I know this is way more personal than the questions you usually get, but it would really mean a lot to me if you would let me pick your brain. I feel like knowing your thoughts on these things might help me with some stuff I’m struggling with professionally and personally. Would you please answer the following?
Eternally grateful, T.
Sure, why not!?
Q: Would you say that body modification empowers women? How/why?
A: Yes, definitely! The societal pressures on women to conform to a certain standard of beauty are extremely intense. So many of the other actions women take in our quests to live up to that ideal such as nose jobs, breast augmentation, Botox injections, etc., are conforming actions—to look and be like everyone else. Whereas in Western society, body art is meant to be individuating, rather than conforming. (Or at least it always used to be.) Getting body art is a choice a woman can make for herself that may relate more deeply to who she really is, rather than how well she can emulate the prevailing beauty criteria.
This is how I put it in my book, The Piercing Bible:
“Piercing and other types of body modification are methods of changing the actual physical form, which is empowering in a way that may not be fully understood by those who have never participated in it. Women, in particular, are bombarded by the media’s unrealistic notions of beauty, which deeply affect self-esteem and body image. They may turn to piercing or other forms of body art to help them embrace a positive attitude about themselves….”
This is especially true of genital piercings:
“Many people do not find their private parts attractive or appealing…. When an individual makes a choice about the appearance of his or her own genitals by piercing and adorning them with jewelry, it can be highly liberating, and for many it inspires a harmony with their bodies that could not be achieved through any other means.”
For about six years now, have specialized exclusively in erotic piercings (male and female nipple and genital piercings). I receive a great deal of positive feedback about how these embellishments help women feel more confident about themselves, their bodies, and their sexuality.
I’ll never forget seeing an effusive client literally jumping up and down in my piercing room after viewing her new genital piercing, while gleefully shouting, “I’m transformed!”
Q: In what ways is women’s body modification, especially in America, different today than it was historically?
A: If by “historically” you mean piercings done by tribal peoples or as time-honored rituals, what’s different now is that piercing is not commonly practiced as a part of any cultural traditions (with the exceptions of Latinas’ ear piercings, and Indian women’s and nostril piercings). Piercings in today’s Western world reflect elective choices, whether they are done for aesthetics, function, or inspired by more serious motivations.
As I put it in my book:
“From the superficial to the profound, there are a multitude of reasons for getting pierced. It might be about attracting attention, the sensation of metal through flesh, or the opportunity to wear some extra “bling.” For others, piercing is a response to deep internal triggers.”
Q: What do you feel your role as a modified woman in our culture is?
A: I love to show that modified women are strong, independent, and self-possessed. That although I’m visibly pierced (28 from the neck up) and covered in tattoos (including my hands, arms, entire lower body and back), I’m a successful entrepreneur who is also into wellness, fitness, and a healthy lifestyle for both body and mind.
Q: Do you feel a responsibility to present a certain image to the public or to be an example or ambassador for the modified community?
A: Yes, absolutely! Because I’m so heavily ornamented, I get lots of comments and questions. I deliberately and happily undertake my role as liaison and educator. I feel strongly about answering questions about body art in an informative, articulate, and friendly manner. By comporting myself with a warm and approachable demeanor, I’ve educated countless curious citizens about body art. My input has caused many who had previously been negative or closed-minded to be more receptive and understanding about it.
Q: How long has body art been a practice for you personally? Is it a spiritual practice for you?
A: I developed an interest in piercing as a child and have been fascinated with the concept of having holes through my flesh in which to wear jewelry for as long as I can remember.
Because my attraction to piercing was innate rather than induced by external influences, it has always felt spiritual to me in a way. It is an external expression of my deepest inner self.
I did my first body piercing (non-ear) on myself at the age of 15 in 1975. Later, in 1981, I found out there was a business that did body piercing professionally and I went there immediately to get my nipples pierced. I continued to receive piercings, and have performed several of my own over the years. I have had more than 40 piercings and regularly wear jewelry in about 38 of them. Many mark important milestones in my life, and all of them have significance to me in some way.
In the late ‘80s, I got the large set of neoclassical angel wings tattooed that cover my entire back, from my shoulders to the bottom of my buttocks. This was apparently the first tattoo with such a theme, and I was quite surprised to find that angel wing back pieces (including “copies” of my own) had become a meme of sorts.
Putting the wings of an angel upon my back was an outward manifestation of my inner drive to be kind and helpful to others—angelic in the Judeo-Christian view, and embodying loving-kindness and compassion in the Buddhists’. Even if I hadn’t been inspired by spirituality, the symbolism speaks (or shouts loudly) for itself.
My subsequent tattoos have added the other three elements, so I literally embody the four traditional elements. The angel wings on my back: air; colorful mermaid scales and fins on my legs: water; floral vines on my arms: earth; and small flames behind my ears, plus a stylized sunray design on top of my shoulders: fire. Of course, the elements also have their own spiritual connections and connotations.
Q: How do you define spirituality and what role does it play in your life?
A: I meditate daily for inner peace and to foster my connection to my higher self. For me, spirituality is about mindfulness, the evolution of my consciousness, and the development of greater compassion and love. A core spiritual belief that drives my actions is that all beings are one: we are all interconnected. This awareness inspired my decision to live a vegan lifestyle and eschew all animal products.
As my meditation teacher, Jim Malloy, puts it:
“Consciousness evolution (or spiritual evolution) opening your heart to experience your connection with all beings…is an essential facet of your spiritual evolution. In Buddhist terminology, this is referred to as cultivating compassion. In secular terminology, it is simply developing love.”
My body, the physical container for my spirit and essence, is indeed my temple, which I treasure, honor with healthful habits, and ornament liberally.