Because Easter has a few different histories behind it, it likewise has many different symbols: everything from chocolate bunnies to decorative eggs to the crucifix is put on display this time of year, each with its own meaning and story. Symbolism is an inescapable aspect of religion, and, similarly, of tattooing. In fact, for many years – even centuries – symbolism and tattooing were one in the same; people did not generally get tattooed for aesthetic purposes, they got tattooed to mark a milestone, as part of a ritual, or to distinguish one group from another. Every tattoo was the symbol of one’s status, position, tribe, or religion.
Prior to the discovery of Otzi the Iceman, found in Europe, it was believed that Egyptians were the first to engage in tattooing – figurines adorned with images, mummies with faint designs, and tools that seemed made for the purpose gave a strong impression that they had been the innovators of such a practice. As more and more artifacts and bodies are uncovered, however, we learn that tattooing, particularly to symbolize one’s status, has existed for far longer, and in far more parts of the world, than previously believed.
In recent years, Eurasian mummies and entombed bodies have been discovered near modern-day China and Russia, adorned with animal designs, lines of dots, and mythical monsters, believed to be symbols of strength and virility. In Borneo, tribal tattoos consisting of thick black lines and nature themes have symbolised the stages men and women have gone through and the skills they possess since ancient times. Maori and Samoan tribes have long used tattoos, often covering most of the body, to make clear their social status and position within the tribe. Throughout Central and South America, ancient peoples ranging from farmers to the socially elite have been found bearing tattoos – generally animal designs and small symbols – that seem to have magical or ritualistic qualities to them, likely thought to bring them luck, protection, and wealth.
I could go on all day, really, but I think you get the picture – tattoos have been part of human culture for thousands of years, even within isolated societies. We have, it seems, come up with this idea over and over again, feeling it relevant to mark our bodies with meaningful symbols. Early designs were often nature-themed or “tribal” – consisting of a series of lines, dots, and bands – generally to protect, show status, and mark the various stages of life. As societies, cultures, and philosophies evolved, so too did the symbols used. Celts and Britons took to intricate and ornate patterns to declare their status, Greeks and Romans began tattooing themselves as a mark of religious devotion or belonging to a certain group or sect, and China and Japan moved from tattoos that designated people criminals or of a certain trade to more ornate and less stigmatized designs, available to the general public.
Human beings, as a whole, seem to have a need to symbolize that which matters most to us. Regardless of culture, religion, or era, we have long marked ourselves and our surroundings, sometimes to separate ourselves from, and sometimes to feel a deeper connection to, the natural world and its many forms of life. Even in the modern world, we are constantly seeking more valid, more extreme, and more innovative ways to express where we see ourselves in relation to the world around us.
Whether chocolate bunny or crucifix, whether tribal design or modern art, we as humans are constantly pushing boundaries and refining designs to adequately symbolize what it means to be us. The evolution of symbolism is, it is no exaggeration to say, the evolution of humanity itself. While tattoos may still be stigmatized and frowned upon in parts of the world, from a historical perspective, they are the most common, long-standing, and widespread way to tell our story in a way that transcends both time and language.
I-Kandy, as well as every other reputable shop on the planet, I presume, has seen the result of not-so-great ideas many, many times: tattoos by Some Guy in a Basement, piercings by My Friend and a Safety Pin, and, of course, the infamous I Did it Myself. While we understand the reasoning (and have indeed made a lot of those same errors ourselves), we hope to save you the time, money, and even pain, that can come of them. Below are the five most common body-mod mistakes, and how you can avoid them.
1. Piercing yourself/having a friend pierce you
It seems simple, right? Just take something sharp, clean it, and poke it through your ear (or lip, or nostril…). Put in a piece of jewelry, and voila! You have a piercing! Except…that’s not at all how it really goes. Professional piercers don’t just pierce you – they know the right tools to use and how to keep them sterile, they know all about cross-contamination, pathogens, and bacteria, they know the appropriate placement, size, and depth for your piercing – all very important things to know if you’re going to be putting holes in people’s bodies. There is a very good reason that professional piercings have such a high success rate, while self-done piercings will more often than not need to be taken out to avoid infection – no matter what you do, no matter how much rubbing alcohol you take to your safety pin or how thoroughly you wipe down your bathroom counter, you are not working with safe equipment, or all the necessary information.
