Depending on how one looks at it, “play-piercing” is either a very old, or very new, form of piercing. Ancient tribes and cultures engaged in temporary piercing during rituals and celebrations, but play piercing as an artform seems a more recent trend. For those that haven’t heard the term before, play piercing is the act of giving or receiving temporary piercings for special occasions, spiritual experiences, or simply to enjoy the sensation itself. These piercings generally stay in anywhere from a few hours to a few days, and often create stunning visual effects – it is, in short, art for the sake of art.
It’s also one of the more misunderstood body mods. While people in general are now much more accepting of tattoos and piercings as a form of expression, many still struggle with the idea of sticking needles through your skin just for the hell of it. There’s an assumption of masochism or, as one of my more conservative friends put it, being “not quite right in the head”. And, I suppose I can see their point – the act of inserting a bunch of sharp objects into your body to create an intricate design, only to take them all back out again, may seem a touch odd to those that would never engage in such a thing. However, I think we take for granted that similar acts have become so mainstream, we don’t even associate them anymore: dying your hair, wearing make-up, plucking your eyebrows, and all sorts of other cosmetics, sound pretty strange themselves when you break down the details. The obvious difference is that many consider getting pierced a painful experience, and so find it odd that anyone would get a bunch of consecutive piercings, just for a temporary piece. What needs to be kept in mind, though, is that not everyone finds piercing painful – for many, it is a highly pleasant experience, a spiritual and joyful release of endorphins. And, for many others, the pain is worth it. The result – a truly unique artistic display, and a brand new experience – ends up being far more memorable than the few minutes of pain involved.
Aside from the physical experience, however, there are many reasons for play-piercing. Photographers, models, and performance artists have all utilized play-piercing to create a visual effect that cannot be matched. From putting wings on a model to creating a skin-deep corset, people in the arts have embraced these mods as a new and exciting medium. From a spiritual perspective, the artform has offered a way for ancient rituals and modern beliefs to meet happily in the middle – it has long been believed that temporary pain can foster permanent enlightenment, and play-piercing, with its combination of flesh, steel, pain, and pleasure seems almost self-evident as a means to that end. And, within the body-mod industry itself, it has opened doors to new techniques, ideas, and innovations. For the considerably small amount of attention it receives, play-piercing has made a major contribution to body-modification, spiritual practices, and art itself. Perhaps it’s time we all gave it the respect it is worthy of.
When I was 19, my dad got a tattoo. Already having two of my own, and thinking tattoos were mostly for the younger folk, this was just another testament to how cool my father was. Of course, I would later learn that tattoos had been around far longer than I could have imagined, and that it was, in fact, our dads, granddads, and great-granddads that had popularised them (at least in North America). More than that, though, I would come to learn that every generation, every era, has its own, unique tattoo culture – and that there is an actual science behind that.
Sociology professor Jerome Koch, along with a group of researchers dubbed The Body Art Team, has spent the last 14 years studying body modification from a scientific perspective. Several of their findings fly in the face of common stereotypes; almost ¼ of “well-integrated, mainstream” college students have a tattoo, women are now just as likely to get tattooed as men, and dad having a tattoo isn’t near as uncommon as one may think: about 24% of the tattoos in North America belong to someone over 40.
Half a century earlier, however, the trends were very different, and probably not in the ways you would think. Tattoos of the 1950s and 60s were almost entirely the domain of people over 30. Belonging mainly to bikers, artists, and army/navy members, it was not the youth that felt compelled to get tattooed, but those that had years of experience being outsiders or part of a smaller subculture or community. Go back still another fifty years, and you may be surprised to find women made up a huge percentage of those tattooed, and even farther back, we’ll find it was the richer and older population that had the most ink. Stereotypes became outdated so fast, it’s a wonder any took hold at all.
That’s not to say there is no consistency, however. As you may have guessed from the title and the day of this posting, fathers have always made up a significant percentage of the tattooed. Regardless of sociological fads, eras, generations, or prevalent subcultures, the one group we can always rely on to boost body mod numbers are fathers. Despite all the many changes in demographics and trends, one particular theme jumps out at us in each and every study: as far back as it is possible to research, “familial or tribal pride” has been the #1 reason men over 25 offered for getting tattooed. It is, in fact, the only consistency that can be found – literally everything else changes from era to era – from average age to economic status to gender to subculture – but fathers always have dominated the tattoo landscape, and that trend shows no signs of slowing down.
