Merits of Exploration
To be fair, I did not begin with an interest in body modification. My mother had to almost beg me to get my ears pierced, for I had no interest in doing so. She eventually convinced me to get it done for my thirteenth birthday – I suppose for her it was a symbol of growing up, a sign that I had progressed from little-girlhood into a ‘young lady.’ Similarly, my sister (who had begged to get her lobes pierced before her age even reached double digits) was pierced as she entered her teens. I think for my mother this was a very watered-down ‘rite of passage’. I think our approach of the mythical age of thirteen signified something for her, especially as my dad disapproved of us getting our lobes pierced “so young” and she would not usually do something involving us kids without the consent of both parental units.
My lobes healed, eventually. I did not clean them at all – I didn’t have surgical spirits, and did not know about saline -- so the healing process was somewhat protracted. Once pierced I did not mind them, but up to that point I had refused piercings because of some vague misplaced desire to not be like everyone else, and having one’s ears pierced was just like all the other girls at school. They all wanted their belly-buttons pierced, especially as I got to early highschool [this was when Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera were big], and I viewed that with some disdain. One of my closest childhood friends was accruing multiple piercings in her ears, and even got her own navel perforated. I don’t recall asking the standard questions about pain, but I asked why she had it done. She said because she liked it and wanted it. Similarly, the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not kind of stuff where people alternately gawked or gagged at body suspension performances didn’t disturb me, but it did not move me either. I thought, what’s the big deal; it’s people on hooks. I was fifteen, and I didn’t get it.
I am unsure why I decided to get my second lobes done four years later. My parents emigrated and I was back home to visit, and it was almost spur of the moment – I had been thinking about it for a while, but I made the decision in the pharmacy while my sister bought toiletries. A year later I got my helix done. It was gunned, as were the others, and it began to swell and look angry. I did some research online and discovered BME.
Perhaps it was this discovery that changed things. I had been thinking of getting a sixth piercing to equalise the number in each ear, but did not want to be symmetrical. So I began researching more unusual cartilaginous piercings and became enamoured. Simultaneously, as I learned the names and began deciding which one I wanted most, I was taking in the correct modes of caring for one’s piercings and the importance of being pierced by an artist with a needle, rather than a pharmacist with a gun. There were no piercing or tattoo parlours in my town, and I wanted to wait for at least a year before I decided to get anything new (so that I would not regret my choice of ear augmentation). This is the reason why I do not have many mods; I insist on waiting on any decisions in order to ‘make sure.’ Also, my previous piercings began to have certain meanings for me, each indicative of a different significant period of my life, and since I realised this I have not allowed myself to be pierced frivolously – I allow each to signify something important.
Then a tattoo/piercing studio opened in town by frequently-inked and perforated newcomers. The piercer was absurdly friendly and somehow I found myself feeling comfortable with him. He ended up becoming my friend and multiple-piercer who helped me commemorate my important moments with bits of metal. Most of my mods are in my ears, as I dislike anything particularly ostentations on myself – it is not who I am – and I still don’t have any tattoos. As a child I did not want to be pierced or tattooed because it was popular and meant you were cool and edgy like the girls who got their lower backs engraved with hearts and their nostrils adorned with flashing jewels; and I did not quite feel I was so cool, so edgy. I still don’t. But certain small influences in one’s life combine and push you into developing new tastes, allowing you to be shaped differently to the way in which you thought you would be at first. For example, my friendship with my piercer led to my involvement in a flesh-pulling, which in turn became the reason I began to want to do a suspension. I still am not ‘hardcore’, or different, or even particularly interesting – and I don’t look it either, with my haircut hiding my ears and my sub-lingual frenulum only visible if I choose to draw someone’s attention to it.
Although rites of passage are almost non-existent in Western culture (oh, there are the standard ones; the birthday parties, the drinkfest at 21, the marriage rituals), I would argue that smaller, personal rites are very present and pervasive in our own lives. Perhaps as we grow and change and are shaped by our environments we develop these meaningful activities for ourselves. Would I have wanted to do a suspension before meeting my piercer? Certainly it would not have been a possibility if I had not. Would we have become friends unless I had visited him for double-conch piercings and mentioned my frequent research visits on BME.com, so little known in South Africa? Surely no. A classmate has a ‘level-up’ system for herself – whenever she accomplishes a significant task, she gives herself points, and after a certain number of these she goes up a metaphorical level. For myself, if I learn a significant lesson, or wish to remember something important, or wish to mark a part of my life, I get pierced. The pull experience taught me things about my body I did not know, it showed me I had a level of endurance and tolerance for pain that I had been hitherto unaware of; it taught me that I could be different to what I thought I was. It also taught me that not all people are quite as blasé as I was, even as a child, towards hooks in skin. In fact, most people don’t like that kind of stuff. I only discovered this when a few of my friends expressed extreme disgust and concern for my mental wellbeing, or threatened to disown me – which honestly was a revelation; for I had not expected anything beyond surprise on their parts. Thus my mild forays into body modification thus far has taught me much about other people.
Certainly the suspension should teach me more.
submitted by: -K
on: 25 Jan. 2012
in BME Culture