Do yourself, and your piercing, a favour and have a professional do it. Not only will you be in good hands with clean equipment and jewelry, you will also have someone to go back to if you have questions, concerns, or need help changing the jewelry later.
2. Getting tattooed in someone’s basement
Tattooing is, more often than not, a “get what you pay for” industry. A tattoo for the price of a case of beer seems like a really awesome deal – until you see a few tattoos done for the price of a case of beer. The sketchiest of the cheap tattoos are, of course, those done in someone’s basement or garage or living room “studio”. That’s not to say there has never been a good home-artist, or even a good home-studio, but they are few and far between, and the chances of you happening to stumble upon one are small. It’s really difficult to set up a studio at home that will meet the same health & safety standards that professional shops are held to – we have specialised equipment, autoclaves and ultra-sonics, specific types of chairs and flooring, etc, for the express purpose of cleanliness and safety – home studios are unlikely to have the same. Professional artists have also gone through some form of training – even those that are mostly self-taught are well-researched in sterilisation and safety, and work in shops with others, learning from one another and honing their skills in a safe environment.
No one gets a tattoo thinking they won’t mind if it sucks. With cheap basement artists, there are just too many chances being taken – going to a professional may cost you a little more, but those extra dollars are guaranteeing you are being tattooed with sterile equipment in a clean environment by someone that knows what they are doing and has a reputation and business backing them up.
3. Getting pierced at the mall
I expect some hate-mail for this, but it needs to be said: mall piercings are terrible.
Piercings done at the mall are done by a non-professional with a piercing gun. What’s wrong with that, you ask? Well, everything.
Non-professional piercers are trained via a brief lesson, and a video tutorial. Contrast this with the months upon months upon years upon years that professional piercers spend learning about health and safety, cleaning tools, changing and adjusting jewelry, reading books, practicing on one another and themselves, trying out new techniques, piercing numerous parts of the body, talking to other piercers and sharing ideas and issues, and absorbing any and all info about jewelry, tools, trends and body modification in general, and the slightly higher price may start to make sense.
As for piercing guns, they have many issues unto themselves. First and foremost, they cannot be sterilized. The sterilization process involves extreme heat, and piercing gun cases are plastic; they would melt if they were put in an autoclave. Sterile equipment is extremely important. Think about it – the person who got pierced before you may have had an infection or contagious disease, and now you are about to get a piece of jewelry that has been in that same gun shot through your body. Gross.
Many mall-shops have gotten around that problem with single-use guns, which is certainly an improvement, but does not make guns any better of an idea. Piercing guns cause more trauma to your body than a needle – there is no sharp end on them, so they are literally shooting the jewelry into you. This means no clean incision has been made, making your risk of slow healing, pain and scarring much higher.
Lastly, malls also do not offer appropriate aftercare. While professional shops differ somewhat on what they offer, the one thing they all agree on is to not use alcohols, which is exactly what most mall shops will give you, along with antiseptic wash. Both will dry out your skin terribly and prolong the healing period.
4. Not thinking through your tattoo
Many of the regrets we hear from our clients involve old tattoos that were not exactly well thought out. People who got tattooed on impulse, or saw something cool in a magazine and went and got it done a couple of days later. People that got tattooed while drinking (I could devote a whole new article to all of the things wrong with that idea), or were not completely prepared to follow the process through. People who got their first boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s name tattooed on their chest, or something vulgar across their knuckles. Getting tattooed is actually kind-of a big deal, and it needs proper consideration – you can assume it’s going to be there for the rest of your life, and that should be in your mind the entire time. You may think a flaming 666 on your hand is an awesome idea, but are you sure you’re still going to think that when you’re forty, or even next week when you have that job interview? That’s not to say you should compromise – tattoos are all about self-expression and personalization – but it may be a good idea to take some time to really think about what you will still be happy looking at a few years from now, and whether or not you’ll want other people looking at it.