Happy Father’s day to all of you, from all of us at I-Kandy.
I-Kandy, and presumably every other shop on earth, often gets clients that, ever so quietly and with a hint of embarrassment, ask about covering up a regrettable piece. Little do they know, most of the people they are speaking with have been in the very spot they are standing – whether they tried tattooing themselves, trusted someone they shouldn’t have, or simply chose a piece they would come to regret, almost every tattoo artist or long-time body mod enthusiast has (or had) a piece they’re none too eager to show.
The good news is, we can help. With the very rare exception, tattoos can be reworked or covered up to your satisfaction. The bad news is, those exceptions are often the worst looking tattoos of all. Anything with a lot of thick black lines or really dark spots is going to present a challenge to your artist – the darker the colour, the harder to cover. This doesn’t mean it cannot be done, however, just that you may need to make some concessions. Reworking or completely covering a tattoo generally involves making the piece a lot larger, and a lot busier. Koi fish, large flowers, Hannya or Noh masks, or large, intricate scenes are popular, workable choices. If your tattoo has a lot of thick, black lines, those will need to be incorporated into the cover-up, as black is difficult, if not impossible, to completely cover. Don’t let this get you down, though! Some of the most beautiful pieces to ever leave our shop are covering some of the worst to ever walk in.
Cover-ups should not be approached the same way brand new tattoos are, however. While it’s great to have a piece in mind, a cover-up needs to be created by both you and your artist. They are better equipped to take the more difficult aspects of what you have now and work them into something you will love and appreciate. Keep an open mind, and let them work with you on a piece you will both feel comfortable with. On the other side of that, however, is you. Don’t settle for a piece you don’t love – the whole point in getting a cover-up is to be happy with something you once regretted. Come to your consultation with a few different ideas to bat around, and don’t schedule your appointment until you are in love with the new piece. The only thing worse than a bad tattoo is a bad cover-up, so it’s important that both you and your artist have shared suggestions and concerns before making a firm decision.
Our #1 goal is to see you leave our shop happy, and there are few happier people than those who walked in with a tattoo they hate, and walked out with a tattoo they love. If you cringe every time you see your tattoo, there is a big club here, just waiting for you to join.
While writing last week’s post, I stumbled into an area of body modification that I had admittedly not given much thought to. Sure, we often have people ask us if we can cover a childhood scar, or replace their medical I.D. bracelets with a tattoo, but it wasn’t until I began researching Julia Gnuse, one of the most tattooed people in the world, that I realised what a huge market “medical” and cosmetic tattooing is.
Most of us know cosmetic tattooing to mean exactly that: having permanent eyeliner, lipstick, etc., tattooed on. This type of tattoo first became popular in the 1930s, though it was often done secretly and, therefore, rarely advertised openly or discussed. Today, it is a fairly common procedure, particularly for busy, active women that want to look good without investing much time or effort into it each day. Perhaps surprisingly, this form of cosmetic tattooing is rarely done by professional artists; rather, it is most often offered by cosmeticians that have been specially trained to apply permanent make-up when asked.
“Medical” tattooing is similar to cosmetic, but includes medical I.D. tattoos and those that cover large scars, severe skin conditions, or improve one’s appearance after a medical procedure. These tattoos vary greatly – many women that have undergone complete mastectomies (that is, surgical removal of the breasts due to cancer) have opted for full chest tattoos to cover the scarring, and to turn a difficult procedure into a piece of art. Others go for a more subtle approach, having flesh coloured ink applied to their scars, or to even out their pigment, resulting in a much more natural look. Still others have chosen to replace their medical I.D. bracelets with tattoos that identify severe allergies, serious medical conditions, or instructions in case of emergencies. These types of tattoos are done by both professional artists and cosmetic artists.
There is perhaps no greater example of the evolution of body modification than this. Long viewed as a weird art-form enjoyed by weird people for weird reasons, it is refreshing to see the rest of the world opening up to what many of us already knew – that body modification is much more than just an act of defiance, or declaration of freakdom – it is a statement of ownership of one’s body, and an art that can enhance beauty, improve self-esteem, and create a stunning piece of art out of an otherwise negative condition. Body modification is exactly that: modifying your body, your way, so that you are happy and healthy in your own skin. I can think of few acts more powerful, or more profound, than that.