the outside rather than the inside, it is
An lban mans hands show
traditional lban tattoos.
5. 'bu need to be
to handle the
:xireme pain of getting a traditional tattoo.
can be measured by their
6. - pe[SOl-l'S
:rysical and mental development.
' something has become lighter in color over time,
S:bstances that are created by a reaction between
:,', c or more other substances are
The letters -al at the end of a word often mean
that the word is an adiective, e.9., chemical,
external, crucial, and criminal . (Note: criminal is
also a noun meaning a person who commits a
28 Unmasking Skin