BME’s Big Question #8: Regulation Time



Welcome to BME’s Big Question! In this feature, we ask a handful of the community’s best and brightest piercers, tattooists, heavy mod practitioners and shop owners for their opinion on one question or issue that’s affecting the body modification community. Many, many thanks to all of the contributors.

If you’d like to be a part of future editions, or if you have an idea for an issue or question you’d like to see addressed, please e-mail me.

This week’s topic:

Do you support government regulation of body modification practices? And if/when there were to be regulation, do you think that tattoos/piercing/scarification/etc. should all be under the umbrella of “body modification,” or would you rather they be kept fundamentally separate in the eyes of the law?

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Joy Rumore
I would theoretically support regulation for the sake of client and practitioner safety, but realistically it would be a NIGHTMARE.

It’s hard enough to find doctors that don’t panic at the first sign of a healing tattoo or piercing, let alone those who would be willing to stand up to their peers and condone body modification publicly and THEN be willing to create and support regulations for the industries.

Even if all that did happen, there are the hurdles of politicians and PTA mothers to clear, as well. Or am I being too pessimistic?


Tracy Baer
My guess is that you’re being realistic, Joy. And pessimistic or not, the politicians and PTA mothers are the hurdles that would be the hardest to clear. Well worth the effort, but still a tricky one.

The rules and regulations on tattooing have caused our industry to improve in countless ways just in the last decade. Ever tightening boundaries on what is considered safe and sane in the world of tattooing has caused those of us who tattoo for a career to improve and adapt. In my opinion, those changes have been for the good.

Long gone are the days of tattoos only being for “sailors and whores.” Don’t get me wrong, I still tattoo my fair share of both groups…but, we see a wide mix of people on a daily basis. Church ladies share a couch in the waiting room with gangster rappers while waiting for us to finish tattooing the cop. The surgeon on his day off stops in for a consult on his back piece, while the renegade biker brings his daughter for her first piercing.

And that’s not even the tip of the iceberg.

There have been many changes I’ve grumbled about over the years, but in reality, it’s the things I’ve grumbled about that have caused my chosen career to become widely accessible to all of those groups, and more. You learn to work around the ones you don’t care for…and find, for the most part, a better way.


John Joyce
I would support regulations if they were made with the support of people in our industry. Too often bureaucrats and health department officials write up the regulations without getting any input from someone in our field. The health inspectors that inspect studios in most places are used to inspecting restaurants. They don’t really know what they are looking for in a tattoo/piercing studio.

California right now is in the process of writing regulations. They met in a few different cities with piercers, tattoo artists, the APP was represented by Steve Joyner, and that is how I feel it should be. That way you are getting regulations that make sense.


Meg Barber
Well said, Tracy.

The idea of regulating the things we do is a double-edged sword. On one hand, rules and guidelines set up and ENFORCED are a wonderful thing, but only when the rules and guidelines are created with input from the practitioners who are professional and on top of their game. I have worked in shops in the past that were about as dirty and unethical as it gets (this was over 10 years ago), but the owner tattooed a health board member and got to make up the rules—that is TERRIBLE. That’s why the autoclave area was also a break room.

Other cities get it right though. In Philadelphia, if I am not mistaken, shops must use internally threaded jewelry for initial piercings. They hit gold when they got Bill Funk to help write legislation.

Of course, the downside to responsible legislation is that it sometimes harnesses what we can do as far as more extreme procedures. The law tends to frown on scalpels, biopsy punches, anesthetics and the like. It’s a cross we have to bear, I suppose: Do we operate within the laws designed to protect the public from the stupidity of people who don’t know what they are doing, or do we break the law because we are responsible and know how to use the tools we aren’t supposed to be using?

If legislation were to go into effect that really, truly protected people—the outlawing of ear piercing guns, the requirement of weekly spore testing for all autoclaves and statims, mandatory bloodborne pathogen training, etc.—then that would be the right start, in my opinion.


John Joyce
Where I live and operate my studio, there are no regulations—other than the state law of not tattooing anyone under 18 or who is intoxicated. I’ve been open for eight years, and worked in this area for almost four years before that. In 12 years, I’ve never seen an inspector, or even heard of one inspecting any studio around here.

I would love to work with the health department or whoever, to set at least a minimum set of guidelines that all studios have to follow. Walk into most studios around here and ask them what a spore test is and when the last time they ran one was? You’ll get blank stares.


Meg Barber
John, being in NY as well, we have NO inspections. We have to hang a sign up that says if you are unhappy or have a complaint, dial 311.

In NYC, where we are, it’s worse than the usual statewide ignorance, I think. There are sunglass vendors doing piercings at sidewalk stands for $30, jewelry included, no age limit. We hear horror stories all the time of the St. Marks piercers doing 14-year-old kids’ nipples and stuff.

Tattoo artists are required to register with the city, get a license, etc., but piercing is totally and completely unregulated. It’s terrifying.


Tracy Baer
I like to think if I were in an area with absolutely no regulations, I would run, not walk, to the powers that be and get started with some input. With a quickness.

This in NO WAY is meant to cause a fuss, or to point fingers, but it’s easier to complain about the lack of (or problems with) regulations if you have no intention of trying to be involved. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but in most cases there should be a chain of command to follow that will lead you to a meeting or an individual with whom you can voice your concerns.


John Joyce
I’ve contacted the health department in the past and was told there was nothing they could do because they just didn’t have the money.

I’ve even had clients tell me that they had called the health department on other studios after having work done there, and were told the exact same thing.


Meg Barber
New York just doesn’t give a flying fig about it. They figure that the people can govern themselves, which is REALLY backwards considering that tattooing was illegal here until very recently because of the health problems associated with dirty tattooing. That’s why the licensing is in place, although from what I understand, it’s pretty useless. Our piercer at our other store has a tattooist license just so he can get wholesale pricing on piercing supplies through a few NYC–based companies.

Funding for such things is very limited here. It’s there for welfare programs and other things, but not there for the general health and welfare of people getting modified. If I was 16 and knocked up here, I’d get the best care, but if I get the hep from a dirty studio? Forget it.


John Joyce
NYC is a little different than the rest of the state. We don’t even have a tattoo licensing process here [in Syracuse]. Although, I have heard that the licensing process in NYC is set up more to make the city money than to actually benefit the general public.

Another big problem I’ve seen is areas that have good regulations in place don’t have the funds to enforce them. Look at Philadelphia. It has some of the best piercing regulations in the country. But, they aren’t enforced at all, and you can walk into any number of studios and get pierced with crap externally threaded jewelry, even though regulations say you can’t use that for an initial piercing.


Meg Barber
True. Money always seems to be best put to use on other programs. Giving everyone who smokes in your city the patch for free is more important I guess.

I asked Maria about the health inspections here in NYC. In 17 years, there has never been one, but about 10 years ago, someone with a fake badge came around and demanded $100 to do an inspection.

Have any of you actually worked with the health departments in your areas?


Derek Lowe
When I lived and pierced in Madison, Wisconsin (’96-’98), I worked closely with the state when they decided to set up statewide regulations. They formed a committee of three piercers, three tattoo artists, a doctor, a public health nurse, an epidemiologist and a few other people. They had a basic template when we started and then we worked on refining the regulations. For the most part it was a pleasant and productive process. The non-practitioners were respectful of what we had to say and in many cases took what we said about our specific industries very seriously. We ended up with what I felt was a decent set of regulations. Unfortunately, I left the state before those regulations went into effect. I can’t speak to how well they are, or aren’t, enforced.

Here in Minneapolis (and they are looking at going state-wide soon), we have a set of regulations that isn’t bad. There are definitely some things that could be improved. The regulations were created before I lived here, but it is my understanding that there was input from at least a few piercers and tattoo artists. Unfortunately, those regulations include bans on branding, scarification, implants and suspension.

I have worked with the Minneapolis health department a fair amount, but they seem to be in the position that most health departments are in: they don’t have the money to do any more than the bare minimum they are required by law. We get our once-a-year inspection (which is okay, but not fantastic) and we don’t see them again unless there is some sort of complaint.

I think the key to good regulations (which I support) is having knowledgeable, ethical practitioners involved in the process from the beginning. It’s much easier to get the regulations right the first time around than it is to try and get them to go back and change things once they are in place.


Steve Truitt
In New Mexico, the laws went statewide late last year—instead of just the city of Albuquerque, like they have been for the last 10 years or so. The laws were written with piercer and tattoo artist input, and there is a piercer and tattoo artist on the board that regulates us (Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists unfortunately).

We have some decent laws, like all shops have to pierce with implant grade jewelry, for example. However, they straight-up told us that they are not going to enforce the laws or shut down any shops that refuse to comply because then they couldn’t make any money off of that shops permits, etc.

It always comes down to money. Even if they didn’t enforce the laws and just sent out a letter or something pretending that they were going to, it might help make a lot of these shops clean up their acts or close down on their own. The stupidest thing they could have done is what they did by telling us that yeah, these are the laws, but they have no intentions of enforcing them because they want to make as much money as possible—and that means giving everyone with $300 a permit even if they don’t meet any of the “qualifications” that the board has set to get a permit in the first place.


John Joyce
I’ve heard that same story a lot—that basically, you send you city, county, or state some money to get a certificate and that is basically it. After that, there is no real enforcement.

I think it’s great that the stories some of you have shared involve meetings with piercers and tattoo artists to set the regulations up, but it doesn’t do any good if they aren’t enforced.


Derek Lowe
I’m not trying to make excuses for health departments or health inspectors that aren’t doing their jobs. I do think it’s important, though, to keep in mind that very few of the people involved in inspecting and enforcing piercing/tattoo regulations know anything about the industries to begin with. So, not only are they being asked to take on additional inspections, and probably for no additional pay, they are also expected to further their education regarding piercing and tattooing with very little, if any, resources (i.e., time and money) being provided by their health departments. Most inspectors are trained in inspecting restaurants, nursing homes, local fairs and possibly hospitals—not piercing and tattoo studios.

Clearly, continuing education is part of any job. Imagine, though, if someone came along and told you that you needed to become familiar with how to do a manicure or a pedicure. After all, those things involve the body just like piercing and tattooing…even though you have no interest in those things. Now, not only do you have to learn that stuff, but you aren’t going to be given any time or money to do it.

I don’t think it’s hard to imagine how much time and effort any of us would put into learning about those procedures.


Ryan Ouellette
I’m terrified of regulation. On the plus side, it would keep some crappy shops less crappy, but I’d be concerned with the state banning procedures they don’t understand. A few years back, New Hampshire tried to ban all piercing because some councilman’s daughter got an illegal piercing. So rather than just making stricter rules, they attempted to outright ban the entire practice. I would love to see responsible regulations in place, but not if it limits what procedures can be done. In the last few years, New Hampshire has actually lessened regulation due to budget restrictions. They can’t afford to inspect shops anymore, so basically everybody works off the honor system, and you can imagine how ridiculous that gets.

I’m sure every body art worker wants reasonable regulations. I don’t think the majority of health departments are educated enough to understand what it is they’re regulating and how best to do so. The double edged sword is that it’s often one individual’s personal opinion that decides what gets a regulation and what gets a ban.


John Joyce
Over-regulation is definitely a major concern, and the possibility of banning certain procedures is part of the reason I’m OK with the lack of regulations we have right now. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to see some reasonable safety guidelines set in place. I think there should be checks at least twice a year to make sure at the very least studios are running regular spore tests.

Derek Lowe
“The double edged sword is that it’s oftentimes one individual’s personal opinion that chooses what gets a regulation and what gets a ban.”

That’s very much true. When I first moved to Minneapolis I was discussing the ban on suspension with the inspector who handles piecing and tattoo shops. I asked her why suspensions were banned and she responded with something along the lines of: “Someone brought in a tape of it for us to watch. Have you seen that stuff?! My God.”

Seems as though they were pretty freaked out by it and so they went the route of banning. I don’t think any of the piercers involved in the process were interested in suspension, so I don’t think they fought it very hard, if it all.


Jordan Ginsberg
Would you rather potential legislation be focused on “body modification,” as a catch-all for piercing, tattooing, scarification, implants, etc., or do you think those should all be treated as separate industries?

Derek Lowe
I think it makes sense for cities/states to address them at the same time, so maybe in that sense they should be grouped together. However, I think it’s important that each discipline be addressed individually to make sure the regulations make sense, are effective and are enforceable.

Tracy Baer
They should absolutely, without exception, be treated as separate industries.

Steve Truitt
The problem is, if they’re treated as separate industries, most people don’t know much about scarification, implants, etc., so if they have to go make separate laws about that instead of grouping it all under a body art law they will most likely just make it illegal.

There are enough piercers, tattoo artists, and mod practitioners together to make up a legitimate presence at a hearing to pass laws about those issues. If they break it up separately there are a lot fewer people in each category and that makes it easier for them to pass laws to regulate us out of business completely.

Most laws for public safety in a piercing, tattoo, mod studio apply to any form of modification as well, so separating them is more of a headache for law-makers, too, which makes them less likely to want to do that. It’s much easier for a lawyer, politician, etc., to say, “Make that illegal” than to say, “Make it legal, but make sure that anyone doing it is complying with this 30 page list of rules and regulations I’m going to draw up.”


John Joyce
I don’t see any problem with grouping them together. Like Steve said, it makes it less likely that they will just make certain things illegal. For the most part, a lot of the regulations would be the same anyway: age requirements, spore testing, autoclave logs, single-use sharps, sharps disposal, etc….

Tracy Baer
OK, maybe I’m talking in an ideal world that they should be separate.

