They say, “You have to take the bad with the good.” Now, we all know that they say a lot of things – and a lot of what they say is inane crap. I bring up this particular adage though, because when it comes to the popularity or so-called “trendiness” of body modification all I tend to hear are negatives. It comes from both sides – those who are aghast that people do these sorts of things fear a new wave of modified people, and the already modified are mortified that their cool, unique status is about to be threatened, or that their deeply personal journey that the “mod” represents will simply be mistaken as joining in with the latest fad.
Part of the problem, as usual, comes from the media that applies the label of trend or fad. Their doing so is usually a calculated move to create or increase the impact of a story – just look at the recent coverage of tongue splitting. Tongue splitting is not even remotely a fad or a trend in the world, in the west, or even among people who go so far as to get tattoos and piercings. At best, you might say that tongue splitting is approaching the level of a trend among those people who have a disposition towards “heavy mods”. But what makes a better sounding story? A couple random people doing what they want to make themselves happier or a rush of people mindlessly running to get their tongues cleaved? The latter makes a story, which combined with a good image or two, that is sure to draw attention and that is what it is all about: ratings.
Commercial media is based upon how many people they can get to look at their product and subsequently the ads within, which pays for the whole enterprise. But there is an upside. It is possible, I’d even say likely, that out of all the people who saw the coverage of tongue splitting that there were at least one or two who saw something that they could identify with, perhaps had even been dreaming of, and now know that they can achieve. If just one person benefits in this manner then I, for one, would be willing to go through the all the hassle and headaches over and over again tenfold.
By way of extension, we can apply such a loose model of exposure to most “mods”. Think about how you first came to know of tattooing, body piercing, or whatever else might be your fancy. If you have come into any of these “scenes”, especially in the last decade or so, then it is very likely that your initial exposure was due in some part to the increasing popularity of them. Moreover, the primary reason you currently have such a large selection of quality manufacturers of jewelry and equipment, qualified artists, and other resources is because of this popularity (i.e. trendiness)*.
It was not long ago that finding jewelry, good or no, larger than 14 gauge was an incredibly frustrating search and the idea of something like pocketing was nowhere to be found. The necessary fuel for the creative fire of the people who pioneer new designs and procedures to offer us is an industry capable of supporting them. Before you bemoan the “belly pierced and quarter sized butterfly tattoo on her butt” chick imitating her favorite pop star remember that she is one of legions and it is their dollars that help make this industry. Shops cannot survive off only the heavy and unique procedures and practitioners cannot simply jump in at an advanced level – good piercers get good by doing lots of piercings, and good tattoo artists get their basics down churning out flash. Every little flash piece from butterfly to Taz and every blinking light navel barbell are dollars in the coffers and experience at work that go towards potentially improving and evolving the industry and community. Without recent trends your current piercing would probably have been much more expensive, done by a less experienced piercer, and used lower quality jewelry. When the trends and fads are too thin to produce new customers the businesses fall off and it is usually the better shops that take the first hits because of their unwillingness to cut costs on the quality they provide to you in terms of staff and product.
Instead of laughing at “trendy chick” or whoever else – thank them and kindly suggest that they think about adding to their collection. And who knows, perhaps in going through the process of getting that fashion driven “mod” the person may well learn something unexpected or find a deeper meaning and motivation. That butterfly could grow into a bodysuit (we all start somewhere), but that first step might not have happened if not for the pop-star tattoo trend.
So what do you do when everybody else starts getting the up-till-now rare “mod” that you chose because it’s the latest trend? My advice: Get over it. If you only got something done to be different from those who didn’t have it then you are just as shallow, if not worse, than those who run and get the latest thing their idol had done. Odds are you weren’t the first and only person to have it anyway – so why is it ok for you to be one among tens or hundreds, but not one among thousands? We are all already unique individuals by nature without making any effort whatsoever. Doing something just to try and be different is rather silly and redundant to the facts. Ask yourself, “If everybody else had it, would I still want it and why?” Here’s another one of those things they say, “Just because everyone is doing it, doesn’t mean you have to too.” To this I say, “Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.”
Are you afraid of being one of the crowd or being perceived as one of the crowd? The “crowd” is an illusion – everybody doing it has their own personal feelings and motivations for what they are doing – the differences may not be great but they are there. So, really, you can’t be one of the crowd but you can be seen as such. And this seems to be the most common complaint among the “anti-trendy modified”. These are the people who are upset that their personally significant “mods” will be viewed as just pop trends. Again: Get over it. People who look at you and think you got your piercing or whatever because the flavor of the moment rock star has it done weren’t ever going to recognize the deeply personal or spiritual event or outlook it represents to you anyway. In fact, it is rather hard to do this in any situation unless you explicitly tell the person what it means to you. It may be annoying that they make an assumption that you find distasteful but that’s life and it is going to happen a lot – people make assumptions, trend or no trend. How am I supposed to guess that your butterfly is symbolic of a reclamation and rebirth after abuse and addiction instead of something you and your sorority sisters did on a dare just by looking at it?!
I know and know of a few people who have removed or reversed things because they became popular. I sit here typing this and laughing at such people. To me, your “mods” could not have meant as much to you as you claimed if they can be given up simply because others had their own as well. Beyond which, I choose to laugh because the alternative is to cry at your lack of understanding. Your ideas about modification may be deeply spiritual or have a greater context but that doesn’t have to be so for everyone. You can stretch your lobes for enlightenment but let others stretch them for looks or just for fun. Why should it matter if they aren’t approaching modification with your particular frame of reverence? Feel free to be annoyed if you want but if you actually feel that way about it I would think that you would keep yours and educate others rather than giving up completely. I don’t see the devotee among Jews giving up circumcision and the bris, Hindus no longer wearing nostril piercings, or any other number of peoples stopping their modification practices just because other people in the world may start doing them for other reasons than their religiously or spiritually motivated ones.
Finally, perhaps the greatest benefit of body modification (atypical, of course – per my earlier columns) being trendy is simply a greater level of acceptance. If enough people are doing something that it can be rightfully called a fad or a trend then that means a lot of people are doing it. The more people doing it, the more likely it is to gain acceptance. Look at men piercing their ears over the last couple decades. People like myself with so called extreme and heavy mods are not the ones who can or will make body modification accepted at large. We can do our part as ambassadors of a sort, but ultimately it is the trend followers that will bring body modification home to their families and fight on the front lines for its acceptance. Mom and Dad can sit home and watch me on TV, perhaps even enjoying it, without ever being threatened or changing their dislike for modification but when their son or daughter comes home with their new “mod” then the real process begins. They face possibly an even greater struggle than those who might shun them for their fad – which would you think is easier to fall back upon for support in such times: A vision or belief based on body modification or just wanting to be allowed to look a certain way?