Body Modification, Or, Things I Do Which Make My Long-Suffering Mother Shake Her Head In Resigned Disapproval

by Bec Hawkings

Three piercings, nine tattoos, and hair colour that came from a box.

By body modification standards, that’s rather tame. My piercings are very mainstream; one hole in each ear, and one brand-new, hours-old, still-throbbing hole in my right nostril. My tattoos are slightly less traditional, but there’s nothing above my shoulders or below my hips, nothing on my hands and nothing offensive. Certainly nothing that a cardigan can’t easily hide. After all these years, I still get a kick out of revealing the tattoos to unsuspecting acquaintances. Apparently, I don’t look like the type of girl who has a half-sleeve and five other tattoos scattered across her arms. It’s the cardigans, I think.

By the standards of most of the virgin-skinned public, however, I am something of an oddity. I wear skirts, and glasses, and usually have my head firmly entrenched in a dog-eared paperback book. I’m quiet, and I did well in school, and I work with children, and I’m polite to old ladies on the bus.  And yet, my favourite thing in the world is to get a tattoo; to feel the scratchy, searing quickpunchquickpunchquick of the tattoo machine as it stabs ink into the deepest layers of my skin. With each new addition, I feel more at home in my own body, which is hard to explain to anyone who has always felt that way, without the need for ink and needles and such permanent art.

I’m petrified of needles, which further adds to confusion. It took fifteen years and two (lovely, strong-armed) friends holding me in place to get my ears pierced; another seven years to work up the courage to get a tiny stud in my nose. Even then, I had to make the piercer promise not to show me the needle. She looked at my tattoo-speckled arms, then looked back at me. Sometimes I even manage to confuse those who are well-versed in body modification. I like that.

Tattoo machines (never call them guns, only machines) aren’t needles in my mind. They’re pointy, stabbing implements of pain, but it’s so entirely different to piercing that I’ve no fear of it. Obviously. I’ve more tattoos planned, so many more everyday that I fear running out of available skin. No more piercings though, I don’t think – that  is a kind of pain for which I have no willingness to ever seek out again.

Body modification doesn’t make anyone special. A tattoo doesn’t make you a special little snowflake, nor does a piercing make you unique. It’s not about individuality for me, and it’s certainly not about standing out from the crowd. (I’m at my happiest when I’m invisible in a crowd, when I can slink away with a book and no-one can bother me. It’s a miracle I’ve anyone around me at all, really, let alone to have been fortunate to find similar-minded folk.) Body modification is about looking in the mirror and being comfortable; not happy, few people ever are, but content. It’s about being about to breathe in the skin you’re in, as horridly cliché as that sounds.

Three piercings, nine tattoos, and hair colour that came from a box.