New Article Posted! (BME’s Big Question)

In light of the recent developments with Moonshin Tattoo in Ontario, it seemed fitting to assemble our esteemed panel to discuss government regulation and legislation of body modification: Is it good, bad, or just plain necessary for the industry? And how do you determine what the “industry” even is?

To read BME’s Big Question #8: Regulation Time, please click here.

[Ed. note: Comments on this post have been disabled. Hoot and holler in the forum attached to the article. Thanks.]

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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New Article Posted! (BME’s Big Question #7)

Hey folks! Before we get to our end-of-the-week roundup, head over to the brand new installment of the top-rated cooking show in America, BME’s Big Question! This time around, BME headmistress Rachel poses the question: What’s the deal with microdermals? Now that we’ve been living with them for a few years, what do piercers think about them? What problems have they run into? All this and more, my friends.

To read BME’s Big Question #7: Microdermals, The Universe and Everything, click here.

[Ed. note: Comments on this post have been disabled. Let loose in the forum attached to the article. Thanks.]

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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New Article Posted! (Mike Beer Interview)

Mike Beer and his offensive tattoos have received their fair share of attention on ModBlog, and the reaction has been … mixed, to say the least. Since the dawn of time, humans have wondered what goes through the mind of a person who devotes his skin to tattoos of jokes about child rape, transsexuals and gay Nazis. Today, we get a little closer to answering these questions. I will mention, however, that almost all of these tattoos have been featured on ModBlog previously, but the interview is brand new.

To read The Man With the World’s Most Tasteless Tattoos, click here.

[Ed. note: Comments on this post have been disabled. Go nuts in the forum attached to the article. Thanks.]

The Man With the World’s Most Tasteless Tattoos

Mike Beer and his offensive tattoos have received their fair share of attention on ModBlog, and the reaction has been … mixed, to say the least. Since the dawn of time, humans have wondered what goes through the mind of a person who devotes his skin to tattoos of jokes about child rape, transsexuals and gay Nazis. Today, we get a little closer to answering these questions.

Note: Most of the tattoos featured in this interview have been featured previously on ModBlog.

BME: First of all, tell us about yourself.

Mike Beer: Well, I lived in Northern Virginia my whole life, but recently moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey, to play in my band, Call The Paramedics, full time, as well as to be surrounded by assholes like myself. I have been getting tattooed since I was about 17 and am now about to turn 23. My first tattoo was a small hand-poked pentagram on my ankle, which I have had fixed so that it no longer looks like garbage, but I’ve had mad love for Satan since the beginning.

Humor is very important to me. However, since I would say I am rather desensitized to almost everything, the things that are hilarious to me are not very amusing to others, which is what brings us to this interview.

BME: Indeed it does. Have you always been an attention whore?

MB: Yes, I’ve been an attention whore for pretty much as long as I can remember — mainly because, when I was real little, my parents would beat me, lock me in the cellar, and occasionally make me put put on sex shows with our German Shepherd for them and all their friends while they would drink moonshine and throw dixie cups of scalding hot water on me. (Throughout my childhood, our dog Roxy was my best friend.)

I guess nowadays I’m just finding my outlet for all the pain and humiliation I endured as a kid … or maybe I just want to have an excuse to take off my clothes in front of strangers and everything I just said was a lie. Who really knows?

BME: Alright, enough of your yarns. How would you describe your sense of humor? What’s funny to you?

MB: I’d have to say my sense of humor is a cross between “modern” and extremely ignorant. I’ll make a joke out of anything: cripples, old people, blacks, Jews, Mexicans, whites … and any other things I may have forgotten. Your dog dies? Funny. You have a death in the family? Funny. A girl and her boyfriend have been trying for a long time to have a child, they finally get pregnant and eight months into the pregnancy she has a miscarriage? Hilarious. But don’t worry folks, whatever I dish out I can take in return.

BME: So it’s less to do with being funny and more to do with being an awful human being. Got it. Anyway, your declaration of love for Satan aside, what was the first “offensive” tattoo you got? Tell us about it.