Honestly though, how much in common does tattooing have with any of the things that you all are discussing? Aside from the fact that they both are a modification to the body and that these days they share a building.


Ryan Ouellette
I’m sure to all of us the difference between piercing and tattooing is like night and day. But, to someone outside of the industry, they aren’t going to care. They’re just all things that make their granddaughters look like whores.

Steve Truitt
Tattooing has plenty in common. Like John pointed out, autoclave usage, spore tests, use of gloves, using sterilized single-use needles, disposal of sharps, use of disinfectants, etc. I’d say about 90 percent of the laws in most places could go for any type of modification, and only about 10 percent are specific to any one form of it.

John Joyce
Exactly. There are going to be some specific laws for each, but the most important regulations are going to be pretty universal.

What do you think? Let’s hear it in the comments.

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BME’s Big Question #7: Microdermals, The Universe and Everything



Welcome to BME’s Big Question! In this feature, we ask a handful of the community’s best and brightest piercers, tattooists, heavy mod practitioners and shop owners for their opinion on one question or issue that’s affecting the body modification community. Many, many thanks to all of the contributors.

If you’d like to be a part of future editions, or if you have an idea for an issue or question you’d like to see addressed, please e-mail me.

This week’s topic comes (and features follow-up questions) from Rachel Larratt:

“How do you guys feel about doing microdermals? Is it the same as a ‘regular’ piercing or different?”

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Meg Barber
I’ll step up to bat with this one.

I hate microdermals with a capital H. I think that while they do offer some possibilities that haven’t been seen before as far as placement and jewelry styles, they are problematic, hard to successfully heal for the long haul, and are just an all-around hassle.

I see a lot of them reject and leave pretty nasty scars, because most of the time the client isn’t looking at it on a regular basis (because of its weird placement) to see if anything is wrong with the piercing. I see a lot of them with massive piles of shmutz built up around them for the very same reasons.

People don’t tend to view them as “permanent” at all. It’s something to get done now, like an earlobe or nostril, and there is no forewarning about the issues that arise with them from most piercers.

When they started to get huge, I admit, we got on the bandwagon, but we have certainly backed off on our enthusiasm with them since watching issues arise. This past month, Vibe magazine had a blurb about microdermals in their fashion issue. It showed a piece on a girl’s side that we did, but what it didn’t show was me resetting that sucker back in there two weeks prior to the shoot because it had been shifting outwards.

I know that there are a lot of people gung-ho about them, and they can be fun, but I think they should be viewed much like surface work with a more permanent edge.


Ryan Ouellette
I was leaning towards a negative opinion of them a few months back, but then I started experimenting with longer stem lengths and now things are going a lot smoother. I’ve done about 250 of them over the last 18 months, I’d say the first 200 were 3/32″ rise, no matter the location. I was getting some tilting, and the occasional failure, but still maybe a 60-70 percent flat heal success rate. I think out of that initial 200 I personally removed maybe 15, and a few were cut out by other shops. Now with the 1/8″ and 5/32″ stems I haven’t had a single significant tilt or failure in about five months. The only ones I’ve taken out have been for work reasons, or people just not wanting them.

[Ed. note: Ryan adds, “I just checked my numbers on past microdermal orders and I'm under on my guess for how many I've done, but the success rates are still pretty accurate.”]

A big issue about them is removal. I’m the only shop in my area that takes them out without using a scalpel. I just use a needle and micro surgical hook to take them out without enlarging the stem hole at all. A lot of people are terrified of trying them because they think they have to get them cut out if they fail.

Overall I’m a big fan of them and I try to push people towards those over surface piercings for all nontraditional surface placements. With how easy they are for me to remove I don’t even refer to them as permanent. I just call them semi-permanent and offer future removal for free for any I’ve installed.


Rachel Larratt
Does anyone else offer free removal as standard practice with a microdermal?

Microdermal rejection scars look fairly extensive from the photos on BME. Do you suggest to clients the immediate removal at the first signs of rejection or do you generally try to reseat the microdermal?

In what situations have you refused to do a microdermal?


Ryan Ouellette
I’ve tried re-seating once or twice but now I think it’s just pointless. And I usually tell people that if they can see the foot through the surface and there is any redness it’s time to remove it before you get an ugly scar. But if I take them out early I get barely any scar at all.

I only refuse if the skin is too delicate to support the jewelry—areas like the inner wrist or high anti-eyebrows. Or areas where you get a lot of friction, like low hip placements.


John Joyce
I have a pretty high success rate with microdermals as well. In a lot of cases I think they are a much better option than surface piercings. However, I think it is the responsibility of the piercer as a professional to go over the risks and make sure the client understands them. A lot of people make a big deal out of their “permanence,” but honestly, removal isn’t that hard. Like Ryan said, they don’t need to be cut out with a scalpel, and a lot of the time I can remove them without even using a needle. Scarring really isn’t anything major with these and it’s a lot less than you would get with a rejecting surface bar.

The only area I’ve seen consistent problems with these is along the collar bones, especially more towards the shoulder. I won’t even do them in that area anymore. Most of the ones I take out now aren’t because of rejection, it’s because the person didn’t want them anymore, or, in most cases, it’s because they were done with inferior quality jewelry. I always remove them free of charge since it’s something the client can’t do themselves, and I don’t want them trying to.

I’ve done these in a lot of different areas. A lot of my friends, including my girlfriend, have some that are over two years old now. These are in places like the lower back, sternum, anti-eyebrow area and above and below a navel.

I have re-seated some that were not that old, and they healed up fine. I think this really only works if the piercing is still fairly new. Scarring keeps coming up, but honestly I haven’t seen any real scarring from these at all.


Meg Barber
I’ve had a 50/50 success rate with re-seating ones that are tilting; some work, some don’t. The areas I see the biggest problems are the back of the neck and cleavage, and the shoulder is a troublesome area as well, like John said.

We generally remove them for free, unless they were done elsewhere. I don’t cut them out either, just a little massage usually does the trick, although the feet with the big hole…those are a a lot tougher to remove, and sometimes need to be helped out with a needle. As for scarring, the worst I see tends to be on the rejecting nape placements. Lots of buildup with those, not pretty.

Are there any other placements you guys shy away from? We don’t do the thin-skinned areas Ryan mentioned, or hands or feet—too much trouble.


Steve Truitt
I do a lot of microdermals, and I also try to talk people into them instead of surface piercings when they come in for something like a sternum, anti-eyebrow, etc. I rarely take any out because of rejection—mostly I remove them because of issues at work/school, or the person just doesn’t want them anymore. I’d say from what I’ve seen we have about an 80 percent success rate with them.

I offer free removal if they were done at my shops, and sometimes even if they weren’t. There are a lot of shops around here that use the horrible ones made in Thailand/Korea/wherever it is that sell them for $1 or less. When educating people about them and why they aren’t working out for them, most of the time they understand what I’m saying and come back to get them done with the proper jewelry in them, so when it seems like a situation like that, I don’t charge for the removal.

When I remove them, I just massage the tissue until the heel can pop out, then pull them out. Sometimes I have to slide a needle underneath them to cut through the scar tissue that grows through the holes, but that’s only about 50 percent of the time. I’ve seen some scarring, but normally less than from surface piercings or other rejecting piercings.

If someone wants to keep the microdermal when it seems to be rejecting I’ll try re-seating them if there isn’t a lot of scar tissue built up already, or if there is, then I have them wait a few weeks till it goes down and can be re-done. The place I’ve noticed having the most problems with tilting out and needing to be re-seated more often than anywhere else is the lower-center forehead, the “third eye” position, or closer to the eyebrows there as well. I think this is due to all the movement in the area, so I warn people that come in for those before doing them.


Rachel Larratt
There are several variations: solid base, one hole, two holes and three holes. Which design do you generally prefer?

Steve Truitt
I prefer the Anatometal pieces with one large hole. I’ve used the IS and Wildcat pieces as well; IS are my second choice. The bases on the Wildcat pieces are a little too thick for my liking, and the finish isn’t as nice as the Anatometal and IS pieces.
The Anatometal pieces tend to heal much better and more securely in place in my experience, however that does make them slightly harder to remove than the others.

Stephen DeToma
I’ll chime in “thumbs down.”

I was really excited when I first saw them. I had a pair of them put in my forehead by Didier at Enigma a few years back and it didn’t take me long to start changing my mind. I’m also not a huge surface piercing fan to begin with so I guess I should have seen that coming.

The whole issue of removal was a great deal more complicated when people hadn’t removed them a whole lot. I don’t like doing them so generally I pass and book an appointment for the boss, but I’ve gotten very good at taking them out.

The biggest problems I see with healing is people’s inability to remember they have them: catching them, snagging them. I had one guy that had lost the top of an anchor he had in his nape while on vacation. The shop he went to put a 6 mm steel ball on the jewelry and he then spent a week in bed till he came to see me—the thing had grown out completely sideways.

But, curve balls aside, if someone is coming in to take an anchor out, removing the threaded end and attaching a threaded taper, gently enlarging the pocket under the tissue by stirring the jewelry a bit works pretty well for me. It feels a lot like losing a tooth; just kinda wiggle it until those threads let go. As Meg said, the large hole model is a little trickier.


Meg Barber
That’s how I take them out too, Stephen, although remember that one disaster you had to remove when you were guesting here? That thing was so scary!

Stephen DeToma
Yeah, that was one of the authentic “surface anchors” that has one half bent like a closed staple and an arm that holds the gem. It was the first time I had seen one and was a little puzzled. You can’t just wiggle those things out because of the shape; it’s similar to the old bar trick of folding a drinking straw in half and inserting it into the neck of a bottle to pick it up. For that one, I actually used the bevel of a needle to widen to hole enough to take out. That poor girl was completely freaked out.

That’s another thing about anchors: I think there’s just as many people who understate what can happen with anchors as those who get everyone all wound up about scalpel removal. I think it’s important to inform the client of possible risks without downplaying them or scaring the crap out of them, and also, to recognize the capabilities and limitations of anchors—meaning, they open options but they aren’t foolproof.


Meg Barber
As for the base I prefer (back to Rachel’s question), I like the IS ones for ease of removal, but the Anatometal ones for staying power. Those suckers are tough to get out though. I’ve got a client that got a “Madison” placement dermal, and it rejected three times with the IS one. I popped in an Anatometal one, and it’s going strong at about eight months now.

I’m pretty thorough when I explain the hows, whys and removal aspects of them, but not everyone understands, even after a talking-to. People see pictures of all this crazy stuff done with them (like eyelids) and then get irritated when they find out that they can’t just take them out when they want to and put them back in like a standard piercing.

My big question for all of you is how long do you tell your clients they take to “heal”? I tell mine that they will settle in after a few weeks to a month, but can never really be called “healed,” as there is never gonna be a neat little dry pocket around that base.

Also, what is your aftercare suggestion for them? Do you have your clients bandage them initially?


Ryan Ouellette
I tell people the “initial healing period” is about a month, but that it can take a few extra weeks to toughen up. I also tell them to wait at least six weeks to come in for an end-piece change, or to wait three months if they want to do it themselves. I cover all mine with a Nexcare waterproof bandage and tell them to leave it on for anywhere from one to three days depending on the location.

Allen Falkner
Microdermals hit about the time that I started transitioning out of piercing so I’ve only done a handful. So, it’s really hard for me to formulate much of an opinion. [Ed. note: But that’s never stopped you before!]

As for my like or dislike of dermal anchors…personally, I like them. Less invasive than traditional larger transdermals and if well-placed they hold up infinitely better than surface piercings. If anyone has ever read one my rants you’ll know I’m not a big a fan of surface piercings…but I don’t want to get too far off-topic.

As for removal, I’ve helped with a couple, but that’s usually because Allen gets roped in when it requires brute force. I’m definitely not shy about getting out “stuck” jewelry. As for price, well, I’m sure everyone has their own opinion. Me, I think all removal and most general maintenance should be free, no matter who put in the jewelry. It’s been my experience that people normally tip really well for a free service. Plus, it’s good for business and ultimately good for the community. Each crappy piercing that walks down the street or appears in the media is a blow to the entire piercing industry…and you know how it is. There is a certain satisfaction about fixing someone else’s mistakes that really makes doing your job worthwhile.


Meg Barber
Price is a good point. What are you guys charging to do microdermals? Do you include the foot in the price?

Our cost is $75 for the service, which includes the base, then the additional cost is what frontal you want on it—disks or gems or whatnot. And we take them out for free.


Steve Truitt
I charge $80 for one and $60 for each after (in the same session on the same person) with a disc on them. If they want gems, etc., the price goes up depending on the end.

Ryan Ouellette
I charge $70 for one, $130 for a pair, $60 each for three or more. Price includes standard disc ends; gemstone or alternate ends are an additional $10-$15 each. Free removal if I installed it, $20 if it was put in somewhere else.

I charged $80 when I was first doing them, but now with IS lowering their prices I can’t see charging that much. I only charge $65 for a surface piercing with an Anatometal flat surface bar and those cost twice as much as microdermal jewelry.


John Joyce
I charge $75 for one with a flat disc, more if they want a gem. Each additional one done after that I take a little off the price. Free removal whether I installed it or not.

Stephen DeToma
I believe were running $50 for a basic disc, $75 for gems.

John Joyce
Since we’re talking microdermals, I’ve had two different people come in over the last two days that both had microdermals done on their sternums at a different shop in Syracuse. One girl’s fell out within a day, and the other girl’s was sticking way out and was about to fall out. I’m not sure what method was used to put these in, but there was a huge pocket made. In the one that was still in, there was a gaping hole around the post of it. The rise used on both of them was far too long for these girls as well.