5. Listening to your friends
I know, I know. They’re your friends, and you trust them. Some of them probably have lots of tattoos and piercings, and sound like they know what they’re talking about. Hell, some of them probably doknow what they’re talking about. But, here’s the thing: what happened to them will not necessarily happen to you. Everyone heals at different speeds, everyone reacts differently to the process. Every piercing or tattoo is a unique experience. It would be hard to count the number of times someone has come in with an irritated piercing or a tattoo that hasn’t healed nicely, only to tell us that their “friend said it would be fine” if they went swimming or changed the jewelry or picked the scab. What needs to be kept in mind here is that shops do not make a profit from giving you aftercare instructions. We aren’t trying to sell you anything – by that point, we’ve already made our money. We tell you these things because we want you to have a beautiful finished product. We want you to be able to proudly show off your mods, and we want to be proud to say we did them.
Aftercare and forethought are not pushed on you to take the fun out of the experience, or to make anyone any money. We’re not here to lecture you; we’re here to give you a cool experience and an impressive piece. We can’t give that to you if you are sitting in someone’s basement or in the window of a mall shop, however. Body-modification should be a personal and pleasant experience that leaves you with something you are proud to show off – do it right the first time, and we promise you, you won’t regret it.
For several decades, western culture held tattoos to be the mark of outcasts and rebels – bikers, circus freaks, weathered soldiers, and lifelong criminals were the main representatives of the artform – and for a long time, it seemed that, not only would tattoos never break into the mainstream,they were actually helping to define what ran counter to it. Having a tattoo automatically set one apart from “everyone else” – it was a symbol of being part of another culture, a culture that somehow transcended the standard societal norms. Over time, however, tattoos have crept in to every corner of our culture, and some have even reached the status of “trendy” – a term so mainstream it hurts.
In the 1980s, tattoos were still the domain of the underground, for the most part. The 90s saw them gain some popularity, however, and by the mid-00s, it was estimated that 25% of people aged 16- 40 had at least one tattoo. What happened in less than 30 years to push tattoos from the underground to the mainstream? A large part of that answer is undoubtedly pop-culture. Several musicians and artists of the late 60s and early 70s had visible tattoos (Janis Joplin is often cited as having a pivotal role in popularising tattoos with her small wrist and breast pieces), and by the 90s, the kids who had grown up with these artists were now adults with kids of their own that did not see tattoos as taboo, but as a form of expression they could relate to. Another major boost came from innovators working to create brightly coloured and long lasting inks – prior to this time, ink was most often black, blue, or a terrible red that faded almost immediately – vibrant colours made the idea of a tattoo much more appealing to many. The biggest influence, however, seems to be a shift in perspective – what had once been the mark of an outcast was becoming a legitimate artform; trained artists were picking up machines and creating something that went far beyond the outlines of eagles and hearts with daggers that had dominated the landscape in years prior.
When it comes to popularisation of anything that was once underground, of course, there will be those that champion the progression, and those that resent it. Entrepreneurs and innovators will see opportunity, while those thoroughly entrenched in, and attached to, their subculture will see hostile takeover. Both have valid points. Legitimising tattooing as a form of art and turning it into a multi-million dollar industry has unquestionably pleased and benefitted a lot of people. No longer do tattooists work out of trashy bars and dirty basements, and their rates have gone from the price of a case of beer to a more than liveable income. Clients can be adorned with anything their imagination can conceive of, and artists have far more options than ever before. When the underground becomes the mainstream, however, vital aspects of it have to adapt, and those alterations will please some and disappoint others. The idea of tattoos being trendy is no exception – many see this as an evolution of attitude, a long overdue acceptance of people expressing themselves in visible and creative ways. Others see it as a cheapening of what was once meaningful, turning a sacred act into a fad.
