Koch reports that body work is still deviant, as multiple tattoos or piercings are likely to mean "regular marijuana use, occasional use of other illegal drugs, and a history of being arrested" (Koch, 2010).
Tattooing is tribal, having been introduced to modern society by crew of the explorer, James Cook (Utanga, 2006). Native tribes decorate their bodies for the "aesthetic and symbolic" and to show a connection with nature (Jefkin-Elnekave, 2006). The majority of contemporary tattoos are tribal- or nature-based, perhaps showing a desire for a natural connection as part of a rebellious expression rather than behavioral deviance (Wohlrab, 2007).
To show the extremes of body work as rebellious expression, the conceptual artist Orlan had herself physically reconstructed to represent the ideal "in classical works of art" (Mullis, 2006). With eight operations she represented "the body as meat" for audiences around the world via satellite.
While society has sanctioned piercings and tattoos as "socially normative practices" (Toste, 2010), and separates them from self-injury, pain still links them. Siorat says that tattoos are symbols of the pain of the "many hours under the needles" necessary to create them (Siorat, 2006). Tribal scarring can be different different from tribal body decorations in that it often represents the pain of war (Jefkin-Elnekave, 2006).
If we allow for gray area between body work and self-injury defined by pain, perhaps we can speculate about a biopsychological connection: depression. For this speculation, let's allow for a link through pain. The physical pain of self-injury can be an escape from the pain of depression (Dickstein, 2009) where the most common diagnosis for self-injury is depression followed by PTSD. If we allow for the "old school" view that body work, specifically tattooing, is representative of lower and criminal classes, and we can show depression at these social levels: "increased frequency of child exposure to poverty is a consistent predictor of adolescent and young adult anxiety and depression" (Ying, 2010). More challenges, and hence stresses, exist for the present adolescent generation than did for previous generations (TODAY Health, 2010), so perhaps body work is a way to cope and express the increasing stresses of the adolescent contemporary experience.
Wohlrab S, Stahl J, Rammsayer T, Kappeler P. Differences in personality characteristics between body-modified and non-modified individuals: associations with individual personality traits and their possible evolutionary implications. European Journal of Personality [serial online]. November 2007;21(7):931-951.
Dickstein, D. (2009). A closer look at non-suicidal self-injury in adolescents. (Cover story). Brown University Child & Adolescent Behavior Letter, 25(12), 1-6.
Siorat, C. (2006). The Art of Pain. Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture, 10(3), 367-380. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.
Ying, S., Fangbiao, T., Jiahu, H., & Yuhui, W. (2010). The Mediating Effects of Stress and Coping on Depression Among Adolescents in China. Journal of Child & Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 23(3), 173-180. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6171.2010.00238.x.