I think most people in this forum are probably getting somewhere in the 85-90 percent success rate with microdermals, but I think it’s really important to remember that we aren’t the majority of piercers out there. There are going to be a lot more piercers only getting 50 percent success rate or maybe 75 percent at best. This could be from any number of things: using poor quality jewelry, poor installation technique, poor aftercare, poor placement, or just not really understanding what a microdermal is.

My point is, with piercing, but especially microdermals it is important for the client to do their own research first. It is also important for the practitioner to make sure they fully understand microdermals, and how they work.

What do you think? Let’s hear it in the comments.

* * *

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BME’s Big Question #6: Fameballin’


Welcome to BME’s Big Question! In this feature, we’re going to ask a handful of the community’s best and brightest piercers, tattooists, heavy mod practitioners and shop owners for their opinion on one question or issue that’s affecting the body modification community. Many, many thanks to all of the contributors.

If you’d like to be a part of future editions, or if you have an idea for an issue or question you’d like to see addressed, please e-mail me.

This week’s topic comes from Allen Falkner:

“The media. We’ve all dealt them. How do you feel about the media? Have you had good or bad experiences? How do you decide who to talk to and who to avoid? Maybe name one of your most memorable media experiences.”

* * *


Meg Barber
I’ve had good experiences overall with it. In previous shops I’ve worked in, there have been the usual newspaper interviews, appearances on the news and radio, etc. I’ve done scarification for one local paper for their “Beat the Winter Blahs” issue; the cover was me cutting, so that was fun and pretty cool.

Here at Venus, media is our best friend. We love the media. We have had high level celebs in the store, with paparazzi lined up outside shooting in, and we use that footage to our advantage with our Press Kit that we use as a display piece in our lobby. Instead of having portfolios and stuff sitting around, we have our Press Kit, and it really gets people talking and excited to be pierced by the same studio and piercers who have worked on their favorite celebs, and we have the media to thank for that for sure! I mean, without the media, those people aren’t really all that special.

Of course, there is always the downside of overzealous reporters trying to trace a hepatitis outbreak to the rise of tattoos and piercings in the nation, who come snooping around and spreading bad press. But in my experience, that’s few and far between these days, and not really too much of a concern, really. When something like that pops up, you write your little letter to the editor, throw some facts at them, and forget about them.

I think, to an extent, this question ties in with the Internet question as well, and Internet media is becoming more prevalent. With sites like Digg occasionally putting up tattoo- or piercing-related stories or photos, there is more exposure to our work than ever, and as long as it looks good, that’s never really a bad thing.

Oh, here’s a story. I really should let Maria Tash tell this, but it’s too funny to pass up …

Years ago, she was interviewed over the phone by CBN. She didn’t realize at the time what it was — she was thinking in her head CBS or CNN. A few weeks later, a client comes in to tell her he saw her picture on TV … on The 700 Club. She was being referred to as one of the most evil women in America, and her quotes about the beauty of piercing were all turned into pro-satanic remarks, essentially. You can never be too careful.


Steve Truitt
I’ve had good and bad experiences with the media. I’ve worked with the Discovery Channel and National Geographic Channel several times, and they’ve always been really easy to deal with. They didn’t try to portray us in any particular way, more like, “This is what’s going on and you should make your own opinion about it,” which is nice for a change since a lot of the stuff we do is usually portrayed in a negative, or shock value type of way.

I’ve also worked with several big budget feature films and had fairly good experiences. Most recently we did suspensions in a scene in the movie Game, which should be released this summer or fall. The people making this movie were really interested in what we were doing, they did everything they could to provide us with anything we could possibly need and make sure we were safe and comfortable, and weren’t trying to portray us as freaks or negatively in anyway in the scene.

The only time I’ve had bad experiences have been when dealing with local media, like news stations. We were interviewed about suspension for a news segment several years back. They asked questions about the popularity of suspension, the safety issues, possible complications, why people did it, etc. When the piece aired on the news a few days later they had changed all the questions being asked to be about tongue splitting and surgical modifications, and chopped up our answers and rearranged things we said to fit their new questions that they never asked us. They did that to make it more shocking and to make us look really bad. After this and hearing similar stories from quite a few other people who have done interviews for the news (not just body modification related either), I stopped talking to news reporters at all and won’t deal with them again.


Tracy Baer
I’m not a tattoo artist, but I play one on TV …

Does that count as media experience?


Meg Barber
Oh whatever, you’ve been in the paper about a million times!

Tracy Baer
I have, and it’s been a double-edged sword for sure.

The news story that was filmed on Halloween, while I was dressed as a vampire, and then didn’t air until after Thanksgiving was probably the worst thing. I looked like a goth kid, and they took bits and pieces of what i said to make a paragraph that was to the editor’s liking.

It was horrible. The one thing that sticks in my mind is the question of why people get tattooed. My answer was long and drawn out — that, I believe, was my mistake. It was edited, and the only answer they played was, “People get tattoos for vanity’s sake.”

Seriously. I gave them at least 10 other reasons that I could think of. So, there I was, dressed up as a vampire on the evening news, talking about how people only get tattooed for vanity’s sake. I was mortified.

I think I’ve learned from my mistake on that one, though.

In more recent media coverage, I’ve had better luck. The last few were positive. The interviews have been upbeat, educational, and well rounded, as well as beneficial to my amount of business and new clients. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that body modification is more widely accepted, or that the person interviewing was more open to the idea of tattooing as a legitimate career.

Either way, I feel like the horror stories in the news are being overshadowed by the positive ones. That being said, there’s definitely a place for the horror stories. Individuals who take this industry for a place to make a quick buck need to be brought to everyone’s attention.


Meg Barber
I agree. The bad side is that the shows that go over the dangers never point the finger at the troublemakers directly. No investigative reporting happenin’, you know? And it should happen: send the undercover person in the shady shops with the bad reps to see what’s really up. It could really shed some light on those places, encouraging people to make smarter choices.

Allen Falkner
I think everyone agrees on the most important point. Depending on how the media wants to spin the story you can be presented as an articulate professional or you can be edited to sound like a fool and a hack.

It’s been my experience that the media that focuses on documentation pieces, National Geographic, The Learning Channel, Discovery Channel, etc. tend to tell the story in such a way that the subjects are shown in a positive light. Granted, there is normally some added sensationalism infused into the story, but that’s what sells, right? However, even if the story is given a commercial flair, these production companies know better than to make people look bad. These kinds of pieces are built on mutual respect and trust. If they violate that, then their chances of working with that culture might be virtually impossible in the future.

Now when it comes to other types of media that are simply doing a one-off piece, the person being interviewed must be more careful. I’ve been burned more than once by agreeing to something without having all the facts. Once I had a live debate on TV and it was obvious, about 30 seconds in, that the topic wasn’t about piercing. It was a witch-hunt and yours truly was the witch. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

I guess my advice would be to do your research. Find out as much as possible about the person and/or company doing the interview. In general, writers and production companies stick to a specific style. If you can get your hands on some of their previous work, you should be able to get a sense of what direction they might take it, and ultimately how they could portray you.

The old saying is, “Any publicity is good publicity.” But, when you’ve had little to no exposure, bad publicity can really hurt you in the long run.

What do you think? Let’s hear it in the comments.

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New Article Posted! The Return of BME’s Big Question!


The above tattoo is of a “pen,” which is an ancient writing utensil that was used millions of years ago, until the Internet was invented, which everyone pretty much loved right away, forever, the end.

OR DID THEY? America’s longest-running game show, BME’s Big Question, returns for its first edition of 2009 with our esteemed panel discussing the Internet: The positive and negative effects it’s had on the body modification industry, what life was like before it was around, and more. Big thanks to all involved!

To read BME’s Big Question #5: The Series of Tubes, click here.

[Ed. note: Comments on this post have been disabled. Mash your keyboards in the forum attached to the post. Thanks.]

BME’s Big Question #5: The Series of Tubes


Welcome to BME’s Big Question! In this feature, we’re going to ask a handful of the community’s best and brightest piercers, tattooists, heavy mod practitioners and shop owners for their opinion on one question or issue that’s affecting the body modification community. Many, many thanks to all of the contributors.

If you’d like to be a part of future editions, or if you have an idea for an issue or question you’d like to see addressed, please e-mail me.

This week’s topic:

The Internet has obviously changed the body modification industry dramatically: The amount of information and discussion about it can be staggering, and more people are engaging in it than ever before. Some see this as a positive thing, while others may have misgivings about such an increased amount of attention, and perhaps a watering-down of the talent and art involved.

If you were working prior to body modification’s rise on the Internet, how did you adapt to its emergence? If you came around afterward, how large a role did the Internet play when you were becoming established in your field? And for everyone, what are the positives and negatives of having the Internet available, whether as a tool for research, marketing, or communication? Where do you think the industry would be without it?

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John Joyce
When I first started piercing, I wasn’t aware of any type of body modification community online. Without that online community, I took everything the person who was teaching me to pierce to be truth. What he said was how it was done, and I had no reason to think otherwise. I later found out about BME and IAM. Through BME, I found that there were many things that we were doing that weren’t really the best way to do things. Talking to other piercers online made me a better piercer, helped me improve myself and the studio I was working in.

Now there is so much information out there and so many great piercers, and body jewelry manufacturers online (just on this site alone) that it really irritates me when I see someone doing things half-assed. When I was starting out, you really had to search for information, now it’s right there ready for you to take, but a lot of the new piercers just aren’t taking it.


Derek Lowe
I see the availability of information to be a good thing. It’s not a matter of the information, or its availability, having a negative impact … it’s what people do (or don’t do) that is positive or negative.

As John pointed out however, it does make it extra frustrating when you see people doing things that make no sense at all. The information about various options is so readily available, there is really no excuse (other than laziness or just not caring) for doing things grossly below par.

Maybe I’m just being nostalgic and romanticizing things, but I do think there is something to be said for the effort you had to put into finding information before the Internet was around. You had to go out of your way to find books or magazines, you had to actually pick up the phone and call someone or go hang out with them. It required a greater commitment of time and energy from everybody involved.

I think one benefit of the information being less accessible was that it forced people to do more critical thinking about their procedures; especially if it wasn’t a traditional procedure. Instead of hopping on BME or YouTube and seeing pictures/videos of procedures being done, you had to think through the process step-by-step and you had to evaluate what your different options were. You often didn’t have a “right way” to fall back on; you just had the way that made the most sense to you. And that way would likely change as you became more skilled/experienced.

Many younger piercers I deal with these days simply want to know how they are “supposed” to do it. They are often reluctant to consider various options and they just want to know what’s “right and wrong.”


Ryan Ouellette
When I started piercing I remember having to scrounge for any information I could get about piercing. I picked up Grey’s Anatomy and dog-eared all the pages on the ear, face, nipple, etc. It was much more of a challenge finding any useable information. The internet has made it so easy for any idiot to watch some other idiot do a horrible piercing on a third idiot. The Internet is great at helping good piercers become better piercers. But I think it’s used more frequently to turn bored people with no career into shitty piercers.

I grew into the Internet really slowly. I used to have this research folder full of any old article I could come across in print or online. I had to track down bits and pieces over months and years. By the time the Internet really started to trickle out the professional-level information I was already fairly established so I really just used it to learn other people’s little tricks of the trade. I’m glad that I had to work for it in the real world instead of just pulling all the info down off the Web.

I think my professional opinion is that I dislike almost everything about the Internet’s marriage to this industry, minus the publicity aspect, but at least it’s evolution. It started off as a community of professionals sharing information with people they felt comfortable with. There’s no barrier of good judgment or apprehension anymore, it’s all just public domain. I liked it more when people kept secrets and you had to work for it.


John Joyce
Oh man … I know what you’re talking about. The first day of my apprenticeship I was handed folders, and binders, full of random information. I was given an old Gauntlet seminar hand book, interviews with Keith Alexander, Fakir, Jon Cobb, the Modern Primitives Book, all kinds of things.

And when I started apprenticing Shelly, I did the same thing. I gave her all kinds of information and said, “Read all of this and then find your own.” I think it’s important for people coming into this industry to do their own research and not just look to a forum and say, “Hey, how do you do this?” without doing any of their own digging first. We’re always learning and always changing our techniques, so if we can get our apprentices to do their own research right from the start it will keep them being proactive throughout their careers.


Stephen DeToma
I started my own notebook of everything the guy teaching me said. A lot of that helped give me a point of reference as I continued to learn. When I was just cutting my teeth, Ask.BME was something I read often.

I still feel I’m many levels below everyone else on this panel. Hell, I read the writings of more than a couple of you years back. I think I found my way onto BME just after I began my apprenticeship and it’s been an invaluable communication and education tool ever since.

In terms of a glut of availabile information, I certainly echo the displeasure of being able to watch kids sticking each other with needles on the school yard. Not that I think experimentation in youth is a bad thing, I’m sure we’ve all been there. But seeing something on a video through the Internet often lends an air of credibility to the experimentation, allowing others to follow in line.

I remember one afternoon, less than six months of learning in, one of the regulars from the shop brought in a stack of old PFIQs — I thought I had hit the jackpot. Now, being able to pull up any amount of varied articles at any time, it’s certainly easier, but the thrill of the hunt has diminished …


Meg Barber
When I first started my “apprenticeship,” I was given the “Pierce With a Pro” VHS tapes, the “Hole Story” VHS tapes, a pile of old PFIQ magazines, and was told to read and watch.

