Permanent or semipermanent modification of the human body may be undergone by removal of superficial features (such as hair, teeth) or breaking of the skin and by introducing a change of its shape. Such processes may be accidental or unintended. But frequently, they are undergone voluntarily or without strong social censure, as a result of custom, occupation, magical or medical rites, aesthetic considerations, religion (ascetic mortification), tribal initiation, or to increase the income from begging. When used as a form of punishment (including amputation of limbs, drug induced mutilation and torture) or when dictated, mutilation and deformation constitute a violation of the human rights and in any case can represent a health hazard for the person.
Intentional and unintentional mutilations and deformations occur in all societies: tribes over-fatten their women for aesthetic reasons; skin marking in the form of tattooing or cicatrization is frequently practised, particularly in tribal societies; depilation is practised by the less-hairy Eastern races and by Western women. Deformation of the head, neck, trunk, limbs or feet by special bindings has been practised in tribal societies on all continents; the nose is frequently pierced for the admission of various forms of decoration or modified under plastic surgery for aesthetic reasons; the lips may also be pierced and stretched, some teeth are removed, filed, encrusted or blackened in various societies. Removal of the epicanthic fold over the eyes is common in some Eastern societies to mimic the Caucasoid appearance. Perforation of the earlobe is common, and various techniques are used to increase the size or modify the shape of the breast. The genitalia are mutilated in a variety of ways, including circumcision, unilateral castration, castration, female circumcision, infibulation and artificial defloration, and blinding is used as an alternative to incarceration in some countries.
In many cultures various modifications of the human body are symbolic expressions of inclusion in the community or group. They marks of a change in status within the community. They are necessary to participate in adult roles. Individuals are clearly distinguished and confusion about the individual's roles on the part of the individual and the society in reduced.