Although one cannot tell a book by its cover, we often look to physical appearance to give us clues about a person's sanity, morality, intelligence, and abilities. Because appearance can be a fairly reliable indicator of one's behavior, it is no surprise that in society physical image is very important. Today people can change their clothing, hair, teeth, face, and body. Most of these changes are met with a level of tolerance. Taking action to change one's appearance is often approved or at least accepted as a way of retaining youth, keeping current, or boosting self-esteem. However, when one makes radical changes that may be quite original and go against society's standards, there is usually backlash. This is seen currently with the trend of body piercing, tattoos, branding, and other forms of body adornment. These forms of body adornment are seen by the larger part of Western society as mutilation. More conservative people feel that these trends are new. However, such trends are not new. Body piercing, tattoos, and other forms of body ornamentation have been used for years among indigenous people globally. Inquiring why individuals in all societies may choose for various reasons to alter their appearance in specific ways and to suffer physical pain or social disapproval for doing produces many answers. .
In contemporary Western society, people who alter their appearance in socially provocative ways are typically youths, and because youths are essentially the future of society it is potentially revelatory to examine why so many deliberately choose to separate themselves from the population at large. Does norm-defying ornamentation fulfill some psychological need unmet by contemporary society? Are certain forms of body ornamentation indicative of unhealthy, antisocial, or even evil influences as some detractors contend? If these fears or opinions have any basis in reality, should society as a whole fear the future? .