There was no easily accessible info to be found online really at that point, as BME was still in its earliest stages. I have to agree totally with the above statement,
“Maybe I’m just being nostalgic and romanticizing things, but I do think there is something to be said for the effort you had to put into finding information before the Internet was around.” You had to work to find the info you needed. Anatomy books, medical journals, actually reaching out to other piercers by *gasp* going to their studios, and hands-on trial-and-error were all par for the course, and I think that is why the older set of piercers are better at what we do. We worked for it, same as any job. Chances are, you will never really excel at something if you are just handed it on a silver platter, which is how I see apprentices nowadays.

While I DO think that there is some GREAT info available online, and I see the Internet as a great resource for piercers and other mod artists, I also feel that it contributes to the the over-saturation of idiots in our industry. Perfect case in point:

Me to a client: How did you end up with such a horrible piercing?

Client to me: Well, my friend and I watched this video on how to pierce your own *fill in the blank* on YouTube…

And yes, while these YouTube-trained home piercers are not technically a part of our industry, they are putting out piercings. They are perpetuating the idea that piercing is ugly, full of risk, and a delinquent behavior. The videos are also, for the most part, scary to watch, and I get a ton of clients now that are more terrified than ever after watching them!

I just feel that, like anything, the Internet as a tool for us is both positive and negative. It has its high points. I mean, how else could projects like this be possible? But it has its low points. There is a greater amount of information available to those seeking it, which can be wonderful when that information is put into the right hands, but really, how often have we all cringed when we’ve seen the results of that put into the WRONG hands?


Allen Falkner
In 1979, my father purchased a dual floppy, wooden cased, DOS-based computer called the NorthStar Horizon. With no hard drive, a giant dot matrix printer and a tiny monochrome screen, this magical machine could run the tax software for his CPA firm, making the tedious task of written double-entry book-keeping obsolete. Although the device is now just gathering dust in my garage, at the time it was a tool that allowed his business to grow dramatically without needing to hire more accountants.

Jumping forward a few years … I started piercing in 1992, the World Wide Web didn’t exist and the only comprehensive online resource was the rec.arts.bodyart newsgroup. Yes, there were plenty of photos changing hands in those days, but the random body modification you might see was simply the byproduct of downloading porn. Yes, porn was passed around before the WWW. Crazy, huh? Sites like BME and SPC didn’t exist and the body modification community was inspired by images in printed materials, most notably Modern Primitives, of which many careers including mine got their start.

Back in those days I know the desire for body modification existed, but without the Internet to expose the masses, it remained an obscure art form. It was the practitioners that appeared in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s that were the first generation to really cut their teeth simultaneously as the Internet began its influence. Some embraced the new technology and their careers grew and thrived. Others tried and ultimately floundered in the wake of the World Wide Web’s massive and sudden overexposure. Then a third group of modders either missed the boat altogether or purposely avoided the Internet, and who can blame them? For every positive thing posted there seems to be numerous negative and often hateful responses, especially in those days.

Remember the days of film cameras and scanners? Back then people had to take pictures, have them developed and scan them before they could ever be uploaded to the web. It was a time when Paul King was the MTV poster boy for navel piercings, and practitioners were changing from simple craftsmen to rock stars almost overnight. Tattooers may have earned that stature before the rest of us, but the Internet definitely played a key role in helping everyone working in the body modification industry to reach a new level of fame.

Back then if you put a ring in your friend’s penis using a safety pin, you might have been viewed as a hack, but take a picture and put in on the web and you were a pioneer and an innovator, and it didn’t stop there. One ring in a penis? How about two? Three? Heck, why not cut it in half? Half, shit, cut it off!

Now before the age-old debate of how far is too far begins, I will step back and say this: People are going to do what they want. Do photos on the Internet shape the viewer? To an extent, sure. Do these same images inspire people to reach for the next level? Yes, of course, but don’t blame the Web for people’s stupidity and poor choices. It’s like blaming rock music for murder. Giving someone an idea is far different than forcing their hand.

The Internet is a tool, nothing more. A very complex, multifaceted and often entertaining tool … but still just a tool, one that the body modification community uses more effectively than any other hands-on trade. Maybe it’s the fact that our industry blurs the line between craft and entertainment. In a sense we hit the reality crazy before the TV ever did. Want see the strange and bizarre? You can program your TiVo to find the shows or you can just turn on your computer.

So here we are, the subject of constant controversy from both inside and outside our ranks. The male ear piercings we found so shocking the ‘70s hardly raise an eyebrow anymore. Will two-inch lobes and facial tattoos be viewed the same way in 30 years? Who can say? There’s no doubt the Internet has helped body modification to thrive. Would television, film and print media have had the same effect? Probably not, but our growth may have been more controlled. Research would have trickled down slower. International communication would have been difficult at best. Marketing and exposure? Really I have no clue.

If there is nothing else I’ve learned over the years it’s that technology is ever changing. No matter what the field, all industries must learn to adapt and use what is available to the fullest if they hope to survive.


John Joyce
The first shop I worked in used to play the “Pierce with a Pro” VHS tapes in the waiting area. I hated it, but the boss thought it would be good for clients to see what they would be going through beforehand. We used to get this kid who would come in just to watch these videos. Then, guess what? About three months later that kid was piercing at a studio down the street. That was all the research he did. He continued to be a hack for a few years after, before disappearing.

And I agree with Allen that you can’t “blame the web for people’s stupidity and poor choices.” Remember when that picture of the stretched-up Achilles heel piercing was on ModBlog? I thought that was fantastic. It’s amazing to me what the human body is capable of and that there weren’t serious complications from that. I loved that it was on ModBlog because otherwise I would have never gotten to see it. Does that mean I’m going to offer Achilles piercings? No fucking way!!! People need to have some common sense, and take responsibility for themselves.

With the lack of hands on research and initiative, people also seem to be losing professional morals and ethics.


Allen Falkner
You know what’s funny? We were all hacks once, especially the old timers. My training came from a one day course by Fakir. This was before his school, and I was his second student after Erik Dakota.

So in a sense I was one of those hacks that knew very little and just set up shop. In a way I’m kind of glad I did it that way. Because I didn’t have any formal training, I had to work twice as hard to both learn and prove myself.


John Joyce
Right, but you worked hard to learn and improve. People seem to be losing that motivation. Almost 12 years later, I’m still working hard and improving. There are all these piercers now that think they have it all figured out, they are masters of their craft. I just don’t understand that mentality.

Meg Barber
“Because I didn’t have any formal training, I had to work twice as hard to both learn and prove myself.”

Hear, hear.

The kids that think they are master piercers, so to speak, after piercing for a year KILL me. There has been nothing earned, no sacrifices made.

What do you think? Let’s hear it in the comments.

* * *

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BME’s Big Queston #4: Training Days


Welcome to BME’s Big Question! In this weekly (hopefully) feature, we’re going to ask a handful of the community’s best and brightest piercers, tattooists, heavy mod practitioners and shop owners for their opinion on one question or issue that’s affecting the body modification community. Many, many thanks to all of the contributors.

If you’d like to be a part of future editions, or if you have an idea for an issue or question you’d like to see addressed, please e-mail me.

This week’s topic:

Particularly when you were breaking into the industry, how did you prepare when you were attempting a new procedure or method with which you were not experienced? Consult with other practitioners? Study images online or peruse anatomy books? Find a trusted client on whom to experiment?

* * *


Joy Rumore
One word: logic.

Meg Barber
Back when I was starting out, yeah, I did all of the above. Now? Well, there really aren’t too many instances where I’m asked to do something I’m not familiar with.

But, if that DOES come up, I generally contact another practitioner, bounce ideas off of them, and then just put it to use on the client. I tend to think of myself as pretty logical when it comes down to it, and if I slow down, think about the dynamics of what I’m doing enough … I can figure out how to do pretty much anything thrown at me. That said, I only do piercing and scarification. If someone came in wanting something more involved, like an implant, I’d send them elsewhere.


Brian Decker
Like Joy said, I do count on common sense for most of what I do. A lot of procedures are very similar in technique, even if the work is completely different. I’m self-taught with most of what I do, but I definitely make phone calls to work out specifics of new procedures — quite often, honestly. I used to call Tom Brazda pretty often for his input and advice. I don’t think it was ever really anything about how to approach a particular procedure in general, but more so the specifics that could help better the procedure. Things like suture type and size, suturing styles, jewelry designs, etc. He was always very helpful. That man loves to talk.

I remember calling Shane Munce, whom I’d never spoken to previously, about his approach for the Nefertiti piercing before trying it. In the end, I’d already had the work mapped out very similarly to his approach, but I’m all for sharing ideas to make sure there’s nothing I’m overlooking. Hell, I even talked with Todd Bertrang online for a while about scalpelling piercings.

Years ago, I talked with Emilio [Gonzalez] about ear pointing and he threw me one idea that that made things much easier. Even though I don’t use the same technique now, I’ve definitely built from what I learned from him at the time.

When I started making the switch from tools to freehanding piercings, I talked to tons of people. Some ideas I was comfortable and some I wasn’t. Dave Gillstrap showed me the most satisfying holding position for tongue piercings ever.

Since I’m always open to new ideas (and asking for them), I have no problem sharing, either. I encourage it. When I was in Cincinnati, Meg asked for some input regarding skin removal in scarification, which she’d already done, so we set up a piece we could work on together so I could show her exactly what I do. Very rarely do I just shun people away. When someone has absolutely no idea what they’re doing and they just want me to tell them because they’re too lazy to do some homework, then I get frustrated, but otherwise I’m all ears.


Stephen DeToma
Whether the client asks me for something new or I wish to try something different, such as freehand V clamps, it’s important that it’s made perfectly clear that this will be new.

A lot of prep for something new starts with discussion with others and researching listed techniques. Often, it comes down to hands-on application, but that doesn’t always mean with a needle. When I was switching away from forceps for nipples and navels, doing a dry run with a cotton swab in place of a needle helped to give me the feel of the piercing without actually having to poke the skin or follow through.

Learning how others do something, even if you don’t end up applying the same methods in your own work is just as important, and that applies even to piercings that you’ve been doing for years. Traveling and being able to observe artists that I respect and admire goes a long way to help sharpen my own skills. Sometimes it’s as simple as seeing how someone approaches an unrelated procedure to help blossom new ideas for your own work.


Brian Decker
I fully agree. When I first started moving away from forceps, I was piercing everything other than people to get a better feel for different grips. Paper, jeans, cardboard, bookbags … everything.

Steve Truitt
I pretty much agree with everyone else. Common sense can go a long way. When I was learning to do procedures, I thought about them for a while before doing them to map out the technique I thought would work best. Then I’d usually call someone I knew that had done that procedure before. Usually that was Steve Haworth, and he was very helpful.

I also normally started out doing the procedures I hadn’t done before on friends and regular clients that knew I was trying something new and were aware of the risks.


Meg Barber
Brian [Decker] has been really helpful to me with input, and he is who I turn to most often. I think he and I just work well together, and we respect each other enough I know he isn’t gonna call me a chump when I ask about something. I’ve also touched base with Ryan Oullette and John Joyce once or twice …

That’s when knowing artists who aren’t total rock-star douchebags comes in handy.


John Joyce
Whenever I was looking into a new procedure or a new technique, I’ve always researched the hell out of it before jumping in. Talking to more experienced artists, looking at photos, and whenever possible actually watching someone else do it.

A great example of this is when I first started looking into doing the punch and taper method for surface piercings. I had the general idea down, but before I attempted it, I contacted people I trusted that were already doing it. Tom Brazda was very helpful; he and I wrote back and forth many times before I eventually attempted one, and the first few that I performed after that were all done on friends only. I made sure they understood it was something new that I was trying out, and there was a very real possibility that they may end up with just two holes in them and no jewelry. Fortunately, that never happened.

Before punch and taper, I did the same thing when I was learning to freehand surface piercings instead of clamp and pierce. I talked to Luis Garcia, and a few other people about their techniques.

The Learning Forum on IAM is a great place for exchanging information between piercers, experienced or not. Unfortunately, I do think it’s underused by newer piercers. When I was first learning to pierce, there wasn’t a place like that where you could ask questions and get responses from so many great piercers all at once. It really makes getting information much easier.


Stephen DeToma
IAM in general is a great resource. Thank you, Al Gore.

John Joyce
I couldn’t agree more with Stephen when he said that, “Traveling and being able to observe artists that I respect and admire goes a long way to help sharpen my own skills.”

Scar Wars helped me sharpen my skills as a scarification artist tremendously. Even though I was there as a respected practitioner, watching other artists work made me think about the way I did certain things, and made me a better artist. This is another example of the newer artists not taking advantage of something amazing that could better themselves more than anything else. At the last two Scar Wars events I was really disappointed at the lack of the younger/newer “scarification artists” that made the effort to come and learn from the best of the best.


Stephen DeToma
I don’t even cut and Scar Wars was a great learning experience.

Steve Truitt
Yeah, I learned a lot at Scar Wars from watching people cut as well.

Meg Barber
I think that Scar Wars is easily one of the best learning environments that there has been for scarification, hands down. The ability to schmooze with and watch all of these skilled artists for a period of three days?! Yes please!

Ryan Ouellette
I think preparation is the best kind of research — does that make any sense? Whenever I’m around other professionals I’ll make sure to keep my ears open and ask a lot of questions. Sometimes it’s just that one small piece of the puzzle that brings everything together. I’ve learned so many little tricks (from a lot of people here on IAM) that has really advanced my work. If someone comes in and asks for something I’ve never done before I’ll typically refer them to someone else. If it’s just a different variation on a familiar procedure then I’ll inform them of my experience and it’s their choice to have me perform it. A good example would be when I tried a punch and taper microdermal on someone when I had only done freehand microdermals and punch and taper piercings. You can try new things on clients at certain skill levels, but if it is something outside of your field of experience it’s best to research and train, or refer to a trusted colleague.

