By: Nick Seymour | Photography: Christina Cannon and Casey Lemmings
Body modifications, their style and cultural position have changed many times throughout human history and are now at the point where it is debated whether or not people who have them are professional enough to be in the workplace. However, it’s hard to go a single day, especially on a university campus, without seeing someone who has a visible tattoo or piercing. The allure of body modifications escapes many, but regardless, it is extremely important that anyone who wants one knows how to decide on one and how to get one safely.
Deni Massey, a senior sociology and criminal justice double major from Powder Springs, got her first tattoos at 17: a wing on each ankle, the words “I still live” on her right foot and “Kimberly Drive” on her left. “I was longboarding with my brother and some friends, and I got speed wobbles. I tried to step off, but I ended up falling instead,” she says. “I fractured my skull in two places and wasn't expected to live through the night. All four of them remind me that I am still alive and not to let anything stop me.” Fortunately, her other tattoos don’t have such grave backgrounds: she has a rose and a lily on the front of her shoulder to commemorate her, her mom and her grandmother and a phoenix on her ribcage as “a reminder that you can take what you go through and what you learn and make a new you.” She also has the word “weightless” on her left and a kangaroo outline on her right ankle.
Massey explained that she didn’t think a lot of people wanted something on their skin for the rest of their life without a story behind it. “If that story is just ‘I got drunk with my friends,’ it’s still a story,” Massey says. She then went on to give advice about the process of deciding what one wants: “One, I'd make sure. If there's any wavering in whether you want it, don't get it. If you don't love the idea of one enough that you can walk away, then it isn't for you. Two, if you do want one, check out multiple parlors. You want to get a feel for different artists. You want to look at their portfolios and talk to them. You want to be comfortable with your artist and their work because they're changing your appearance permanently. If you don't like their work, don't pick them. Just make sure to check around to find the best fit for you. Also, don't ever do a home tattoo. They are incredibly dangerous, and they can come out wrong, or you can get any number of infections or diseases. It’s just not safe.”
Sounds horrifying, right? With those thoughts in mind, who could blame someone who might be anxious about getting a tattoo or a piercing simply because of the idea of being in an environment as unfamiliar as a tattoo parlor? However, that may be just because of the pre-conceived notions surrounding the concept and culture of body modifications. The feel of most parlors may be a bit rock ‘n’ roll or metal-esque because of the employees’ and owner’s taste in aesthetics, but everyone working there loves what they do, and because of that, they’re more than happy to help their clients. They’ll understand if someone is nervous, so they’ll answer any questions he or she might have. They’ll show clients how clean everything is and will walk them through every step in the modification process. Not only that, but most, if not all, professional artists will have extensive knowledge of their practice, such as Dae Jedic, an Athens local and piercer at American Classic Tattoo and Body Piercing on Baxter Street.
Jedic had wanted body modifications for as long as he could remember. “For me, it was just seeing it as a kid; piercings and tattoos really fascinated me. And even when I was younger, I would get in a bunch of trouble with my mom with that. But it just started to fascinate me as I got older, and as I hit the age when I was legally allowed to, by like 17, 18, I wanted a bunch of them. So right as I turned 18, I started getting piercings.” Jedic’s frequency to American Classic and uncommon curiosity in piercings eventually led to an apprenticeship there, and then a full-time job as a piercer.
Piercings usually aren’t as permanent as tattoos, so they don’t require the same amount of thought as Massey recommended. However, Jedic says that there are some piercings that do need more research, especially surface anchors and surface piercings. He also explained that there are folks who probably aren’t trained enough to be doing them. “Those piercings take some specific skill to do, and there are totally folks out there who will take your money and tell you they can do this, and then in a couple months you’ll be like ‘This hurts! This isn’t working out, this is making me angry,’ and they’ll just be like ‘Oops, sorry.’ So with that kind of stuff, I’ll do consults with people.” Jedic also says to be aware of where you get your piercing, especially if you get one below the neckline. Since you may not see it in the mirror every day, you won’t be able to notice right away if something’s not right with it.
Many worry about how they might be perceived by others after they get modifications, but regret is the last term someone like Massey or Jedic would use to describe how they felt about their tattoos and piercings—in fact, they probably wouldn’t use it at all. Massey says that after she got her first tattoos, she was happier. “I like being able to express myself in this way. Painting stories on my body is something I'm proud of. I'm more confident. I hold myself higher, but the changes were more along the lines of accepting who you are rather than suddenly having ink in a design in your skin,” Jedic says. “All of mine are reminders of things, so I know that with these permanent reminders, that I can be me. I can do what I want with no regrets because I know that when I did whatever, I wanted to do it. The tattoos just make me thankful for life, because every day I can look at myself and see visual evidence that I made it through whatever, and I can make it through whatever comes.”
Jedic had similar sentiments toward his modifications, saying his tattoos were like a “body passport”; they can be stories, song lyrics, places you’ve been, anything. He says that people tell him all the time: “Oh, what about when you’re older, then what?” He says that when he’s older, he’ll still be happy with the way he looks, modifications and all.
Massey says it best when it comes to general body modification advice: do what is right for you. “If you don't feel comfortable with a certain artist or a parlor, pick someone or somewhere else. Don't feel pressured into doing something that is uncomfortable to you.” So, when someone goes to get their first tattoo or piercing, they should know what they want, be sure that they really want it, go somewhere clean and professional to get it done, and before they know it, they’ll be among the countless ranks of people who express themselves with their bodies—and absolutely love it.