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©May 1999

Carol Jane Remsburg







Over the last years I’ve watch a trend grow larger and larger as my understanding grew smaller and smaller.  The concept of permanent body decoration and mutilation is harsh in terms, but I’m squeamish this way. 


It began I guess around ten years or more ago when just a single piercing on each ear wasn’t enough for our hoops, studs, and dangles.  Two became four and begat more.  Suddenly, men and women, girls and boys, were sporting many decorations around the entire circumference of their ears.  Not only did it impair their hearing, unless the jewelry was studs, then it became a hopeless tangle.  The shock of seeing walking earring trees soon faded—right along with the orange/purple/green Mohawk hairdos that were designed to grab our attention. 


The next wave in piercing arrived with the nose.  Small silver or gold adornments became more prolific than freckles.  Some were multiple combinations of a nose-ring and lips—complete with chains that slide down the back of the nose and out of the mouth.  The image of a head cold gives me the shivers.  Not to be outdone, others went all out placing holes in their nipples, navels, and genitalia.  Included in this swell was tongue piercing. 


Now I can certainly understand the demands of fashion and the torture devised by it.  My worst lament was four-inch spike pumps with arrow pointed toes and mini-skirts—back when mini-skirts weren’t “retro.”  Still, it was nothing I had to sleep with.  Whatever outlandish makeup I shoveled on could always be washed off.  Even a daring foray into the world of permanent hair dye really wasn’t.


Someone very young and close to me had that three-inch steel barbell shot through her tongue yesterday.  As she sucked ice chips, repeated rinsed with Listerine, and gobbled down ibuprofen, I begged her to tell me why.  She had to tell me then because we both knew that by today her tongue would be so swollen that talking wasn’t going to be an option.


Her only explanation I still don’t understand, but perhaps in the writing of it I’ll make some discovery.  She says that she’s doing these adventuresome things while she is young and healthy.  People expect 18 year-olds to behave in an avant-garde fashion.  If she does it now, no one will be surprised.  If she did it when she was 30, then people would just think she was stupid, not just a silly kid. 


To that, this same “young adult” would have gotten her tattoo first but it was more expensive than the tongue piercing so she’s saving her money for a “cute” little tattoo of Winnie the Pooh on her shoulder holding a balloon—with her daughter’s name inscribed in the balloon.  She says that with each child she has, a balloon with name will be added as well.


Piercing is a wound, a shock to the body; especially in those sensitive places.  They are also easily infected if not cared for properly.  Tattoos are also wounds on the body.  Both are permanent.  While a piercing may close over, the marks remain—unless surgical removal of said part was necessary when the infection couldn’t be quelled.


Okay, I tried to scare the daylights out of this kid with the thought that perhaps by next month she’d be a mute because some surgeon would have to cut her tongue out.  I can be a little heavy-handed in the ladling out of fear if I feel it’s a worthy cause.  It didn’t work.  I tried. 


Then I worked the angle that perhaps she would end up like those tribal women who pierce their lips and insert pottery discs as big as dinner plates to attract their men.  They are “REAL” attractive, I reminded her with extra-heavy sarcasm.  I wonder what those lips look like after they remove those discs—do they dangle at their knees?  Ugh!


Tattoos run in and out of fashion every generation or so ever since mankind began cave drawings.  They didn’t have to worry that their war paint or tribal identification would get washed off if it rained during battle.  There something about tattoos and guys getting macho while playing with guns.  WWII was likely the biggest resurgence of tattoos until today when women want equal time. 


Remember, we women want to share the good and the bad.  Let us decide that we really like that little butterfly, rose, or skull and crossbones and we’ll put it darn near any place.  Tattoos may be a fashion statement, a rebellion, or just a fit of temper.  Either way, the removal of them when we can no longer stand the sight of them isn’t easily done.  The mark will remain.  Oh, and that anklet of daisies isn’t going to go well with that power business suit you bought for your interview.  Few resumes in the world speak louder than a tattoo. 


Tattoos and “body piercing” seem to have found their place in time.  Granted both have been around for centuries, but never so colorfully nor as prominently crossing cultures as today.  Still, the world has grown smaller.  It is still the same size as it used to be all those eons ago, but it’s more like a large city where anything is possible and nothing is new.


When we tattoo and we poke holes all over our bodies I begin to worry that we are crossing some line between decoration and desecration.  For those of us lucky enough to be born whole and not misshapen why should we wound it for the sake of a thrill or shock?  Go bungee jumping—it’s not permanent—unless it’s fatal. 




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