Fads are the bittersweet staple of all industries – they are invaluable in terms of making a mark on society, on bringing an industry to the forefront of people’s minds, but they are also almost always destined to be overdone and eventually become dated and cliché. Fads offer the best and the worst of an industry, and are always walking the line between the next big thing and yesterday’s news. And when it comes to tattoos, fads are evidence that no matter how far underground something may be, one stumble into the spotlight can be all it takes to gain the attention of the masses. Fortunately, the tattoo industry, just like the music industry, fashion, and art, has far more to offer than passing fads. One need only delve a tiny bit deeper than tribal armbands and Kanji to find an entirely new world of art and design. A world of innovation, of the grotesque, the beautiful, the dark, the vibrant, the one of a kind. A world that more and more people are exploring, and whose population becomes more diverse by the minute. We may no longer be underground, but we are adding much needed splashes of colour up here.
Getting a piercing can be a wonderful experience. It can be a magical, spiritual moment for some and an awkward and funny moment for others. Some think it hurts, some enjoy the sensation. A lot of people plan and prepare for their piercings and even more come in on the spur of the moment. All, inevitably, have questions. Below are some of the most commonly asked.
Does It Hurt?
This is, without a doubt, the most common question of all. And the answer is yes. And no. And sometimes.
When it comes to the pain, there are three things you have to keep in mind.
1. Not all piercings feel the same. It’s impossible to say that every piercing hurts or that none of them do, because different parts of your body will feel different being pierced. Some parts are more sensitive than others, so where you get it will make a big difference.
2. Not everyone feels the same amount of pain, or in the same places. It’s always hard for us to tell you if the piercing will hurt you – we can only tell you if it hurt us, or if a lot of clients have given us feedback. Everyone is different, and will react in their own way – I didn’t find my nostril painful at all, but several of my friends did, likewise, I found my microdermal quite uncomfortable while others enjoyed the sensation. Only you know how your body handles being pierced.
3. A piercing is over in seconds. Even if you do find it painful, it’s over before you can even say “ouch”.
How Long Will It Take To Heal?
How long a piercing will take to heal depends on where it is, how you treat it and how quickly you heal. The average is 6-12 weeks, but some can take up to 6 months to be fully healed. Of course, it’s different for everyone, but the general rule is, the less important that body part is, the longer it will take to heal. That means your navel (bellybutton) or ear cartilage will likely take longer to heal than your tongue or lip, because you need a functioning mouth more than you need a healed navel.
How you treat your piercing will make a big difference in healing time, as well. Using saline solution to clean it, rather than alcohols or peroxides, will speed up the healing process significantly; alcohols dry out your skin and kill all the good bacteria (yes, there is such a thing!) that helps you heal as well as the bad bacteria. Keeping it clean is vital – if it’s a facial piercing, make sure your pillow cases and hats are clean as well. Also avoid swimming or getting make-up in your new piercing.
What Are The Risks?
If done in a clean, professional shop, the risks are minimal. It is a shop’s duty to have safe and appropriate tools – it is your job to find that shop. Assuming that you came to see us at I-Kandy, or an equally reputable shop in your city, the main risk is irritation (not infection, as many believe!). This is when the area around the piercing seems angry. It will be red and not feel so great. Generally, irritation is caused by the piercing getting dirty, or being bumped or played with before it’s healed. This doesn’t require you take the piercing out, or go to the doctor – it just demands a little extra love.
Can I Get Something Tiny?
Girls especially appreciate cute and dainty piercings — a tiny bead on a lip stud or a little jewel in a nostril. As much as you may hate it, however, it has to be a little bulky to begin with. The reason for this is that a lot of piercings swell at first – sometimes just a little, and sometimes a lot! That’s why people talk funny after they get their tongue pierced; it’s not because it hurt, it’s because it’s swollen. If you put a tiny bead or really short barbell in your new piercing and it swells up, your skin can literally swallow the jewelry, and you can only imagine how great it feels getting that out! It’s worth having a bulkier piece of jewelry for a couple of weeks to avoid the pain of a too-small piece.
These are just a few of the most commonly asked questions, and another FAQ may follow this one up. These are of course NOT meant to replace speaking with your piercer – take care to not only find a good one, but to listen to the instructions and advice they offer. A professional piercer will happily answer any and all questions you have, and will go over aftercare with you in detail. Hopefully, however, we have at least answered a couple of the more pressing questions on your mind so that you can make an informed decision on whether a piercing is right for you or not.