MB: First “offensive” tattoo I got was the man with a pussy eating himself on my leg, although nobody ever really found it to be offensive. Shortly after getting that, I got the chick with a cock shitting on herself. Both tattoos were done by Eric Doyle at Jinx Proof Tattoo in Washington, D.C. Many people were not happy with chick with the cock, so I’d consider those my first offensive tattoos. I originally just wanted the guy eating himself and at the last minute decided he should have a pussy. The idea for the chick with the cock was merely an attempt at some kind of symmetry on my legs. And again, the poop was added last minute.

BME: Hey, when you’re right, you’re right — the poop certainly adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the piece. What came next?

MB: If I’m not mistaken, the white power unicorn tattoo came next. It was all downhill from there.

BME: The white power unicorn is offensive to pretty much every imaginable group. What was the thought process behind that one? Did you feel like you were crossing a certain threshold once you got a Nazi swastika tattooed on you, the ridiculous context and the fact that it was for the sake of a joke notwithstanding?

MB: The Nazi unicorn was also pretty spontaneous. My buddy Jason wanted to tattoo this piece of unicorn flash and couldn’t find anyone who wanted it, and I was obviously game under certain conditions — that is, I told him it had to be the most hateful unicorn ever. The best reaction I’ve ever gotten was, “How could something so beautiful be so ugly?”

For the record, I am not a Nazi — I just like to make fun of everything. People need to lighten up, and if they don’t like what I’m about? That’s fine with me, join the rest of the crowd. I didn’t really feel like I crossed over some kind of line, but that is pretty much when I decided that damn near every tattoo I got from then on needed to come close or outdo the last one, and I’ve been making good progress, with plans for much more.

BME: Have you gotten any memorably bad reactions to your work?

MB: Nothing that really stands out. I’ve noticed my mom on several occasions looking at the trannies on my legs; she knows that they are there but never really says anything. I’d imagine she is just bottling it up deep down inside and never letting it out. I’ve had trannies actually come up to me after they saw my legs, and they thought it was hilarious. Surprisingly enough I’ve gotten the most negative response on here, which is funny because some of the most horrible things I’ve seen were on BME. It’s kind of ironic.

BME: While I’ve got you here, why don’t you tell me a bit about your band.

MB: Well, I play drums in Call The Paramedics. We’re Atlantic City–based scumbag death rock. I guess our music could be described as Cannibal Corpse raping AC/DC while El Duce narrates. We attack the crowd, our singer cuts his face open, I blow fire, and this is all accompanied with massive amounts of cocaine. I’ve been told the music is pretty good too. You could say we’re for fans of GG Allin, rape, dirty needles, golden showers, cars parked in front of handicapped ramps, elderly shut-ins, and people broke down on the side of the road due to massive car pile ups from wandering stray dogs on the highway.

BME: Well, that sounds … great. Does anything offend you? Do you think it’s possible to go too far? Humor me here.

MB: Eh, not really. There are plenty of things that I think are wrong, but it doesn’t mean I won’t make a joke out of it. For example, I love animals, but I just got a dog in a kennel being put down tattooed on my leg. I would probably never rape a little kid, but I have “It’s rape time” with candy and little kids’ body parts tattooed on me, and so on. I live in an area and am friends with some of the most rotten people on the planet; around here it’s an ongoing battle of who can really lower the bar. I just want to fit in, you know?

BME: Nice of you to mention that you’d “probably” never rape a little kid. Classy. So where do you go from here?

MB: Aside from hell?  There is nowhere to go but down. Oh, for all the ladies on here, holla at me. I’m a great “bring-home-to-the-parents” kind of guy.

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New Article Posted! (BME’s Big Question)

In a mini-edition of the vaunted BME roundtable, our esteemed panel (with newcomer Tracy Baer!) discusses the benefits and pitfalls of dealing with the media as a body modification practitioner.

We should have another article coming up this week, and, if all goes well, a brand new feature that we’re pretty excited about. Stay tuned!

To read BME’s Big Question #6: Fameballin’, click here.

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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.”

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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! (Diego Olavarría Interview)

In 2004, Darrin Fowler started the BME Scholarship project, a community-funded program established to award one student from the BME community every year with a donor-based scholarship, based on the strength of an essay of the scholarship administrator’s and judges’ choosing. The winner of the 2005/06 scholarship was Diego Olavarría, whose winning essay can be read here.

We recently caught up with Diego and exchanged e-mails over a couple of days, discussing where his education has taken him, where to find artistic inspiration, and his take on how society interacts with body modification nowadays. (I’ll note that Diego’s last response is actually more like a short essay, but it’s fantastic. I hope we’ll be hearing from Diego again very soon.)