But I don’t mean to make it sound like I’ve never rolled the dice on a procedure. Luckily my experiments have usually been on myself, or at least my friends. There’s always a first time for everything you’ve done. Experimentation is really important to advance the industry. I’m not a heavy mod practitioner, just piercing and cutting really. But my first flesh removal was on a regular client/coworker/friend … and it came out horrible. But I never would have been able to nail down a solid technique without getting my mistakes out of the way first. I think part of knowing how to do something right is seeing how to do it wrong.


Allen Falkner
I think everyone agrees that research is important and that clients should be fully informed prior to attempting a new procedure. So, I’m going to try and give an answer coming from a different angle.

When I first made the jump into suspension I knew zilch, zero, nada. The only person I knew that had hung from hooks was Fakir. He was helpful to a certain extent, but in general I stumbled into it blindly. For those that haven’t heard the story, my first suspension was an utter disaster. I understood the basic physics. Knew it was possible. However, the information, equipment and materials just weren’t out there. Well, at least not like they are now.

Looking back on it I see the first years of TSD as reckless. Granted, I tried to convey to people that my experience was limited, but ego and pride can really be one’s undoing. Yes, I learned a lot from working with other people and communicating with others online. But really my first two to three years of suspension were riddled with comments like, “Well that didn’t work,” and, “Yeah I guess that won’t hold.” Nowadays it’s easy to dismiss it all by saying things like, “There really wasn’t anyone else to ask” and “I was young and stupid.” These statements might be true, but it’s still no excuse.

Basically, in the beginning I was very headstrong and often attempted things that in retrospect I really wasn’t qualified to do. Do I regret these experiences? No. However, I was lucky. No one was ever seriously hurt and the lessons I learned really shaped who I am today. The main thing that came from this behavior is that I am much more cautious now. Do I still do stupid things without adequate research? Sure, but whenever possible I’m the first guinea pig.

Personally I think experimentation is a good thing, and yes reinventing the wheel should be avoided whenever possible. However, there is definitely something to be said for learning things the hard way.


Stephen DeToma
Absolutely, sir. Learning something the hard way can often times be the greatest teaching tool. If someone tells you the stove is hot, you may forget; but you touch a hot stove, you’ll never forget again.

What do you think? Let’s hear it in the comments.

* * *

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BME’s Big Question #3: Economic Collapse Edition


Welcome to BME’s Big Question! In this weekly (hopefully) feature, we’re going to ask a handful of the community’s best and brightest piercers, tattooists, heavy mod practitioners and shop owners for their opinion on one question or issue that’s affecting the body modification community. Many, many thanks to all of the contributors.

If you’d like to be a part of future editions, or if you have an idea for an issue or question you’d like to see addressed, please e-mail me.

This week’s topic:

The economy is in the crapper. People across the country (and the world) are being forced to reevaluate what qualifies as a necessity, as well as their own skills and what they’re capable of contributing to a society that appears to be on the brink of an economic collapse. Where does body modification fall? It may not be a “necessity” the way food and shelter are, but it’s undeniably vital to many people. What are your thoughts on the current economic situation and how it will affect body modification as an industry?

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Steve Truitt
I think, and am noticing, that business is slowing down quite a bit, but it normally does around this time of year here every year. It seems slower than normal, but going through my books, it isn’t.

I think that people will continue to get tattoos/piercings/etc. done even when the economy is bad because they make them feel good about themselves — even though they aren’t necessities. Much like sales of alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, etc. don’t really get affected like other industries (restaurants, movie theaters and so on) by the economy, I think body modification will be just fine overall. It just seems that people are opting for cheaper plain jewelry instead of going with the fancy jeweled piece more often now though.


John Joyce
A lot of people around Syracuse work in factories. New Venture Gear/ Chrysler is one of the larger ones, and they have been laying people off since the end of last year. Before them there was Carrier, which ended up closing. With these lay-offs, there are thousands of people with no work. I’ve definitely noticed a slight drop in the amount of business we are doing which I definitely relate to the local economy. But like Steve said, it’s not that I’m really doing fewer piercings, I’m just using less expensive jewelry. People aren’t getting the gems as often, and I’ve received far fewer requests for the more expensive plugs.

I’m also seeing more and more people coming in after getting work done somewhere else — usually with very low quality jewelry, poor placement, the wrong aftercare information, and all sorts of irritation. While I’ve always had people come in to get things fixed from these other places, the number is definitely increasing.


Meg Barber
As both a piercer, and someone who works in a wholesale situation, I have totally noticed a drop in business on both ends.

As for piercing, we have recently dropped from doing about $3,000 a day or more to an average of about $1,000-$2,000. That’s a big drop for us. Being in NYC especially makes it worse; people feel the drops in the stock market a little more keenly I think. People are more conservative with their spending now, and the idea of luxury, except for the very wealthy, is a back-burner thought.

Thankfully, we do have some of those clients keeping numbers high. But, yeah … sales are lower, and people are price shopping more, and with the cost of gold climbing, that makes it really hard on us at times. But we make it.


Barry Blanchard
Sure, the economy is in the crapper — that is indisputable. Guess what: it’s probably going to get worse.

What we do for a living makes someone who is not feeling well feel good about themselves. I do not see it getting so bad that it comes down to “food or a piercing, but it is that fear that keeps people from spending extra money on an item such as a piercing.

We are all going to feel “it.”

It’s time to get back to the basics, such as customer service and quality. That way, when someone does want to spend their hard earned (and slim) money, they will come to you — that person who treated them the best.

Anatometal has been hammered with orders right up until today. Not sure what tomorrow will bring, but make no bones about it: We are busy.

Jewelry (including body jewelry) has shown to be one of the more “recession-proof” items out there. No, we are not talking about big ticket items — those who can afford those will afford them no matter what.

My point: girl walks into a tattoo shop because she has nothing better to do. She just got laid off, and she wants to get a tattoo, but that $125/hour rate is a bit much for her. Instead she walks out with a $40-60 piece for her navel. She feels better about herself and helps this economy at the same time. Retail therapy works and works very well for not just that girl with the new navel bling; it also works for people like you and me.

We are up 10 percent from last year, and up 33 percent from two years ago. I attribute this to our customer service staff and our great customers.


Steve Truitt
Barry, are you noticing more sales of basic items than the fancier pieces right now? More than usual, I should say, since I’m sure basic plain pieces are always going to be the biggest seller.

Over the last year almost every microdermal I did was with a gem on it; now only about a third are. And up until about two or three months ago, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d pierced a navel with a plain curved barbell — now I haven’t used a jeweled curve in maybe two months.


Barry Blanchard
Basic stuff will always do well for those wanting a new piercing. The catch is to get those people in your environment and treat them just how you would want to be treated.

We don’t do too much “super high-end” stuff like what Meg works with, so it’s hard for me to judge. Gemmed eyelets are most certainly a bit down, but that started after other companies started putting out similar designs.

Just today, I noticed a lot of gold going to places like Japan — more than usual, even.

To answer your question Steve: it appears to be that orders are not much different than they were just a few months ago.


Brian Decker
I’ve never worked in a busy 30-piercing-a-day type shop, so I never expect things to be “busy,” but I’m honestly not noticing any decline in business for myself. If anything, I feel like walk-ins are growing for me, but I attribute that greatly to keeping my pricing as low as is economically possible. Since I seem to have a great reputation in the area for piercing, especially with the college crowd, that’s definitely what keeps me working.

I certainly know, based on the levels of standards of sterility and jewelry quality, I should be charging more, but unfortunately, many people in the city will not pay more. Now that I attribute mainly to lack of information and legislation for possible clientele. If a client comes into the shop and allows me to educate them, very rarely will they leave without the work, but if people know you charge more, they just don’t bother coming in at all. I seem to have found the perfect pricing to maintain clients, but even still, being that I do charge more than most other shops in the area, bunches of people still nearly faint when I tell them the prices. For these people, I really just blame the cost of living in NYC. It’s true, piercing probably isn’t a necessity for most people, so if they don’t know better and can get it cheaper, of course they’re going to.

Barry, I’m curious, with the orders you’re getting, how much of that is from select, enormously busy shops that have been ordering like that for years? You obviously produce unmatched quality, but also obviously more costly than, say Wildcat or BMS, which I’d suspect makes it harder for the smaller shops to exclusively stock your entire line, no? I’m very curious, how many shops in NYC stock your basics?


Barry Blanchard
The orders I get are based on customers like yourself, Brian — you too, Steve.

From the start, we have not had much business out of NYC, so that’s not really something I can go by.

Any shop that’s been ordering from us for the duration knows what I know: piercings as a whole have declined over the past ten years. At the same time, jewelry sales have gone up. Perhaps not for all of you, but as a whole? Body jewelry is doing well.

Those who have visited Anatometal should know its more of a “mom and pop” type atmosphere. It’s shops like yours, Mr. Decker, that I prefer to cater to, and perhaps that’s why things are the way they are at my work.

Sure there are ups and downs, but it seems when one area is down another picks up, and so on and so forth. It’s sort of hard for me to judge unless I do a year-to-year comparison. I have my bookkeeper working on that for September ’07 versus September ’08. October is a better “judge” as it’s typically our slowest month of the year.

Because of the current economic status in America, just know I am watching things very, very closely, looking for the signs, just like everyone else.

I do think that we stand out and sell to a select crowd, Brian — no different than Tiffany & Co. would in the world of standard jewelry. I would like to see how places like BVLA are doing.


Brian Decker
I completely understand what you’re saying, and I love you for that (as well as for other things), but let’s be honest: I don’t spend thousands of dollars per order with you. I wish I had to, but I know it’s not me paying your bills. That’d be places like HPP or old Dragon FX, I’d assume.

Barry Blanchard
It’s the sum of all the “Decker Shops” that are the brunt of our business, and I monitor this very closely.

Some of you will remember that there was a day when we were the biggest in the USA. I don’t ever want to go back to that again as you cannot have that and those three things mentioned above. I turn down anywhere about 25 percent of new clients, even in this economy. I want to be able to serve the clients I have now and in the future.


Meg Barber
To keep our costs down, we make all of our own steel posts, both straight and curved. The only things we are ordering from “the outside” are balls, surface bars, microdermal bases, and the occasional large gauge items.

On the wholesale side, we get a few orders per week, and they are generally for at least $1,000. We ask people how stuff is selling, and they all pretty much tell us the same thing: that it all sells at a good rate. I’m not sure how these shops are charging in comparison to how we charge in our retail store; it would be interesting to find out actually.

I’ve noticed in the retail store we are doing more piercings lately than in past months, but the jewelry is really, really basic — lots of white gold fixed ball rings in cartilage, 1.2 mm. diamonds in nostrils, and our basic $135 gold/CZ navel combo. We’re still getting the bigger ticket items to move, but it’s a little less than in past months. On Sunday, we did $3,000. Monday, we barely did $700. It’s fluctuating a lot more, and with October being historically slow, it’s hard to gauge whether it’s the typical time of year drop, or economics.

I will say that I did have a client tell me how he just lost half of his money in a stuck crash in recent weeks. He talked about how hard it is for him right now, and how bad things are with everyone he knows. Then he bought a $550 navel piece for himself.


Barry Blanchard
I think we can all agree on one thing: we are all okay. Sure, we are not where we would like to be. Even Meg’s stock broker can agree with that.

I can say where the economy has affected us, and it’s not exactly where this topic started: the cost of materials went through the roof over a year ago. Stainless, Titanium, and yes of course: gold. We tightened our belts a year ago, and perhaps that’s why the little Anatometal engine keeps chugging along.


Meg Barber
The cost of gold is a pain in our ass.

Barry Blanchard
Real numbers:

September ’07 to September ’08: Eight percent growth, and that’s about spot on correct considering all that is going on around us. The October numbers will paint a much clearer picture.


John Joyce
I was just looking over numbers and comparing them to last year. Surprisingly, business is up, just over $15,000. But … so is our spending, which is up almost $19,000.

So, so far this year I’m down almost $4,000 in profits from last year. I blame most of that on the increase of all our supplies — gloves, jewelry, etc. — but, I also blame a lot of that on APP. Man, did I spend far too much money there this year. Cervesa is not cheap!

It’s really just the last two months that I’ve seen a real dip in business. But like I said earlier, New Venture Gear/Chrysler laid off most of their employees around that time, and it looks like they may be closing completely. I just heard today that another big factory was sold and there are already threats of picketing and lay-offs there. So we’ll see what the rest of the year brings.


Derek Lowe
I think modification is going to feel the impact of the economic issues, but I certainly don’t think we’re going to feel it as much as many other types of businesses. Choosing to spend less money by cooking at home is a substitute for going out to eat. Renting a move for $4 is a substitute for spending $20 for two people to go see a movie on a Saturday night. Watching a sporting event on TV is a substitute for spending money on tickets to actually go to the arena.

There simply isn’t a substitute for modification.

Some people will choose to do something different all-together because it’s less expensive. But I think most people who want to get pierced or tattooed will do so because nothing else is going to satiate that desire. They might alter their jewelry choices are size of their tattoo, to help keep the cost down, but I don’t think it’s going to keep that many people away. Now, if we find ourselves in another full-on Great Depression with a 25 percent unemployment rate, it might be a different story. I think the odds of that happening are pretty small though.

