Over the past year, the I-Kandy blog has reported on newsworthy topics, ongoing stories, and documentaries, books, and sites of interest. As the year draws to a close, so too do some of these tales –while others are just starting to get good. Here is our almost-year-end collection of follow-ups and things to follow.
A few years ago, a new type of piercing began peppering the body mod world. Not quite a transdermal implant, not quite a dermal anchor, microdermals are the next step in the evolution of under the skin piercings.
The invention of transdermal piercing is credited to Steve Haworth, who was influential in perfecting the technique, and the jewelry, and did the first known transdermal implant – a “metal Mohawk” – on client Joe Aylward who kept his implants for almost a decade. The procedure has since become a very popular one, spawning an entirely new type of jewelry, and specialised tools. There are some heavy considerations to make about transdermal implants, however, and while serious, committed clients have no issue with them, others find it a bit much to take on.
An American piercing artist from the shop House of Color, Ben, had a close friend who was one of those people. Wanting a small implant near her eye, she encouraged him to come up with a new technique – transdermal implants tend to be a bit bulky, and require a fairly invasive and complex procedure, and she was reportedly not super stoked about having it done near her precious eyeballs. Ben eventually came up with a much smaller piece of jewelry that could be inserted using a normal piercing needle, and so, the dermal anchor was born.
Both styles have their pros and cons, and many piercers seemed aware that a hybrid may be in order. It’s unclear who came up with the idea first, but at some point, piercers began experimenting with taking flat, holed anchors, similar to those used in transdermal implants, and inserting them in much the same way as a dermal anchor. The result was the microdermal – a small, semi-permanent implant that can be placed almost anywhere on the body. Microdermals can be inserted with either a piercing needle or a dermal punch (though we at I-Kandy do them with needles exclusively – less trauma to the skin, and much less tissue is removed), and are not much more uncomfortable than a standard piercing, so clients get the permanent look of a transdermal (the result being a piece of jewelry that appears to screw right into your body), with the ease and comfort of a dermal anchor.
Artists and front-desk staff alike are all too aware of the countless myths and misconceptions surrounding body modification. Because it was, for so long, a “behind closed doors” industry, there was not a lot of opportunity to put good information out there. Until now. The internet has allowed a sharing of facts, stories, and information that was completely unheard of just a couple of generations ago. While this exchange can help us in combatting myths, it also leaves the door open to them – seemingly everyone has a friend that has a friend that has a cousin whose face was permanently paralyzed after getting a piercing, or was refused an epidural because of a tattoo on their back. It can be hard to tell which of these stories are true, and which are urban legend. Of course, the ideal solution is to talk to both medical and body mod professionals about any concerns you may have, but this article aims to clear up at least the most common of these misconceptions.
#1 : PIERCINGS CAUSE NERVE DAMAGE
This is perhaps the most pervasive of mod myths. Countless stories have been told over the years about paralyzed faces, developing migraines, even going blind or deaf, as the result of a badly placed piercing. “Nerve damage” is a very frightening sounding term, so it’s understandable that people take this concern seriously. No one in their right mind would risk blindness just to get their eyebrow pierced. But is there any truth to it?
To date, not a single medical case of blindness or deafness as a result of a piercing has been recorded. Doctors that have spoken on the subject do include nerve damage as a possible complication, but also stress that this is incredibly rare, and generally due to dirty equipment or poor aftercare, not the piercing itself. Going to a clean, professional shop and taking proper care of it afterwards reduces your risks of such damage to almost zero.
#2 : TATTOO INK IS MADE OF (INSERT SOMETHING GROSS HERE)
From cow’s blood to urine, we’ve heard every possible rumour, myth, and legend about the ingredients found in tattoo ink. The truth is much less exotic. Tattoo inks, just like most other inks, contain numerous ingredients, but the majority of them are plant and carbon based. Even in Ancient Rome, long before FDA regulations or knowledge of allergies, tattoo ink was made of pine bark, vinegar, and leek juice. No cow’s blood necessary.
#3 : IT IS DANGEROUS TO GET AN MRI OR X-RAY IF YOU HAVE A PIERCING
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard that the magnet in an MRI machine will rip out your piercings, or that an X-ray cannot be performed on someone with piercings. High-quality piercing jewelry is most often made of non-magnetic metals, such as stainless steel or niobium. And, common sense should be enough to tell us that X-rays can still be performed – afterall, people with metal pins or plates in their bodies not only can, but often have to, get them. The reason you are asked to remove all piercings before these procedures is not that it is dangerous, but that the piercings can obstruct vision – that piece of jewelry will show up on the X-ray, and if there is anything beneath it, your jewelry may hide it.