To participate in or donate to this year’s scholarship fund, please visit

To read Diego Olavarría, BME Scholarship Winner, please click here.

[Ed. note: Comments on this post have been disabled. Have at it in the forum attached to the article. Thanks.]

Diego Olavarría, BME Scholarship Winner

In 2004, Darrin Fowler started the BME Scholarship project, a community-funded program established to award one student from the BME community every year with a donor-based scholarship, based on the strength of an essay of the scholarship administrator and judges’ choosing. The winner of the 2005/06 scholarship was Diego Olavarría, whose winning essay can be read here. We recently caught up with Diego and exchanged e-mails over a couple of days, discussing where his education has taken him, where to find artistic inspiration, and his take on how society interacts with body modification nowadays. I’ll note that Diego’s last response is actually more like a short essay, but it’s fantastic. I hope we’ll be hearing from Diego again very soon.

To participate in or donate to this year’s scholarship fund, please visit

BME: First of all, tell us a bit about yourself.

Diego Olavarría: Well, I think I should start with the essentials. My name’s Diego, I’m 24, and I won the BME Scholarship back in 2006. I do many things with my life, but nowadays I think what I do most is study, read, translate, write, and travel … as well as buy groceries and all sorts of other mundane activities that take up more of my time than they should. Despite what most people who know me would have predicted a few years ago (because I openly and constantly admitted hating the place), I live in Mexico City, although I don’t see myself growing old here.

BME: What don’t you like about Mexico City?

DO: Well, that’s a question which I could spend the rest of the day answering, but in general, I think it’s fair to say it’s a rather unhealthy place to live in, a very stressful place. If you don’t take it with a (copious) dose of humor, it gets to you. It’s hard to find peace and quiet here; you’re just constantly attacked everywhere by ads, bad music, car horns. It can be dirty, it can be dangerous (although a lot less so than it’s usually made out to be, I think. You can live more sheltered from crime here than in other Latin-American cities). What else? There aren’t many trees, the drivers are aggressive, distances are big, public transportation sucks, so does the traffic, there are too many people everywhere. People live in fear of each other, the police can’t be trusted, the wealth-gap is huge …

But on the other hand, the weather is pretty good, and if your daily activities don’t require a lot of commuting and you live in an interesting area, it can be a pretty enjoyable place. There’s a good level of cultural activity, cheap eateries, well-stocked bookstores, the best university in Mexico, and it’s overall a pretty colorful and surreal city. Its a good place to see strange things happen. A place like this keeps you inspired.

BME: Do you think it’s sometimes more important to be inspired by your surroundings than to actually enjoy them?

DO: That’s a very good, but also a very difficult question. To answer it, I will have to reflect on what “enjoyment,” “inspiration” and “peace of mind” (peace is where I draw profound enjoyment from) all consist of. As someone who creates (as I mentioned earlier, I write), I think it is important to be inspired by my surroundings. Some people draw inspiration from past events, and really don’t care much about their settings; that is not my case. Settings are important. However, if forced to choose, I’m sure I would prefer peace of mind over inspiration. Mexico City is a good place to spend a few years, but it’s a killer place in the long run. What I mean is that I wouldn’t want to spend the rest of my life here.

It’s quite true that much of the art in the last hundred years has a tendency to create an aesthetic effect of the unpleasant. Most good books and paintings are disturbing pieces. Most of the best artists have been tormented souls, people consistently disturbed by metaphysical and historical terrors. Seen through this perspective, Mexico City could be a work of art, perhaps even a masterpiece.

But do I live here because I prefer enjoyment over inspiration? I think it’s important to find a middle ground between one and the other. For instance, I’m sure that war is very inspirational, and so are tragedies and diseases. But I wouldn’t voluntarily bring them into my life just because they inspire me. Like if the uninvited problems weren’t enough! Otherwise I would be a bit like a Dostoevsky or a Roberto Arlt character, someone who needs guilt and pain to move on, and who is willing to bring it upon themselves. And on the other hand, I appreciate peace more after a bit of torment. Mexico City is my platform into both worlds. It’s a place I’ve chosen consciously because, on one hand, it keeps my mind alive (it inspires me), and on the other, I’m lucky enough to have found a way to deal with it so that it doesn’t drain my soul away (meaning I can also be at peace here).

