Ink-ing out self-expression

Modifying through tattoos and piercings a growing trend
By: Megan Wood, Gold Country News Service
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It used to be that dyeing your hair or switching your wardrobe was enough to stand out from the crowd. These days, those craving to wriggle out of the cookie cutter look to extreme measures to mark their individuality. A walk through any shopping mall features examples of stretched earlobes, lip and facial piercings and extreme tattoos as ways of expressing individuality by using the body as a canvas. “Tattoos and piercings have become much more commonplace,” said Wild Bill Tattoo artist and piercer Chris Corvi. “It’s still a mark of individuality, but here (in Roseville) it’s also a trend. They think, ‘if my buddy gets it done, it must be pretty cool.’” Among the trends sweeping Placer County are snakebites or double piercings on the lower lip, septum piercings and dermal anchors, which give the appearance of a crystal lying on the surface of the skin. “The dermal implants, surface piercings, back corsets are more popular in bigger cities like San Francisco,” said Melissa Funk, owner of The Studio in Roseville. “There’s just not as much of a demand for them here.” Tattoo artists and piercers agree that there are four “core” reasons why people choose to modify their bodies with tattoos and piercings. One is for the aesthetic value, two is sexual stimulation, three is to commemorate pivotal events and four would be for religious purposes. “There’s always been a demand for the personal piercings,” said Jeff Sturgis, piercer at Rocklin’s Red Dragon Tattoo and Piercing. “They do what they’re supposed to do, which is enhance sexual experience.” Sean Hill, a Roseville resident chose tattooing as a way to preserve his Japanese-American heritage. Hill’s tattoo stretches across his shoulders and reaches midway down his back and blends early and modern tattoo techniques to symbolize his ancestor’s immigration to America and his own upbringing. “It’s a way for me to retain my Japanese culture, which I felt was being lost since I was brought up (in the U.S),” Hill said. “I have been wanting it for about 10 years and I put a lot of thought into the design.” Corvi said the pain of tattooing and piercing is often just as important as the artwork itself. “Sometimes (my clients) are looking for external pain that matches the internal pain they are feeling,” Corvi said. “For them, the pain is the reason they do it.” And of course, for teens, boredom plays a role as well. Shea Smith, 15, of Grass Valley was at a friend’s house last year when she said boredom got the best of them and the group decided to pierce the skin, or web, underneath their tongues. Just like any trend, body piercing out of boredom or simply for aesthetic value can be fleeting. “I just took mine out last week,” said Maddy Gregory, 15, of Grass Valley. “It was hitting my teeth and I was over it.” Shea’s mother, Donna, lives in Rocklin and said she wasn’t happy about the piercing when her daughter told her about it. “But kids are going to experiment and I guess I’d rather it be with piercing than something permanent like drugs or sex, “ Donna said. With body modification, the quote “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” has never been more right on. “I’ve had people cross to the other side of the street when they see me coming,” Funk said. “When I have all my piercings in, people talk to the space over my shoulder rather than meet my eyes.” Among the tattooed and pierced, misconceptions and discrimination abound. Corvis said a major misconception is that the heavily tattooed are renegades, bullies or criminals when, in fact “we’re all family men, we’re normal, we just look different.” Maricela Philemon, of Roseville, said she experienced discrimination in the workplace when she was recently written up for not properly camouflaging her facial piercings despite working at the Piercing Pagoda in the Galleria Mall. Difficulty finding or keeping a job is the No. 1 reason why some places, like Wild Bill’s refuses to tattoo the hands, neck and face. “I had a girl come in yesterday asking me to remove a dermal anchor because of her job,” Funk said. “It’s one of the main reasons why people take them out, the job is too important and the employers don’t want that look.” For some, one person’s modification is another’s mutilation. Dr. Donald Jasper, a plastic surgeon at The Plastic Surgery Center in Roseville said he sees a number of problems with just basic ear piercings that require surgical repair. From rejected piercings ending in large scars to earlobes stretched to their limits that result in ripping or cartilage dying off, a simple body modification can have lifelong consequences. But proponents of tattoos and body piercing say the modifications are no different from growing a mustache or cutting your hair and are simply another form of self-expression through jewelry and art. “It’s not permanent, even tattoos can be removed these days and with piercing, the worst you’ll end up with is a little scar,” Funk said. “Some would argue that having bags of silicone in your chest is mutilation. Who’s to say what practice is ugly?” Megan Wood can be reached at