I think John touched on a really good point as well: geography is going to play a big role. Being in Minneapolis — a fairly liberal, well-educated, reasonably affluent larger city — I don’t expect to feel the economic impact as much as if I were still working in Cleveland — a fairly conservative, blue-collar city that has had a struggling economy for a while now.

Looking at our numbers, I see that we are down this September, just slightly, compared to last September. Overall though, we are up this year a decent amount, compared to last year, in both piercing fees and jewelry sales. Tattooing shows a similar trend.

This whole “crisis” is just starting to play itself out though, so I think the next few months will provide a much clearer picture.


Allen Falkner
It’s good to hear that everyone is doing well. However, most, if not all of you are on the upper end of the spectrum for sure. I’m not sure about other cities, but I have noticed piercing shops in the Dallas closing. In this city, as with most, tattooing and piercing are combined in one shop. The trend I have been seeing is that the tattoo artist/shop owners are phasing out piercing and the piercers/shop owners are thriving on the shift of business. Now on the flip side of this, tattoo shops are opening left and right. With the all the media exposure, tattooing is the new “navel of the ’90s” and people of all skill levels are cashing in.

As for the common piercer, I think there are dark days ahead. Shop owners and select, well established piercers in good location shops still have plenty of life left in them, but seriously, piercing is a young person’s game. As inflation has risen over the last decade the costs of both jewelry and service have remained fairly steady. If you take into account a four-to-six percent yearly cost of living rate increase, combined with the financial burden of raising a family, the life span of a piercer seems to be getting shorter and shorter.

Tattooing, on the other hand, is a whole different animal. Unlike piercers, tattooers are seen as unique artists. Rather than the, “I can get it for $5 less down the street” mindset, tattooing style and ability has a more intrinsic value. Because of this, the art of tattooing is based more on the artist and less on the average market value. Plus, tattoos represent a very different commitment then body piercing.

Of course, everyone here will have a different numbers, but in general piercing clients get worked on a few times and buy new jewelry a few times. Tattoo customers have a much higher percentage of being life-long customers. You can take a piercing out, but the ink is with you forever. (Well, maybe not in my line of business, but that’s another topic all together.) My point is that once people start getting tattooed, they continually want to add, modify or change their tattoos. This just isn’t true for the average piercing client.

Back to the point at hand, piercing has passed its peak, dropped a bit and is finally beginning to level off. However, I agree with you all that modification is a “feel good” service and should ride out the bad economy, especially in college towns where students have fewer financial responsibilities and exploring the world of body modification has become almost a rite of passage for young adults. As for tattooing, I think the unstable economy might be just the thing to help weed out all the mediocre artists that are riding the media shock wave. Overall, unlike Wall Street, this financial crisis might actually be a good thing for the modded community. If nothing else, modified people looking for other forms of work has and will continue to change people’s opinions about what modifications are acceptable in the “real” world.


John Joyce
I completely agree with Allen. If I wasn’t the owner of this studio, I couldn’t make it as just a piercer here. Without the income from the tattoo artists, the piercing business just isn’t as booming as it once was. New tattoo studios are popping up all over Syracuse and the surrounding area. Some of them have piercers, some of them don’t. The ones that do have a high turnover rate. It seems like every other week I hear about some new guy piercing at so-and-so’s shop.

There have definitely been weeks, and even months where piercing seems very slow, and the tattoo artists here carry us through those times. When I first opened, and even up to about a year ago, I could carry the studio on piercing alone. That is definitely not the case any longer.


Stephen DeToma
The economic issues absolutely affect our business. The people that haven’t put any thought into what they’re getting and where they’re getting it done are the first ones we lose; the crowds of college kids that used to flood the shop on the weekends are definitely thinning. But, in the wake of that, I’m finding that the people who are coming through the door know exactly what they want and have been thinking about it for a bit. So instead of four outer helix piercings on college girls, it’s more becoming one individual looking for something maybe a little more complicated and willing to spend a little more in the process.

We’ve felt the hit. In simple terms, it seems like the parents have less money, so the stream of cash trickling down to the college student seams to be less than it was even last year. Things suck and, I agree with Barry, that they will be getting worse, but I don’t think the choice will be piercings/tattoos/mods or food. I think it will be more along the lines of new shoes/purse/movies or getting work done. I’ve never been one to have a lot of money, so to me that isn’t anything new. But dealing with a new breed of college freshmen that may or may not have ever had to hold down a real job, exist without a cellphone or credit card … this will be a kick in the pants.

I’ll tell you what’s pulling me through it personally: the regulars. People who we build relationships with and continue to come back to us really help.

I think Allen makes a good point by saying that piercing is a young man’s game. I’m lucky that I was able to come back to piercing after not working for a few years and I truly enjoy it, but I do find myself wondering what I’ll be doing in another five or 10 years.


Brian Decker
I fully agree with Allen’s last paragraph. For myself, anyhow, any drop off in business is just attributed to the lesser popularity of piercing as a whole, not so much the cost.

Barry Blanchard
I agree with Allen as well.

Allen Falkner
We need a topic where everyone will have a difference of opinion.

Steve Truitt
We should just invite Cere into the conversations and he can disagree with everyone.

Allen Falkner
You know, Cere is a tattoo artist … I would say invite Bradly, but I have a sneaking suspicion he/she is already on the panel.

What do you think? Let’s hear it in the comments.

* * *

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BME’s Big Question #2: The Melancholy of Anatomy


Welcome to BME’s Big Question! In this weekly (hopefully) feature, we’re going to ask a handful of the community’s best and brightest piercers, tattooists, heavy mod practitioners and shop owners for their opinion on one question or issue that’s affecting the body modification community. Many, many thanks to all of the contributors.

If you’d like to be a part of future editions, or if you have an idea for an issue or question you’d like to see addressed, please e-mail me.

This week’s topic:

Aside from not wanting to work on a minor, have you ever refused to do a certain procedure? What would make you refuse to do one? Are there any you’ve done that you now regret?

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Ryan Ouellette

I refuse stuff all the time, or, more often, I ask people to book appointments a few days away. I don’t get picky with average piercings, but with the trickier stuff like microdermals, surface work, genital piercings or complex cartilage I really prefer the person to have some kind of understanding of the “risks.” If someone seems a little blurry on the details I’ll explain the basics of healing and aftercare and the chances of a problem coming up. If they seem to get it then I’ll either get them on the spot or have them book an appointment. If a person just gives me that blank stare when I explain something or is obviously trying to rush into something, I’ll usually tell them to research it more and come back at a later date. I understand that it’s their body and choice, but I don’t want to deal with a serious problem coming up because I valued someone’s money over my own reputation or ethics.

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Joy Rumore

I have not refused to do work based on the image to be tattooed, nor have I refused to work on someone because of differing beliefs. I’ve tattooed gang members, white supremacists, and a variety of unsavory characters in general. Few and far between are those I flat out refuse to work on, but they are out there.

Occasionally, a couple will come in where the woman is supposed to get the tattoo, but her husband/boyfriend is doing all the talking. It’s always the same set up: The man will describe how he wants the tattoo on her, what colors I should use, how it should be angled, how it will look most sexy, and she will just stand there looking nervous. The dude will make some snide remarks about me being a female tattoo artist and then expect me to carry out his every whim. When it is clear that she’s terrified, I walk past the man and ask the woman if she wants to get tattooed. There’s generally some shrugged response about, “Well, he likes it,” and zero eye contact. Then, usually when I turn to the man and announce, “She can come back when she wants to get tattooed, but I will not be tattooing her today,” insecure and dominating men don’t like it when a woman tattoo artist tells them how things are gonna be. Curses are shouted and they go away. No big deal.

Other times, I have refused to work on people based on their interactions with me and the “vibe” they’ve given off. In one of these cases, I ended up feeling threatened and unsafe.

Before I owned my own place, I worked at a shop in downtown Providence, Rhode Island. I had a customer approach me about doing two dog portraits. I was game, he was game, it seemed like it’d be a fun time. He brought some pictures in and we started to set up a date for the appointment. I also informed him at this time that he needed to bring in his ID and fill out paperwork on his appointment date.

He said that he didn’t give out information and he wouldn’t let me copy his ID. He raised his voice and continued that he didn’t do that kinda stuff, alluded to problems with the law, and said he couldn’t leave a trail and allow people to find him. I apologized and I told him that those were the state’s regulations I was required to follow and that I would lose my tattoo license if I did not comply. He got agitated. I repeated what the problem was and further explained that the paperwork doesn’t get sent to the state, but rather sits in a box, filed away, for seven years. He still was nowhere near happy with the situation. He raised his voice more and began to verbally turn his anger on me. After going over the same questions for another 10 minutes or so, I apologized again, and he finally left the shop all pissed off.

This is where it gets weird.

The would-be customer began to drive by the shop everyday very slowly. Sometimes he would park outside the shop on the street and just stare into the building. Sometimes he would get out of his car and lean against it just hanging out for no reason. After about a week of this behavior, he came back with the pictures of his beloved pooches in hand and he told me he wanted to get the tattoos done. I reminded him that I could not do the tattoos without ID and paperwork. He got agitated again. Began saying things that didn’t make any sense — almost like he was pleading his case. By this time, I had made my mind up that he was more trouble than he was worth.

I informed him that I could not do the tattoos. He conceded that he would get his ID and fill out the paperwork as long as I promised no one saw them. I said I couldn’t promise that because the Health Department has every right to come in and inspect them whenever they would like. I continued by explaining that I would not tattoo him at all. He was confused. I told him I was uncomfortable with the situation. I didn’t like him driving by being menacing, and that I was simply refusing to work on him, period.

I thought he was agitated before? Ha! He yelled at me, told me I couldn’t do that, stomped around, called me a few choice names, and finally left the building after I yelled back at him. He continued the weird drive-bys and hanging-out business for another week. I let all the guys I worked with and the business owners on the same block know what was up in case something escalated. It never did. He was creepy for a while and yelled things occasionally. Finally, he stopped hanging around and I never saw him again. I’m really happy I never did those tattoos and I have refused to work on people here and there who present the same sort of attitude.

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Steve Truitt

I have refused to do a lot of procedures over the years. Everything from people wanting their tongues pierced that are far too short for it to be comfortable for them and people with inappropriate navels wanting them pierced to people wanting far more extreme modifications.

If I don’t think the procedure has a good chance of working out in the long run, then I don’t do it. Also, if I think the procedure is too dangerous, or the person doesn’t fully understand what they are getting into, or the person is obviously mentally unstable I don’t work on them. There are also procedures I’m just not comfortable attempting even though I’m sure I have the skills to do them. For example, I’ve had a certain IAM member ask me on numerous occasions to do a penectomy on him. While I know that I could safely do that procedure, it’s not something I would ever attempt on anyone. I also wouldn’t amputate anything on anyone and have been asked to do that quite a few times as well.

All the procedures I do, I do because I like them — either how they look once they are finished, or doing the actual procedure. If I’m not into something, I don’t really have a desire to do it. I know of quite a few artists that are motivated by the money, but for all the more extreme mods I do, I don’t really care about the money. I do them for the pleasure of doing them and/or the end results. Because of that, I can’t think of any mods I’ve done to someone that I regret doing.

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Allen Falkner

Regret? Well, regret is a strong word. Yes, over the years I have made my share of mistakes, and no, not every modification I have done has turned out perfectly. This is true for any practitioner. However, I have always tried to work within my abilities. Not to say I haven’t done quite a bit of experimentation and exploration over the years. I have tried my hand at tattooing, scarification, implants, branding and various other things. In the end, I discovered piercing, suspension and now laser tattoo removal are my real passions and the other arts are best left to people that can devote more time to them.

As for refusal, the list goes on and on. In the early stages of my career, there was almost nothing I wouldn’t try. OK, maybe not the uvula. I remember when that piercing started to get a lot of notoriety. Do I think I could have pulled it off? Sure, but I felt the risks were too high so I left that one alone. In fact, I think it was that piercing that shaped me and made me realize that I had my limitations and should work within them.

This actually brings me to the real issue. One of the biggest shortcomings of the body modification industry has been and always will be ego. Not to say I don’t have one. We all do. It’s human nature. My point is that practitioners should work within their abilities and not let ego rule their decisions about what they can and cannot do. I’m not saying we shouldn’t push our boundaries. The only reason our industry has come so far is because of people constantly striving for the next great mod. It’s just that people should work within their abilities. Having every procedure imaginable on your resume might look good to you. But practitioners should really think about their client’s well being before attempting something that they’ve only seen on BME.

* * *

Meg Barber

In this line of work, there are often occasions that arise where it’s best to not do a certain procedure on a client. Situations that immediately come to mind are those in which the client doesn’t have the proper anatomy to support the piercing that they are interested in, the client being intoxicated, the client being flat out belligerent in dealing with me or my staff, etc.

I’ve turned down scores of people over the years for those reasons, the most common one being anatomy related.

If I have a client interested in an industrial piercing who has no defined curl to the top of their ear, I will explain to them why that particular piercing isn’t the best option, and work with them to find one that is. And there’s always the classic issue of not having the best navel to support a piercing …

But I can’t say I have ever done a piercing I really regretted doing. I’ve always been pretty adamant about sticking to my guns when it comes to putting my client’s safety and successful healing first. I feel that as a piercer, we need to have the ability to say “no” to our clients when it’s warranted, and nine times out of 10, the client will appreciate it.