BME: How does the city compare to some of the other places in which you’ve lived (or at least in which you’ve spent significant periods of time)?

DO: Well, I guess Mexico City has problems that are common to all large cities, but they just seem bigger here because of the amount of people. It’s a terribly hard place to organize. There are lots of things that compare and contrast, but one thing that’s unique to Mexico City is the light. I don’t know another city that has the same kind of light. Maybe it’s because of the smog, maybe it’s the colors of the houses, or the glow of the pavement. I don’t know. The effect is sort of dirty, dusty, grayish and unappealing. But when the cold wind blows in in the evening, sometimes you have these incredible pink sunsets.

Some cities I’ve been in (Rio de Janeiro, Paris) are beautiful. Others (Lima, Sao Paulo) are ugly. Mexico City happens to be both, at the same time. It’s also a city that’s been through a lot. It was the capital of the Aztec empire (it was probably the biggest city in the world by then), and at some point during the colonial era it was the most important city in the Americas. It has been totally and effectively urbanized (the natural settings have been annihilated: there are no rivers, all lakes have been dried up, there are not many trees left), but at the same time it’s located next to a volcano that could erupt any second; it’s near a fault, and therefore an earthquake could shake the place down in a matter of minutes. I find the whole setting pretty intense, and I don’t know if there are many cities who have so much to say about themselves.

BME: So what’s a typical day like for you, if such a thing exists?

DO: I try not to have a routine, and my days change a lot depending on what I am thinking or reading or doing. Right now I’m back to the university, so first thing I do every morning after waking up and browsing the news online is head over to the university for my daily Russian lesson. Then I usually have some breakfast at the university, and head over to the library where I’ll either bump into some friends or read for a while. Either way, I try to read for at least an hour every day. The rest of my day depends on whether I have other classes/meetings/pending translations. I usually come back during the afternoon and cook myself something. I spend the afternoon either translating or reading or relaxing, although I try and go out for a movie at least once or twice a week. I usually write late at night.

Some months I also run, and some months, when I don’t go to school and have enough money, I travel. When I’m in the city, I see my friends a couple of times a week, although I spend most of my time by myself. If I have free time, I enjoy not doing anything. Since I don’t have a 9-5 job, things change every week for me. I like it that way. My life changes a lot, all the time.

BME: You’re back at university — what’s the status of your educational career? Where do you attend, for what, etc.?

DO: I’m currently studying my second Bachelor’s degree (Latin American Studies, at the National Autonomous University of Mexico; my main focus is on Latin-American Literature). I still have a bit to go, since I took some time off to travel and also to focus on other aspects of my work. I already completed the credits for my first Bachelor’s (Interpretation) and am currently starting to write my thesis.

I’m not sure I’m going to finish my second degree, though. I think it’s more likely that once I finish my thesis for my other degree, I’ll start a Master’s program instead. It’s not too difficult to get a scholarship for your Master’s degree, so it’s a better deal for me.

BME: What’s the topic of your thesis? And was that the program in which you were enrolled when you won the BME Scholarship?

DO: Well actually, the programs I was enrolled in back when I won the BME Scholarship are the same ones I am still finishing now. I hadn’t finished the credits for my degree in Interpretation, but I was already doing this one in Latin-American Studies.

My thesis is a bit strange. I just started it, but I’m excited about it. It’s a linguistic and social comparison of Latin-American literary Spanish in three different recent urban novels. The point is to somehow find similarities between Spanish dialects (specifically words in Peruvian, Mexican and Cuban Spanish) that can be traced not to a common etymological origin, but to social factors that lead to the invention of certain concepts. I’m particularly interested in words that can be traced to a Latin-American context (words that refer to symptoms of specific types of social inequality, for example).

BME: Can you talk about applying for the BME Scholarship? Was it helpful? Was the topic something to which you had given much thought prior to it being announced?

DO: Well, ever since I heard of the scholarship it seemed like the right thing for me. I waited for the 2006 edition to be announced and when it was, I began preparing my application. I thought about the question for a few weeks, took a few notes, and once I felt I was ready to write it, I started doing so. Essay is a genre I approach with more enthusiasm than precision, and this particular essay was probably the longest paper I had written in English by then, so it took me a bit to write, but once it was announced that I was the winner, I was thrilled about it, of course. The effort was well worth it.

