...and, if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?...
From this sublime paean to the sacredness of the body to the pedestrian adornments of the commercial tattoo parlor---from the thing in itself as the body's largest organ to a mere static canvas for momentary expression often applied while both body, soul and mind (such as it may be) are impaired.
Yes, history is full of sub-cultural instances of tribal identification, even shamanic spiritual bases for bodily enhancement/scarification, piercing, reshaping, yet this has been in our time more observed in the breach than from knowledge or respect.
Today, the vast majority of so-called body art is rarely in adornment of what is otherwise a self-respecting body much less anything worthy of the term 'art', even in its most liberal postmodern sense. Case in point: the ubiquitous relatively tiny marking to be found on the female of the species at the outer region of the ankle, said female usually of such girth that the size of the tattoo 'art' is, to say the least, a wishful distraction from resigned obesity.
And then there are the literal branding logos, understandable perhaps on Tour de France bicyclists or NASCAR vehicles, bathetic when seen on the much-in-need of dental surgery NASCAR devotee. (Note: the probability that such persons are reading this are tantamount to their association of 'Whitman' with that last box of sweet candies they regularly consume).
Now, for a moderate call to, well, moderation: there are lovely traditions such as Henna decoration to be found in cultures worldwide; this often gorgeous practice both commemorates significant events in one's life and practically acknowledges the changeability of human emotions: it's temporary. Indeed, from 60's psychedelic body painting to performance art's 'look-at-me' extremist, none has so acknowledged Whitman's deep insight into this outerwear of the soul as Henna.
While reading a lovely book on this ancient art I came across what may capture both Henna's intentionally light 'footprint' upon the soul within the decoration and its poetic subtlety: "You should have a softer pillow than my heart." (Lord Byron)
You, those who would seek to electrify the body as such a heartfelt expression of their soul are urged to explore this the greenest (derived from the ironically common shrub grown in hot dry and humid climes) of body adornment. Oh, yes, it's not just for women, no: e.g., the rugged Tuareg men of the desert apply it to their feet. Che Guevara, the popular subject of many a youth's tattooed arm or chest, himself is said to have used it. Yes, Che, physician, macho man, revolutionary, enemy of the status quo
of ignorance and poverty whose image adorns many, young and not so young, most of whom know little of his soul: "The true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love."
Part of such a desirable feeling is the self-respect which knows the body to the the sacred covering of the soul. Its message contains the essence of change, that all is impermanent; so, too, should be its adornment.