Friday, September 4, 2009

Guest Post: Inked - On Piercings

Editor's Note: Although this guest post is about piercings, it came about after discussions in comment threads in my "Inked" series (part one, part two). I still consider this to be a part of that series, as it explores the reasons and meanings behind another form of body art and modification.

This guest post was written by Saranga, a 29 yr old bisexual feminist living in a rural county in the UK. She can generally be found behind a comic book. Her writings can be found at Pai and generally cover comics, women in comics, women in general, Buffy, politics, the odd bit about sign language and anything associated with the above list, especially if it's to do with comics.

I think I first fell in love with body piercings as a small child. I have a recollection of seeing a (possibly blue haired) mohawked manpunk with a lip hoop when I was just a young ‘un – as for my specific age I have no idea, but I’m guessing about 5 or 7. It left a major impression on me and at that moment I became determined that one day I would have that very same thing. As far as I was concerned that lip hoop was the height of beauty.

Fast forward until I’m 22 and by this stage I have had several piercings – 12 in my ear lobes and cartilage, both tragus, the top and bottom of my navel pierced, both nipples done, one nostril piercing, a vertical labret, my septum, and lastly my pride and joy – 2 surface piercings on my wrist.

Fast forward to the present and a lot of these have been retired, either due to difficulty healing or because I elected to work in an office. Let me tell you something about my piercings –>

They’re not about rebellion – I hate standing out, I hate having strangers comment on me and I hate my loved ones proclaiming them disgusting.
They’re not about attention seeking – Apart from my ears you’d never know what else I’ve got.
They’re not mutilation – an ugly sensational word. I have self harmed in the past and let me tell you my piercings have NOTHING in common with self harm or mutilation.

So why have I got them done? There’s my personal aesthetic. Quite simply, I think correctly done, well healed and well placed piercings are beautiful. I am very specific about exactly where the jewellery gets placed, and what jewellery I wear. They need to complement the curve of my face, my belly, sometimes be symmetrical, and otherwise fit in with my limbs and my body.

The other aspect about it is, I get to model and change my body. These little holes I plant, along key lines of my body make my body *mine*. I can sculpt and build my body into the shape that I want. I can position jewellery and holes to emphasise what I see as important. The two in my navel – it means my belly is no longer a big wobbly thing that I have no control over. I have made it mine. I have no interest in controlling my body through food – ignoring the fact that I like eating, it’s not precise enough and it’s not healthy. The piercings are (so long as you keep them clean). My lobes are each stretched to approx 5 mm. I love the fact that if I take the jewellery out I can see them through my ear lobes. I know that *I’ve* done this, *I* can effect change on myself.

This may come across as rather control freakish, but there’s also another aspect to it. When I have those little pieces of jewellery in, those holes in me, I feel complete. I feel like I have finally moved into myself. I removed my vertical labret about 6 years ago, after having had it for about 2 years, and I still catch myself feeling like I’m missing a vital part of myself, like I’m naked. My surface piercings on my wrist may have only lasted 3 to 6 months, but they brought me a great feeling of peace.

Have I experienced sexism in the industry? One time when I went into my piercers with a bag slung over my shoulder and the strap between my boobs the chief piercer/tattooist commented on the size of my boobs in a gruff and rather unfriendly way. That is the only instant of sexism I can recall, and funnily enough it didn’t stop me going back. Now it would. Now I would say something back. But my underconfident self thought nothing of it, the shame. This is a guy who pierces nipples, labia and clitoris’ (clitori?). Comments like that are just not on.

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced negative comments from strangers about my jewellery – not like when I’ve gone out without shaving my armpits, or had my belly hanging over my jeans, or dared to wear big pants under tight trousers, or tried to cover my chest with a coat because of lewd comments regarding the size of my chest. I have had a lot of negative comments from people who have got to know me, who then pronounce them disgusting and look sickened when I answer a question they themselves have asked me. Don’t think you’ll like the answer? Don’t ask the question. I have been wondering if this is somehow related to the phenomenon of women’s bodies generally being up for public ownership and discussion – I’ve come to the conclusion not, because the feelings I get from piercing related comments and generic abusive comments is very different. Maybe other readers can give their experiences on this?

Are my piercings feminist? Well, they make me happy. They were always done for me, not for anyone else. I worked hard to be able to afford and pay for each and every one, all by myself. If I didn’t have to work in an office I’d be getting my earl done and my labret replaced. So, while they don’t have an explicit feminist meaning, I think it’s enough that these little holes with their seemingly insignificant pieces of jewellery have had such an effect on me and my perception of and relationship with my body. If I had to remove the remaining jewellery I think I’d feel like a shadow of myself. And if you don’t think feminism has anything to do with women and their relationship with their bodies I reckon you’ve got a whole lot more learning to do.


lindsay said...

I love this. I've had a eyebrow ring and a couple cartilage pieces for a few years now. I remember wanting an eyebrow ring in high school and asking my mom if I could get one. She told me if I still wanted one when I was 18, I could get it myself. I did and I love it. I've taken my eyebrow ring out only once in the 6 years I've had it, and that was for a work event when my parents asked me to.

I work with kids and they often ask me why I have my piercings. The easiest and most honest answer is because I think it looks pretty. It's about me, how I look and how I want to look. Not rebellion, not anything else.

INTPanentheist said...

I love this, too. I have my tongue pierced, and that's the only nonstandard piercing I have, although there are a few others I would consider. I had wanted it since I was in my early teens, and it just seemed like time.

And, for me, the tattoos and the piercings are about owning my body - and this is important for me, as a survivor of sexual assault, to own my body in a way that I like rather than to do so in an attempt to elicit social approval. I love being able to do this, and, if my daughter (three years old) wants piercings when she's older, as long as she tells me she can pierce whatever she likes (provided it's allowed at her school). (Tattoos, on the other hand, she can get when she's an adult, because I think that you need to be old enough to really consider having something on your body permanently.)

Thank you for this series, because part of my evolving feminism has been a desire to mark my body in ways to make it mine, and I'm just now getting to the point where I can identify that.

Saranga said...

Wow, I (somewhat naively and arrogantly maybe) thought I was the only one who sought to mark/own my body like this - mostly because folks in rl tend to look at me like I'm odd if I mention it.
Mind you, I know very very few ppl who are into body mods, so maybe that's why.

Boganette said...

Awesome post. I don't have any piercings but I've always wondered about them. Thanks so much for sharing. And it was beautifully written too.

Saranga said...

Thanks to all for the compliments *blushes*

Anonymous said...

Great post. There's actually a fair bit of critical theory (around themes of The Body) that discusses piercing. As a piercee, I haven't liked what I've read so far... But then I only read it for fun and didn't go too far into it.

I used to have a lot of facial piercings, but had to get a sort of proper job and had to take them out. I've only got a 10mm tunnel left, one ear piercing I don't really use and two in my tongue. I love them. Some I waited a long time to get, some I got relatively on impulse (maybe after a month of thought - it was mainly a question of getting the cash together!)

Saranga said...

cupkatething: a good theoretical book to read is 'Body Modification' edited by Mike Featherstone. It's a collection of essays, and admittedly I haven't read it in a number of years, but I did enjoy it and it was thought provoking.