But what’s really important for me about the BME Scholarship is that it helped me achieve objectives that would otherwise have been very hard to reach. The most tangible one is that I was able to pay off some of my academic expenses, and this allowed me to save money to go backpacking in South America, with the intention of writing a travel book. Which I did. The book, Más allá del sur (Beyond the south), is a collection of chronicles, stories and meditations, and it would have been impossible to write without the scholarship.

BME: Do you ever revisit the essay you wrote for the scholarship? How do you feel it holds up, a few years later?

DO: To say the truth, I don’t revisit it. I don’t like to read my own texts once they’ve been published. It’s a cruel thing to do to yourself. I’m sure some aspects of the essay would probably make me blush a bit now, but in general, I think the main ideas of the essay (freedom of the body and the moral consequences of some types of body modification) are issues I still hold very close to me and believe in, as well as being subjects which I still deal with in my writing.

However, I am a bit saddened by something I hadn’t noticed at the time I wrote the essay, but that seems more and more apparent to me: the existing tendency towards the trivialization of body modifications. Although there has always been a tension between whether it should be a cosmetic issue or a path of self-exploration, I feel that freedom of the body matters less and less to most people and has ceased to be a dominant force behind most people’s incursion into the world of body modification.

BME: I apologize if this qualifies as cruel, but in relation to your last point, in your essay, you wrote the following:

“Body modification and sexual practices which would easily have gotten people burnt by the inquisition 350 years ago, are now conceived as normal and desirable. I believe that this is due, partly, to the consolidation of a large sector of society that has worked hard at expanding the conception of what freedom is and also at better defining the acts that are acceptable under it. This, along with the growth of a necessity of identity and self-knowledge in a society characterized by its emptiness, has led to the the growth of an open-minded postmodern society that seeks authentic cultural experience that reassesses the value of individuals in hollow, massive and mostly anonymous urban societies that are still very repressive in many aspects. With more technology and freedom than ever, it has also led to a radicalization of the form of individualistic expressions that are allowed and that are practiced.”

Do you think the sort of trivialization to which you refer is perhaps an inevitable byproduct of this march towards widespread acceptance? Is this acceptance, in your opinion, worth the dilution and “superficial” nature of body modification you’ve observed lately?

DO: That’s a great question, but it doesn’t have an easy answer. I know this debate has been addressed on BME, and many opinions have been offered in regards to it, but personally, I think the answer lays in the core of not only body modification, but culture itself. I think body modification can be a form of art, and it responds to many of the same parameters as artwork, so maybe we can find answers if we reflect a bit on the main issues of the current aesthetic debate.

I’m familiar with literature, so I’ll place an analogy with literature. In the last thirty years, the amount of titles published throughout the world has been enormous. There have never been so many books being published. However, one of the main things bothering critics and other specialists is that the amount of good books being published has been scarce. What is considered a good book? Let’s just say that it’s a book that can say enough about language, life and art itself that it will withstand the passing of time. It has been very hard for scholars and critics to identify what the most important books of the last fifty years are, but it is widely agreed that the most relevant books of the twentieth century (titles by Proust, Joyce, Mann) were written early in its early years.

I don’t think the problem with this is that there are no good writers; there are several other reasons that can explain poor artistic production when compared to other periods of time. But one thing that has greatly affected literature is the fact that the market and the capitalist order have taken over much of literary production. This means that literature has become an object and if the market demands easy books, if people want to buy dumbed-down versions of books written two hundred years ago, publishing companies and writers comply. The purpose of a book is no longer to disturb or create intense feelings or say durable things, but to entertain. Books are no longer written because they need to be written, but because there is someone who wants to buy them, and authors care less about furthering an artistic tradition than they care about making money and selling books that say absolutely nothing new and will be irrelevant in five years.

A similar thing is happening with body modification. The problem is not that it is becoming mainstream per se, but that it is becoming mainstream in a society of trivial intentions. It’s the same with other subversive aspects of culture, such as literature, drugs and sex. I think the fact that we have a healthy publishing industry is great; I think that the fact responsible drug use has gained acceptance makes us more free; I think that sexual liberation is one of the most wonderful cultural transformations of the last fifty years; and I am in favor of making body modification available to the world, to anyone who wishes to learn from it.