The thing I have noticed more and more in recent years, though, is the willingness to experiment on clientele for procedures that we aren’t sure of. It used to be, if there was a new or wacky thing you wanted to try, you did it on your roommate, or your lover, or on yourself … and those were pretty much your options. These days, it seems piercers are drawing from their client base for these experiments, and that is simply dangerous and foolish.

It really brings to the forefront the questions of, “When is it OK to experiment on clients?” and, “Why isn’t the word ‘no’ being used more in circumstances when it would be?”

The simple answer is a blanket “never.” A more in-depth answer would be, “When the procedure is in fact tested, just not in this particular situation.” A good example would be fully informing a client that they have a less than ideal navel for piercing, them insisting on having it done anyway, and then the piercer using a different placement to make it work. Remember all the 45* angled navels of the ’90s on those less than perfect navels? Case in point. No harm done really, just a little trial and error. And a few funky navel piercings as a reminder.

(The last answer, and the most common it seems in terms of today’s hot-shot piercers, is, “Always! I have ideas I need to test!”)

The next question that begs to be answered is, if clients are acceptable guinea pigs, then, specifically, which clients are the best for this?

Again, going back to basic answers, you have, “The heavily pierced client who is extremely careful and knows their body enough to understand what may happen,” who would be, of course, the best person for that role, and, “Who cares. If I tell the client the risks, and they still want it, OK.” Which is, of course, how it seems things go these days.

Personally, I will admit to playing around with different theories on how things will heal with clients. But — and there is always a “but” — I was very careful to only do things that were deemed “experimental” on clients that were heavily modified, who were fully informed, and whom I knew I would see often enough to keep tabs on the healing and any complications. Over the years, I have had three test subjects, and I saw all of them at least weekly.

We as piercers have a certain responsibility to uphold basic standards of ethics and morals with our job. We wield a lot of influence and power with our clients, and it needs to be used in a positive way — for positive education and helping the growth of our industry, rather than taking the risks presented to us to potentially destroy it.

Sometimes, “no” isn’t such a bad thing.

* * *

Derek Lowe

I can’t wait to once again be labeled as “anti-modification” after I answer this question.
 
I choose not to do procedures (in my case, pretty much just piercings) on a semi-regular basis. While it is physically possible for me to pierce pretty much anything that walks through the door, that doesn’t always make it a good idea. There are a few reasons it might not be a good idea, but the most common one is simply the client’s anatomy.
 
The human body wasn’t created with piercing in mind, so not every person is well-suited to have every piercing. If I feel the piercing has a very small chance of working out, or I feel like it is going to cause “collateral damage,” I will opt to not do the piercing. One example would be someone who wants a surface piercing but has very little loose skin to work with. In that case the piercing is very likely going to reject and in most cases I’ll not do the piercing. Surface anchors are opening up some options in those situations, but even those aren’t the be-all end-all some people seem to think they are.
 
The most common situation in which I won’t do a piercing is if someone wants a tongue piercing but they have a very short tongue. With a very short tongue, the piercing is going to have to be done further towards the tip of the tongue. This is going to greatly increase the likelihood of the barbell doing damage to the gums and bone under the lower front teeth — collateral damage. Some piercers will opt to do the piercing at all sorts of angles to try and counter that issue, but those angles often don’t work and can lead to other issues. I feel it’s simply best at that point to not do the procedure.
 
Some will say that people have the right to do whatever they want to their body, as long as they understand the risk. That’s absolutely true…they do have that right. At the same time, I have the right to choose not to do the piercing. I am under no obligation to perform a procedure for someone if I think it is a bad idea.  As a piercer, my number one responsibility is to do safe piercings. While there are risks associated with every piercing, most of those risks can be mitigated almost to the point of non-existence. If they can’t be mitigated, that’s when I have to make a decision about whether it’s best to proceed or not.
 
 There are also the situations I think every piercer has to deal with: clients who are under the influence of who-knows-what, clients that seem to be mentally impaired, clients who are clearly being pressured into the piercing by a husband/wife/lover/friend etc. Those are often not pleasant situations to deal with, but handling stuff like that is part of what goes along with being a professional.

* * *

Stephen DeToma

I think if you are a piercer working today and you are not willing to refuse a piercing, there’s something wrong.

The biggest contributing factor to me refusing to do work on someone has to be anatomy. Fair, thin brows and ears not built to support a traditional industrial piercing are fairly common and make up the bulk of my refusals. Telling someone they cannot get the piercing they want can be touchy, but it’s not hard to steer someone who may be looking for a traditionally placed industrial towards something similar. I’ve often turned to other ear work, daiths being my favorite, as well as placing industrials in anatomy that will support it using different jewelry such as curved barbells. Sometimes it’s hard to explain to someone who comes in with a friend why they are unable to get a piercing their friend is currently wearing, even when it’s painfully obvious to us. The call of, “She got it, why can’t ?I” is a common one and a reminder that, in one sense, we are not all created equal.

I’ve also refused to do many different things that are either out of my range of experience or my personal comfort zone. I’ve been approached by friends over the years looking for tongue splits and transscrotals, the former of which I think I could undertake but my lack of any real practical experience prevents me; the latter is something so far out of my range I don’t even consider it.

I think artists get a rush out of creation, be it from painting or writing, and are constantly striving to reach a new level. I think it’s this sensation that drives body piercers to become body modification artists, that is, broadening their base of procedures that they perform. I think a lot of it is a genuine need to create; piercing can be limiting in its scope of application and a passionate artist will strive to touch on new ground, though there are a great many still who seem to want to make these modifications to earn their stripes, make their bones. It’s like a kid who has to commit a crime to prove he’s down with a gang; that may be a bad analogy but it’s the first that springs to mind.

And so, because of these feelings, I reassess my desire to be a piercer. There is a ceiling that one reaches when doing this work and when it is reached, I think it helps to focus you on your work. Maybe that’s what inspires some people to step away from it and move into heavier modifications. Maybe that was their plan all along — who knows? I won’t fault them for their choices. But when someone comes to me looking for a meatotomy for example, I can refuse easily knowing that there is a lot I still want to work on in the world of piercing alone. Though heavier stuff interests me a great deal, presently, it’s not for me.

When I turn someone down, I try to be as clear as I can with them as to why I am doing so. Being honest and sympathetic lends a great deal to making sure that the person understands why they won’t be getting pierced. Sometimes it doesn’t click until I tell them that I would love to charge them $50 for what they want, but I just don’t believe that would be right. Turning someone down sometimes means that they will simply walk right down the street to the first person who will do the piercing for them, but if you’ve been forewarned and decide to go through with it anyway, you can’t say you weren’t warned.

I try to get to know the person I’m piercing before we get down to work, so that if a girl comes in looking for a facial piercing days before she starts soccer camp — knowing full well that it won’t fly with the coach — I can suggest she wait until the end of the season.

As I write this, I just had a young lady come in looking for a septum piercing. She had been through 12 reconstructive surgeries around her nose and lips since she was a baby. I had her come in and sit down so I could look at her, already thinking that this wasn’t going to work. After a few moments feeling around, it was clear what was left of her septum wasn’t going to be suitable to be pierced. She was pleasant and said she had expected as much and we began discussing other piercing options.

Juxtapose that with one of the biggest disagreements I’ve had recently: A woman came in with her husband and daughter looking for a navel piercing. She had had breast augmentation less than 3 months ago and had gone through her navel. I was not comfortable with the state of the tissue or the length of time she had waited to do the piercing so I asked her to check back with me at 6 months to see if it had changed, warning her that it may be up to a year before the tissue was ready. The short version of the remainder is, she interrupted two separate conversations trying to explain that she was willing to take the risk and by the third I had to explain to her that there was no way I would be doing the piercing for her that day. She threatened to go up the road to another studio in town and have it done there; I wished her the best of luck.

Threatening to visit another studio when I refused, I explained, was like a teenager walking into a bar, demanding a beer, being refused, and threatening to go to another bar if he isn’t served. It’s senseless. If another studio would like to take the responsibility for the piercing, answer the questions that are surly to follow and deal with the inevitable headaches that the client would provide (judging by her interaction in the studio) I can sleep well at night knowing that I refused her.

What do you think? Let’s hear it in the comments.

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BME’s Big Question: #1


Welcome to the very first edition of BME’s Big Question! In this weekly (hopefully) feature, we’re going to ask a handful of the community’s best and brightest piercers, tattooists, heavy mod practitioners and shop owners for their opinion on one question or issue that’s affecting the body modification community. Many, many thanks to all of the contributors.

If you’d like to be a part of future editions, or if you have an idea for an issue or question you’d like to see addressed, please e-mail me.

This week’s question:

Is it possible to be too pierced or tattooed to work in a tattoo/piercing shop?

* * *

Meg Barber

Call me old fashioned, call me “against modification” … whatever. I’ll look at you and laugh, but yes, you can be too modified for this industry.

The way I see it, the average client isn’t coming in to completely transform their body. They are coming in for a cute accessory, a nice little tchotchke to accent their face or body. They aren’t completely immersed in the modification world, nor do they wish to be. They will identify more with a piercer or tattoo artist that is lightly and attractively modified over one that is totally pierced, tattooed, and implanted.

I work in a very high end piercing spa in Manhattan. At our studio, I am the most heavily modified person on the staff. Clients really need to hear me speak before they will trust me at times, and they never believe me when I say something doesn’t hurt or whatever, because I am obviously a pain freak. Also, my mods can be a distraction — some clients are too busy staring at my earlobes to listen to what I am trying to tell them!

We carefully screen our employees before we hire them, and if we deem them to be too modified, we pass on them even if they are very skilled. We want our staff to reflect our clientele, and I know Maria really had to do some thinking before bringing me on because of my appearance.

I know it sounds a little judgmental coming from the standpoint of a heavily modified piercer working in the modification industry, but that’s the way it is with our shop, and I personally like the policy.

* * *

Stephen DeToma

I absolutely think that it’s possible, but that’s not to say that it applies to all businesses. I think a large part of the equation involves the vision the owner of the hiring studio has for the business. It’s unlikely that a tattoo studio supplementing its monthly income through piercing would hire an individual with heavy, visual modifications. The studio I apprenticed in, which was largely a flash-based tattoo studio, fired a tattoo artist for tattooing his chin/lower lip area. I don’t think there’s any denying that there are people who operate tattoo and piercing studios across the country, people who modify people’s bodies on a daily basis, who are themselves uncomfortable with modified individuals.

It’s certainly putting all of your eggs in one basket to assume that simply because you have these modifications, you’ll be able to get a job piercing (or otherwise).

Region certainly will play a part. You may be too pierced to work at a mom and pop tattoo shop in Kansas, but the same person may have no problem finding work in Oregon, Austin or elsewhere. I think it’s important to point out that, while it’s each individual’s right to do with their body what they see fit, it’s a business owner’s right to build their business in the same manner, regardless of if anyone else likes it. A studio environment, for as relaxed and open as they typically are, is still a customer service based, retail environment that requires public interaction. Who do you cater to? Who is your client base? And what is their level of comfort?

Is it a question of approachability? The owner may be concerned with people’s ability or willingness to converse/have work done with someone bearing such strong mods. I think we all know that to judge a book by its cover is foolish, but the general public who do not operate on the same level we do from day to day, tend to shoot first and ask questions later.

Do the quality of the modifications come into play? Someone with a great deal of crooked, improperly placed piercings in their face for example, does not make a great spokesperson for the business. What about the subject matter? If you have a pentagram tattooed on your face or an upside down cross branded on your forehead, you’re sending a strong message without saying a word to potential employers.

* * *

Steve Truitt

I think it would depend on the place they’re trying to work. Most tattoo artists are a lot more conservative in appearance than a lot of piercers, so I could see it harder for someone to get into tattooing if they look really extreme.

Many “normal” people are getting tattooed now because of TV shows like Miami and L.A. Ink. I could easily see a lot of those type of people getting scared away if they went to a studio and saw someone with giant horns and a huge plate in their lip, so if that’s the type of client a certain studio caters to, then it definitely wouldn’t work to have someone that looks that crazy working there.

On the other hand, personality can go a long way. I’ve seen quite a few heavily modified people that are extremely friendly and outgoing and have no problem making conversation and dealing with other people. Then I’ve seen a lot that are distant and withdrawn and they don’t seem to be able to relate to people and that can make people very uncomfortable, which wouldn’t be good for a working environment.

The quality of the work is also important to note. If someone is covered with very well done professional work, it shows. If they are covered in a bunch of crap they did themselves or at someone’s house or by someone who just sucks, it also shows and makes the person look that much more unprofessional. Also, if the work they have done is aesthetically pleasing to look at and fits the person then that person seems to have fewer problems dealing with people.

The Lizardman is a great example of this. Everything he has done is obviously professionally done and looks like it should be there. Nothing he has looks out of place or like it doesn’t belong on him. His intelligence and personality also play big roles in how his interactions with people go. Any time I’ve seen people meet him for the first time they go away saying, “Wow, I just met the Lizardman, he’s so cool,” etc. I’ve seen poeple meet other heavily modified people that aren’t as outgoing (I’m not going to name names here and offend anyone in particular) and walk away saying things like “Wow, that guy was crazy looking … what a freak! Why would he do that to himself? What’s wrong with him?”

So overall, it may not necessarily be that someone is too modified to work in a shop, but that they don’t fit in because of a combination of their mods and personality.