#4 : NIPPLE PIERCINGS CAUSE CANCER/ LOSS OF SENSATION/PREVENT BREASTFEEDING
Nonsense. While some of the other myths and misconceptions are at least based on some tiny kernel of truth, this one is just straight-up wrong. There is absolutely no correlation between piercings and cancer, breastfeeding is still completely possible, and it is actually more likely sensitivity will increase, not decrease (though, even likelier is it that your sensitivity won’t change at all).
#5 : YOU CANNOT GET AN I.V. OR EPIDURAL WHERE A TATTOO IS PRESENT
A few reasons have been offered for this myth: the ink will seep out, the tattoo blocks entrance to the veins, the ink will get into your bloodstream and poison you, your pores are covered, etc. All untrue. There is absolutely no medical reason why you cannot get an I.V. or an epidural, nor is there any truth to ink “seeping” when such procedures are done. The ink in a tattoo sits under the epidermis – it is well beneath your pores, is not “blocking” your veins, and will not just spontaneously start to travel if pricked.
In researching last week’s post on the crazy Arkansas bill outlawing certain types of mods, I became a little concerned. If this can happen in the so-called “land of the free”, what is stopping it from happening here?
A lot, apparently. Canada does not have any federal laws regarding body modification, and even the strictest of provincial laws merely prevent shops from offering services to those under 16. Legal guidelines are restricted to the health and safety side of things (laws that we can all get behind), ensuring clean equipment, hygienic procedures, and proper ventilation are used.
But these are laws that apply in the U.S. as well – so I decided to dig in a little more, and examine our laws regarding freedom of expression. Section 2b of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants us all “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication”. What counts as free expression is a bit vague, but the Charter goes on to explain that the only restriction on this right is overt hate speech or public calls for violence – this could potentially interfere with your decision to get Nazi propaganda tattooed on your forehead, but even that would be a legal stretch.
Judging by some of the more frivolous Canadian lawsuits, and proposed bills, in recent years, and the swiftness with which they were shot down, Canadians can, at least for now, rest easy. As of today, not a single proposed law regarding the freedom to alter one’s body has been passed.
And that, my tattooed and pierced friends, is just another reason why Canada is awesome.
A tattoo shop isn’t a typical place of business…most of the time. We like loud music and lots of laughter, we aren’t likely to try selling you lots of random stuff (though our hoodies are pretty damned awesome), and we may be caught using the occasional questionable word. Ours is not the type of business that aims for a 30 second transaction – we like to talk to our clients, get to know them, and hear their story. The rules of etiquette are very different in a tattoo shop than they are in, say, a nice restaurant or a stuffy bookstore. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. While we do love to have fun and get a bit rowdy sometimes, there are still a few basic standards that make our jobs easier, and your experiences better.
1. Be patient. We realize in this “go, go, go!” world, people are becoming accustomed to instant everything, including service. However, body mods are a slightly more serious decision than what flavour of latte you’d like today, and this means taking our time with each and every client. Before we do anything, we want to ensure you are prepared, informed, and sure about what you’re getting, and that takes a bit of time.
2. Please, please, please don’t distract the artists. It’s a pretty good rule of thumb that you shouldn’t startle someone that’s holding a needle – moreso if that needle is close to someone’s body. We know everyone wants to speak directly to the artists, but their prime focus is on the piece they are currently working on. Both piercers and tattooists need to be allowed to concentrate, for obvious reasons, and to maintain control over their stations, to ensure they remain clean and safe. The front desk staff is fully trained to answer your questions, and, better still, knows how to approach artists without startling them or contaminating their work area.
3. For the love of all that is good, come in sober. This isn’t much of a problem at I-Kandy, thank goodness, as the vast majority of our clients are amazing. But I have seen this issue elsewhere – the belief that a tattoo shop being an “adult environment” makes it okay to be drunk there. It doesn’t. Very technical work is being done in a tattoo shop, and the last thing anyone needs is drunk people stumbling about. We’re sure you are awesome to party with, but let’s do that after hours. Cool?
4. Don’t bring a posse. Everyone needs a bit of moral support, and we’re more than happy to accommodate your best friend or spouse, but please leave it at that. Bringing your entire volleyball team to watch you get your nose pierced isn’t really necessary, and will only distract the artists and give them less room to work.
Really, that’s about it. We welcome all sorts of personalities, we love all kinds of music, we’re happy to answer all of your questions, and work hard to ensure you are thrilled with your piece. Just, please, give us the time and space to do so.
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.
A commonly asked question by those outside of the body-mod culture is why do you have to get so many? Most people don’t mind a dainty little jewel in a woman’s nose, or a tasteful tattoo on an easily hidden body part, but can’t understand having several facial piercings or tattoo sleeves, for example. To those folks, I present the world’s most pierced and tattooed people. I assure you, your sister’s industrial won’t look quite so extreme by the end of this post.