The problem with this approach is that since we live in a culture where pleasure-seeking and “having a good time” are our main values, we’re bound to turn these freedoms into means for easy thrills. For instance: most drug users no longer use psychedelic experimentation as a means to expand their consciousness. For most people who take ecstasy at a club on a Saturday night, it’s just way to have fun and forget about uncomfortable issues in their lives. Sex is no longer done with the subversive or liberating intention that can be found in the prose of the Marquis de Sade or in Georges Bataille’s A History of the Eye, in which characters question and destroy their moral values through intense pleasure. Nowadays, sex has become less erotic and more like standard pornographic fare, more of a spectacle and something frequently done out of social pressure than something truly fulfilling. People fuck to impress, not to enjoy, and therefore sex becomes little more than a slightly better way of reaching orgasm than masturbation.

It’s the same thing with publishing houses that use the prestige of books to make consumers think that reading dumb bestsellers is somehow a more refined way of spending time than watching TV. In a society that thinks this way, there’s no reason why a ritual that was once sacred for Native Americans, such as suspension, can’t just be a cool way of spending a Saturday afternoon, as good or bad but slightly more exciting than going to the movies to watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

There is no lack of talented tattoo artists in the world, but it surprises me that the amount of people taking risks when it comes to tattoos (and I don’t mean extreme eyeball tattooing; I mean simply getting tattoos that go beyond the icons of popular tattooing) is so low. One thing which really exemplifies this whole thing can be the growth of pun and joke tattoos. Tattoos that are meant to be funny and make reference to pop culture memes which will not matter in two weeks. I am not saying it is wrong to get a tattoo like this; it can actually be very subversive (a permanent expression of something impermanent). Actually, I’m not saying any of this is wrong, only that if these are the pervasive attitudes towards culture, we can’t expect much. I find it a bit odd that I can see thirty tattoos of puns, but no tattoos of poetry. Twenty portraits of pinup girls, but rarely do I find reproductions of fine art or art in general, however beautiful they may be. This indicates we live in a culture where the impermanent and the superficial have a much stronger appeal than the lasting.

Here’s where current body modification and literary trends can draw a strong parallel, because most readers and most consumers of body art probably find searching or innovating too arduous. It’s probably too hard to learn about literary tradition or too boring to wait to think of a tattoo concept, and much easier to get a tattoo that you know people will like because there are already a million people with one like it and it looks good, or read a book that won’t challenge you too much.

And I’m not only referring to people getting standard butterfly tattoos, praying hands, or yin-yangs. This extends to the bigger pieces as well. People want a sleeve and they want it now, and if they’re ready to pay, they can get it. Whether it’s been done a million times and is full of clichés is irrelevant to them, and artists only have so much say in terms of what they will put on their customers. That’s one of the biggest paradoxes about popular tattooing: so many people get tattoos to be different, and end up looking all the same. Basically, what this shows is how easy it is for consumers to have both body art and literature on a short leash. Consumers become a tyrannical force and can turn culture into something devoid of meaning.

But does this mean we’re doomed? I hardly think this is the case, much less with body mods. There will always be the artists who create because they need to create and the artists which will develop a style and take it to the limit. There will always be people who get mods because they need to get mods, as there will always be those who write not because of the money, but because they’ll go nuts otherwise. That will never change.

The body is probably the ultimate canvas, one of the most powerful means of expression we currently have. Some artists know this. For example, when I see the work of Emilio González (to mention just one of many of the artists I admire), I see something incredible, something highly profound and poetic. He has transformed people’s bodies and made them look like nobody and no body has ever looked before. In this I see a whole new concept and a new poetic of what the body can be. It doesn’t even matter what the customer’s reasons were, he has been transformed into something else. But I’m not saying that everybody should go for the heavy surgical mods or that heavy mods are the only place where artistic criteria can apply. I think there is still tons of room left for innovation within tattooing, piercing and cutting.

But even though body modification has never seen so many adherents in the West, and this is surely a victory when it comes to social acceptance of mods, whether this social acceptance helps preserve and increase the profound and life-changing aspects (as I already noted, the fact that more books coming out hasn’t really improved the quality of literature) of body modification is something worth questioning.

Read Diego online at 55° S. For more information about this year’s BME Scholarship, please visit

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