* * *

Ryan Ouellette

I never ever in my life thought I’d get to a place where I could legitimately have a “kids these days” opinion on something, but here it is. Body modification, like all pop fashion, is just getting stupid. The problem is that “kids these days” don’t ease into modification, they jump in face first — pun intended. I don’t think that studios have a problem with modified employees, I think they have a problem with unprofessional-looking employees. In my studio we all have lots of visible mods, mostly tattoo sleeves, but I also have large gauge punched out conches, microdermals on my face, numerous piercings, yada yada. But I still consider myself to be professional-looking. As a studio owner myself, let’s say two people came into my studio with the exact same experience looking for a job. If both are heavily modified, but only one does it in a way that complements a professional look and mentality, then that’s the one I would want.

A lot of it has to do with clientele. You can look one way to do surface piercings for college kids, but you probably need to have a more subtle appearance to do $200 gemstone nostril piercings for older women. Most young people are just stupid, for lack of a better term, and they can’t imagine a world where they are 30 and need to pay a mortgage. They want to just live in their 17-year-old world and sell T-shirts at Hot Topic for $8/hour dreaming of the day they can be a super cool body piercer — and I would know. Because I did that.

I’m of the opinion that your hands/neck/face should not be tattooed or heavily modified until you have a steady career. I think that this is a profession where body modification should be embraced by both client and practitioner, but people should still treat it as a profession and try to maintain a respectable image.

* * *

John Joyce

I don’t think it’s being too pierced, too tattooed, or too modified that keeps shop owners from hiring people. I think it’s being too covered in poorly done tattoos and piercings that keeps studio owners from hiring them.

For example: If a person has a lot of horribly done piercings or tattoos, or cheap jewelry all over their face, then it definitely doesn’t speak well for that particular person’s interest in the industry. If someone has taken the time to get 15 or 20 piercings, then by that point they should have enough interest in the art of body piercing to do some research. They should know the difference between a well placed piercing and one that looks like it was just smacked on with a dart gun. They should know the difference between a super shiny mirror finished Anatometal barbell and a dull piece from some mall store (*cough* Hot Topic *cough*). If they haven’t picked any of that up, then it shows that they really don’t care that much about this industry, or themselves for that matter, and I wouldn’t even waste my time interviewing the person. Now if someone walks in with 15-20 well placed piercings, all with super nice Anatometal, or Body Vision jewelry in them, I will immediately know that this person cares about their piercings, and put thought into them, because that’s exactly what I’d expect them to do with clients that they will be working with.

The same goes with someone looking for a tattoo apprenticeship. If you walk in and are covered with absolute shit, then it doesn’t speak very well about yourself.

The more interested you are in anything, whether it’s body piercing, tattooing or stamp collecting, the more research you should do on the subject. That research and your knowledge on the subject is what’s going to put you ahead of the 15 other people that have asked the studio owner for an apprenticeship that week.

It’s important for these people to remember that getting 15 piercings in two months, or stretching to two inches in six months, doesn’t impress a good piercer. It shows you are impatient, and not very responsible, and that is about it. The same can be said for kids getting their hands, throats, or even their faces tattooed before they have any other real coverage. It doesn’t impress a quality tattoo artist, and it doesn’t tell us you’re hard core, or more bad ass than your friends. What it does show is that you are impatient, and have put zero thought into the rest of your life.

There once was a time when tattoo artists wouldn’t do those things, and piercers cared more for their clientele. Unfortunately, this industry is full of rock stars and posting images that might make ModBlog seems to be more important these days.

* * *

Joy Rumore

I do think that one can be “too modified” to work in a typical street shop.

A large portion of customers coming into street shops are first-timers. Most come in with groups of their friends. All minors come in with their parents if they are planning to get worked on. Before they even get into the shop, they are nervous. Often, extreme modifications or a large amount of modifications can make people more nervous if they aren’t used to being around them. Things that one is unfamiliar with are usually first interpreted as scary. They may project this view onto themselves and worry they will be classified as a “freak” even if they get a small, discrete piercing or tattoo. Some even think these heavily modified people couldn’t possibly be competent enough to perform a clean, safe procedure. Usually this is based on some fear that the practitioner must be mentally unstable or on drugs to think the way they look is acceptable and healthy.

If a minor or someone there with peers finds the extreme/multiple modifications attractive or interesting, they are often afraid to admit to their parents/peers that they are attracted to that kind of look because they will be be scolded or shunned. On top of that, parents may be more apprehensive about allowing their child to get a small piercing, viewing it as a “gateway drug” into looking like someone on the fringe of society and thus lessening their chances for a successful life. Most parents constantly strive to open doors for their children, not close them over something as “trivial” as a piercing.

Practitioners at specialty shops or custom/appointment-only shops tend to have better reactions to their heavy modifications because they are frequented by those in search of being heavily modified themselves. If those visiting specialty shops are not into heavy modification, they tend to expect seeing those who are extremely modified because these artists are often seen as “more serious” about their chosen lifestyle/career.

Day in and day out in every shop I’ve worked in (no matter what state), there are those who gasp and denounce what they see in our portfolios. I’ve always tried to educate those people and show them modifications on me so they can see that they are less scary or painful. I take more of an anthropological approach to these interactions. I explain the history and meaning behind the modifications. I try to compare personal body modification to more mainstream, accepted forms like cosmetic surgery, makeup and even haircuts. I don’t win them all, but I win most.

* * *

Ron Garza

While I know many people will say no, I will answer with a resounding yes.

While it is true that people do come into a tattoo shop expecting to see the people working there somewhat covered in ink and some piercings, I don’t think having a very visibly modified staff is always needed or warranted. While yes, it is always better to speak from experience on things to clients, I don’t think the demand is that great for clients to know what having a one-inch lip or nostril hole is like to warrant so many people having them now.

Some cities are much more tattoo friendly than others – Denver, Atlanta, Austin and Seattle and Portland quickly come to mind. But then, traveling through parts of the south, mid west and east, the attitudes can be extremely different — even for just one-inch stretched lobes. In some of these communities where tattooing or piercing aren’t as prevalent as in other urban markets, I have personally witnessed staffs’ outward appearance actually intimidate potential clients and keep them from getting work or coming in. While some of us will all say we don’t do this for the money, we will all agree that no money sucks ass. So for the most part, we are doing it for survival, and are therefore doing it for the cash. Why alienate yourself further by losing all sense of resembling something somewhat human?

While I readily admit my views on the subject are more than a little biased from being visibly heavily tattooed and pierced for the better part of 15 years — and I do have respect for those that are “lifers” and are able to live life with visible heavy mods — I don’t think that life is for everyone, nor could it be. The thing separating individuals is the mental and emotional strength it takes to deal with public on a daily basis while being heavily modified. Many can’t deal with it mentally and I have personally known a few people that died at their own hands, in my opinion, because of it.

I used to want to tattoo my face (more), but I had promised my father, who already knew about my extremist nature, I wouldn’t tattoo my face until after he passed. At the time, I didn’t think I was going to make it past 21, much less be alive 16 years later, so I really wasn’t thinking of the future then, nor was my world view quite as encompassing as it is today, which definitely changed my outlook on things. I simply thought my father didn’t know the full depth of my passion for this.

What I didn’t understand was that he had the benefit of years of wisdom of being alive during very racially sensitive times and he knew first hand that division that exists in society for simply being different. For me to want to oust myself from that mainstream, on my own and on purpose, was something he couldn’t understand. Now that I have the benefit of a few years behind me, I can see the wisdom in his words.

The actual act of piercing is as old as man itself, and one can not deny the fact that for the most part, modification is a very western thing in today’s fashion circles in the USA and western Europe. Don’t get me wrong, there are enthusiasts in every culture and nation, but for the most part, piercing in the modern context that we know today is a very western idea. This was apparent to me while traveling through certain parts of Europe and not even receiving service at certain bars and restaurants because of my appearance.

I’m also in the process of having tattoos removed from my neck for the same reason. What means something to me can mean something completely different in another land, half way around the world. I was in Frankfurt, Germany, and got mistaken for a Nazi because of a tattoo on my neck that I received years ago. (I have a needle, barbell and captive bead ring in the shape of a Celtic cross on my neck.) What I didn’t know, but found out traveling through Germany (a culture highly aware of the sensitivity of Nazi symbolism that is lost here in the States), is that the Celtic cross has been adopted by some white nationalist, neo-Nazi and neo-fascist groups. Once I had it explained to me that a guy who winked at me and whispered what sounded like “Heil Himmler” in my ear probably actually thought I was part of one of those organizations, it became painfully to clear that what meant one thing to me, meant something completely different halfway around the world. Couple that with the fact that I was already a stranger in a strange land, an intruder into their country, and I didn’t see any reason to make myself stand out anymore than I already do with all my visible tattoo/modification work. I came back to the States and began laser tattoo removal sessions. I go back for my third treatment soon.

Another story that comes to mind is while traveling through Java and getting on packed trains — standing room only — on our way to see the presidential palace in the capitol of Bogor, we were singled out and had seats open next us, with everyone standing packed like sardines around us. It seemed no one wanted to sit next to the tattooed infidels. Even trying to buy water or bread at a stand was also a bit difficult, as they would just look through you and take the order of the person behind you, completely refusing to do business with someone who was clearly in violation of religious laws of the land with his physical appearance and attire. That doesn’t make you feel too good about the way you come off to others. Of course, being the asshole American and starting to yell or cause a scene would do no good, in addition to portraying me as an American stereotype that I don’t want to perpetuate. So, simply smiling and walking away mildly disgruntled is about all you can do. This was with me looking as normal as I can be, no piercings anywhere, and this was still the treatment I received. I can only imagine these people’s reactions if I had had a two-inch lip piercing or multiple sets of sub- or transdermal horns.

Of course, it wasn’t like this everywhere, but when it did happen, it only reinforced the fact that I was a visitor in their land. It was their home, not mine. I didn’t want to be overly intrusive or do anything to single me out any more than I already had with my very western way of walking, kneeling, dress and tattoos.

Because I’ve had these types of experiences that I feel so strongly about, and know what it’s like to be so visibly heavily modified — especially in another country, and since I don’t plan to live out my life here in America, my viewpoints may be a bit different from others’.

* * *

Derek Lowe

Yes, it is possible to be “too modified” to work in a piercing/tattoo shop … at least to work in some piercing and tattoo shops. I don’t think it’s the rule by any means, but it is something I foresee happening more frequently over the next five years.
 
Just as with hair salons, clothing stores and restaurants (to name a few), there is an increasing diversity with regards to the style and “vibe” that shops are going for. Many new shops, and older shops who decide to remodel or move, are opting for more of a “spa” or “boutique” feel. I personally think this is a smart move, but I won’t bore anyone with my thoughts on that.
 
A studio with a “high-end” vibe is going to tend to attract a high-end client.  That type of clientele, to put it quite bluntly, may not want to look at, let alone be touched by, people with facial tattoos, stretched nostril piercings and three inch earlobes, while getting their piercing or tattoo. Clearly there are giant doses of hypocrisy, ignorance and short-sightedness in that sort of outlook, but that’s the reality of the world where we live. While those of us in the “community” might not understand how someone could feel that way, many people do feel exactly that way about heavier, or abundant, modifications. As a service-oriented business, piercing and tattoo shops have to give some consideration to the experience and comfort level of their potential customers.  
 
Gone are the days when a piercing or tattoo studio could treat people however they wanted, because there were so few shops that clients simply didn’t have other choices.
 
I think it’s more likely to find a “you’re too modified” stance at a studio that is owned by someone who isn’t a piercer or tattoo artist. A non-industry owner is likely going to look at things from more of a pure business perspective, where someone who is a piercer or tattoo artist is more likely to let their passion for their craft, and their personal feelings, influence their decisions, while potentially ignoring the ramifications those decisions might have on their business.
 
To completely rebuke what I just said, I should point out that I work at a very successful shop with more of a non-traditional atmosphere that is owned by a woman who is neither a piercer or tattoo artist. Over the years we have employed people who only had standard earlobe piercings on one end of the spectrum and people with full facial tattoos and half-inch nostril piercings at the other end of the spectrum.
 
For us it’s primarily about having the best person for the job, and not about how many modifications they do or don’t have. However, I won’t say that the extent, or the nature, of someone’s modifications will never ever influence a hiring a decision for us.
 
Anyone thinking that being heavily modified isn’t going to be an issue when it comes to finding a job, even as a piercer or tattoo artist, is potentially being a little naïve and short-sighted, in my opinion.

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Allen Falkner

The answer to this question is not nearly as black and white as you might think. In a perfect world the answer would be no, it is impossible to be too modified to work in tattoo/piercing shop. However, the answer is more complex and has a lot to do with customer relations and other qualities about the potential employee.

Let me give a quick example. Erik (Lizardman) Sprague, arguably one of the most heavily tattooed people in the world, could walk into almost any tattoo/piercing shop and get a job on the spot. Why? Well other than the fact that he’s highly intelligent and incredibly charismatic, he’s also very famous and would draw people into the shop. He’s a professional freak and this is part of his appeal. Would this work for another person? Maybe, maybe not. Like it or not, it all breaks down to the business’s clientele and how to appeal to people that walk through the door.

Yes, it’s true. People that seek out tattoos and piercings want the different and unusual. It really is the nature of the business and to a certain extent visible modifications are expected. I would even go so far as to say that, in most cases, it’s a prerequisite to work in a studio. That said, there is still a limit. People like the strange and the bizarre, but they don’t want to stray too far from their comfort zone. Does this mean someone with implanted horns and full facial tattooed can’t be excellent employees? No, far from it. The issue simply breaks down to what customers will accept. Most would agree that the tattoo/piercing community is more open-minded than most. However, even the most liberal aren’t always the most accepting.

What do you think? Let’s hear it in the comments.

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