Guinness World Record holder for 12 years and counting, Elaine is the most pierced person in the world. Guinness has her at almost 7000 piercings, but her most recent count brought her to just over nine thousand. Of those, over 200 are on her face, and over 500 are “below the belt”. A former nurse, Elaine developed a passion for extremes at a young age – aside from her piercings, she is also known for sleeping on a bed of nails, fire-walking and glass-walking, and is an avid skydiver. And, just to defy every stereotype out there, she does not drink, do drugs, or smoke cigarettes, and is married to a man with absolutely no tattoos or piercings. Elaine now runs an aromatherapy and body-mod shop in Edinburgh.
Lucky Diamond Rich (born Gregory McLaren)
Lucky has held the record for most tattooed person since 2006, with nearly 100% of his body, including his foreskin, the inside of his mouth, and his eyelids, covered. The New Zealander became fascinated with tattoos at a young age, and his interests soon turned to the most tattooed people of the world. As a child, he would collect large piles of temporary, bubble-gum tattoos and apply them all over his body, trying to duplicate the look of a heavily tattooed neighbour. By his teens, he was a well-known circus performer, which led to a career in street theatre. He eventually became the highest paid street performer in London, and among the most popular in the world. His act includes comedy routines, extreme juggling, sword-swallowing, and more, all atop a giant unicycle. When he’s not on the road, he is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a tattoo artist. Not content with being the most tattooed person in the world, Lucky is now having his ink gone back over to add brighter colours.
At 453 piercings, Rolf probably won’t surpass Elaine’s record anytime soon, but he has just made his own as the most pierced man in the world. In 2012, he entered the Guinness books, beating the previous holder by nearly 200 piercings. A German computer expert, Rolf keeps fairly quiet about the reasons behind his obsession, saying only that he decided at 40 to enter a world he had previously enjoyed from afar. The majority of his piercings are around his mouth and below the belt, though 50 or so are spread across his body. He got his first piercing and first tattoo on the same day, and soon after became a suspension enthusiast, having now done over 100 suspensions. Aside from his many piercings, Rolf also boasts a full body tattoo.
Known as “The Illustrated Lady”, Julia has over 95% of her body tattooed, and holds the record for most tattooed woman in the world. Julia’s story is a bit different, as well – while many other record holders naturally enjoy extremes, she began getting tattooed for another reason entirely. In her mid-30s, Julia developed porphyria, a condition which causes skin to badly blister if exposed to sunlight. Rather than live with the ugly scars porphyria patients suffered, she sought the advice of a cosmetic surgeon friend, who recommended she try getting skin-coloured tattoos. When that didn’t work, she began having them tattooed over in the traditional way, resulting in an almost complete covering of her body. While it started as a cosmetic treatment, Julia admits to now being “addicted”, and is always looking for ways to add to her ink. She’s also made someone a very wealthy artist – every single one of her pieces was done by the same person.
Ötzi the Iceman has been mentioned a few times on the I-Kandy blog, and for good reason. The approximately 5300 year old natural mummy radically altered the known history of body modification; he had tattoos and piercings that had, until then, only been found on much younger mummies and in more recent cultures. Of particular interest to many were his seemingly stretched earlobes. Before his discovery, stretched lobes had been pretty well exclusively associated with African and Asian cultures, going as far back as Egypt’s famed pharaoh, King Tutankhamun, one of the first known people to have them. Ötzi is two thousand years older, and thousands of miles removed from Tut, however, which tells us the practice of stretching is both much older and more global than we had thought.
There are several famous examples of ear stretching, which offer us a bit of insight into the hows and whys of the practice. Both Tutankhamun and Gautama Buddha likely had stretched ears to symbolize their status: large jewels, unavailable to the common folk, would be worn in the ears, and the weight and size of them would cause the ears to stretch tremendously. It is said that when the Buddha renounced his earthly riches, he removed the jewels, but his ears remained elongated. This became a symbol of his sacrifice, and he was henceforth depicted with long, bare ears. The Moai statues of Easter Island sport very long ears, which may serve to elevate the status of their ancestors, whom the statues are thought to represent. One Moai myth even separates the tribes of the time into the “Long Ears” and “Short Ears”. Several Hindu and pre-Hindu deities are depicted with jewel-filled stretched lobes as well, which indicate a wisdom and wealth well beyond the average person. While all of these cultures and eras differed greatly, it seems that for all of them, stretched lobes were indicative of a higher status.
Status is not the only reason to stretch, however. Tribal cultures worldwide have long engaged in the same practice, but for very different reasons. From Kenya to Thailand, stretched lobes and lips symbolise religious beliefs, coming of age rituals, and exercises in patience and devotion. Several ancient cultures believed that spirits could enter a body through its orifices, and that metal could ward them off. The more metal one could place in their ears, the safer they would be, so stretched lobes were more practical than anything. Others saw stretching as a way to mark moments of enlightenment and understanding – the larger the hole, the wiser the wearer.
Today, stretching has become a common practice worldwide, largely for aesthetic purposes, and to some extent, as a way to reconnect with ancient cultures. Jewelry designed for stretched lobes has become a multi-million dollar industry, and techniques are constantly being refined. In this sense, professional piercers are also historians of sorts, many having researched and experimented with the various types and methods of stretching. Slow and steady is still, however, the oldest, safest, and most satisfying way to approach the practice. When it comes to stretching, “patience is a virtue” is both literally and figuratively true for us “long ears”.
It’s that time of year again – the sun has come out to play, the waters are warming, and we’re all spending a little more time outside. For most of us, summer is a favourite time of year, and a chance to show off our tattoos and piercings. It’s also, however, a time when we should be giving them a little extra love. Aftercare doesn’t end when the tattoos and piercings have healed, and summer is when it’s particularly important to keep that in mind.
While inks and techniques have improved vastly over the years, tattoos are still susceptible to the sun to some extent. Too much direct exposure will eventually lead to fading. Ideally, they should be covered by clothing, but we’re all going to break that rule in the summer. It is highly recommended that, if you are going to be spending a lot of time in the sun, you put extra sunscreen on your tattoos, and reapply it regularly. If your tattoo is newer and not quite healed, take extra care to keep it out of the sun completely, and out of the water (this is why getting tattooed in the dead of summer is not ideal!).
Piercings also need a bit of love in the summer – sweat, bacteria in water, and simply being a bit more physically active can all anger an otherwise happy piercing. Take a little extra time to clean them well with saline, particularly after going for a swim. It’s also a good idea to switch to smoother (more metal, less jewels) jewelry if you’re going to be spending a lot of time in lakes, rivers, or the ocean, as jewels tend to trap bacteria, making them harder to keep clean. If you are going to wear your shiniest pieces to the beach this year, be sure to take them out regularly and give them a thorough cleaning. And, just as with tattoos, if the piercing is still fairly new, you’ll want to avoid water completely.
We all love to show off our body art, and most of us love the summer heat. Taking just a little extra time and care can go a long way in ensuring we have something worth showing off for many years to come.
In 8th grade, approximately a million years ago, I got my nostril pierced. At the time, piercing anything other than your earlobes was taken as a defiant symbol of freakdom, and my classmates responded in kind. I, however, never understood how a little silver hoop could be seen as so extreme – I had older, freakier friends that had been jabbing safety pins, chains, and Lego heads (yes, you read that correctly…and no, I don’t recommend trying it out!) through various parts of their bodies for years. One in particular seemed to have made it his life’s goal to have every single accessible piece of skin either tattooed, pierced, or scarred, and was well on his way to attaining that goal when I got my oh-so-daring nostril piercing. He was the first person I had seen, outside of a National Geographic, that had stretched earlobes, and he had been answering the inevitable question about them the same way for half a decade: “just a little bigger”.
Those four simple words would come to represent an entire philosophy – one that drove body modification from an underground network of tattooists and piercers to a visible subculture of people treating their bodies as canvases. It is what pushed the evolution from pierced earlobe to split tongue, from flash tattoos to full-body collages of ink and scars. People were quite literally reclaiming their bodies, redesigning them at will, creating a culture that combined aesthetics, ritual, and an insatiable urge to push the envelope – to find the boundaries, and race across them. Whether we were testing the waters with a little stud in our nose or carving mosaics into our flesh, the ideal was the same: a physical, visible declaration of independence. A culture based around the idea of taking things farther, of challenging convention – it was, and is, the philosophy that, if it could be thought up, it could be done.
And, oh, the things that have been thought up. From splitting body parts in half to inserting implants under the skin, from tattoo masks to full-body scarification, there is little left that has not been tried at least once. There is, of course, considerable controversy over some of these practices – things like U.V. ink, tongue splitting, and genital modification have raised concerns from both those inside and outside the body-mod industry, and there is a sense of them still being felt out by many. Depending on one’s perspective, extreme modification either epitomises or threatens the legitimacy of the movement. While it serves to affirm the radical and innovative nature of the art form, it also challenges our notions of what is acceptable, of what we are comfortable with. It requires we take risks with both our appearance and our outlook, and perpetually update our views.
Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on, it’s likely that you’ve pondered these questions, if even briefly. I still on occasion run into someone that sees my million year old nose-ring and quietly asks themselves who would do such a thing, and even I have seen modifications that left my eyebrow raised and my sensibilities shaken. And that’s exactly the point, I believe. Claiming one’s body a canvas is much more than a creative or even philosophical statement. It is a challenge to our perception of autonomy – it forces us to ask if we genuinely support having full control over our bodies, or if we feel there is a point at which others should have a say. It turns the statement “just a little bigger” into the question “how big is too big, how much is too much?” – though, I wouldn’t be expecting an answer any time soon.