Unveiling the thoughts behind body modification
By Naughty Mickie  notymickie@earhtlink.net

Movies, television, the mall and everywhere in between, body modification has been, well, making its mark. In the United States, there is a shift from the standards that tattoo, piercing, scarification and other body art forms are taboo and only for the lower class or rebels to acceptance in mainstream society.

Every six months the Body Art Expo ( www.bodyartexpo.com ) is held in Pomona, California, and the range of attendees is intriguing. Of course you will see plenty of bedecked skin, but you will also see moms pushing strollers, people dressed as they have just left the office for a break and grandmothers admiring young men's arms.

Tattoo has been widely discussed and explored, while other forms of body modification are often left by the wayside. DaBelly took advantage of the recent expo in July to catch up with two piercers who come from differing sides of the art-- one with a straight-forward modern approach and the other who has a deep respect for its historic and spiritual aspects. We invite you to open your mind.

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Gary Potts

Body modification artist
Inflictions Body Art, Covina, California
www.inflictions.com
Gary has been in the business five years, working as a piercer.


DB: What changes have you noted in the industry?

GP: "There hasn't really been a big change, it's been a steady flow of people coming in. We do the basic piercing - belly button, ear, nose, tongue, lip.  Our clientele varies, you have everything from an 18 year old kid to a 60 year old man. People that you would not even believe. You can never tell from a person walking in what they're going to get, it's amazing sometimes. It blows me away. Everyone from a school teacher to a social worker to a nurse. There's not really one category of people, it's not like the punk rock thing, pierce your nose or your lip, it's the general public.

DB: Do you think the rise in body modification shows a modern interest in a primitive art form?

GP: It's been an art form for hundreds of years, but I think the general public really doesn't go back that far. There is a certain class of people that are into the spiritual aspect. I think we deal more with the general public than the spiritual side of piercing. I think it's more of a personal statement.  Potts adds that this is most likely due to Inflictions' locale.

DB: How do you help you clients?

GP: I try to steer them in the right direction and try to do things that will work for them with their body and flow with their body. I think that that's a key factor, the placement position, for it to look right on that person. Everybody has different features, so it will be different on different people to look correct.  The most common piercings  are navel, nose, tongue and lips for Potts. He notes that the stretching of the ears has tapered off because many people are doing it themselves at home. This is not safe because people try to enlarge the hole too quickly which can lead to tearing and scarring. Plus the hole does not go back to its smaller original size.

DB: What kind of advice would you offer to someone considering body modification?

GP: A lot of people should think before getting that far into it (piercing, stretching, etc.) about what they're going to do later in life because people are going to look at you differently. There should be a lot of thought behind it, I think a lot of people don't think about the future, they're thinking about right here right now. They don't always understand the circumstances that are going to follow them.

Potts tries to discourage people from piercing their hands and throat, as they are poor placings for healing. At the throat, the body may also try to push the jewelry out which creates scarring. Another bad piercing would be a bar across the lower lip, if you get hit, your teeth could be broken.

GP: I'll give them my suggestion, but some people are very persistent. I haven't turned that many people away, but there have been a few. Only to protect them. It's not all about the money, we're in this for the long term, not the short term.

Another form of body modification is scarification, which includes branding and cutting. There is strike branding, which is like branding a cow. It's a one-time burn which cannot be redone or touched up. Then there is cauterizing which gives a clean, more precise line and can follow a stenciled pattern similar to a tattoo. It allows for design work, but the lines cannot be too close together because of the scarring.

Everybody scars and keloids different, explains Potts. Most clients only have small designs done by branding; larger pieces are done in sections according to how much discomfort the client can take at a sitting.

GP: It is a very painful process, it is burning the flesh. Once your pain tolerance gets to a certain level it evens out. You get yourself to that certain state of mind where you are comfortable with the situation, the endorphins kick in and your mind blocks out the pain.

Potts, who pierces an average of 10-20 people per day, has tattoos and piercings himself, but no brands. "I've been burnt before and I didn't like it," he laughs.

Potts recommends that, if you are planning on having body modification work done, you go to a reputable shop that's been in business for a while and look at the environment. You should also get to know your artist and find the one who is best for your needs and what you're going to have done.

Eat before you go, Potts adds. And after the procedure, keep the area clean and don't keep touching it or playing with the jewelry. Follow the shop's instructions, you should receive an instruction sheet. He also feels that specialty healing products are unnecessary.

GP: Your body wants to heal itself by itself, so as long as you keep it clean and don't play with it, don't touch it, you shouldn't have any problems.

Potts says that you should expect healing times as follows:

Piercings:

face 6-9 weeks

navel 6-9 months

tongue 6-9 weeks

genital 6-9 weeks

Branding/scarification 2-4 weeks

Implants 6-9 weeks

DB: What is your favorite piercing to perform?

GP: My favorite piercing to do is anything unusual. My satisfaction is making the customer happy, giving them what they want and making them feel very comfortable in the atmosphere. I want to have the clients truly comfortable and relaxed. I think a lot of people come in thinking it will hurt more than it really does and they're never, so just getting them to relax and feel comfortable, then when they walk out they're pretty much amazed how much it didn't hurt.

DB: Do you have any final thoughts on body modification?

GP: Everybody needs to open their mind up a little bit. You need to get to know somebody before you can judge them by the outside. You need to know what's going on in the inside before you can make that judgment. A lot of people are judgmental and they should take the extra time to get to know somebody before they make that decision.

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Art Aguirre
Body modification artist and shop owner
Church of Steel, San Diego, California
www.churchofsteel.com

DB: You were called the "Modern Primitive" on Sci-Fi channel's reality show, "Mad, Mad House," is that the correct term and what does it mean?

AA: I, myself, would be considered somewhat of a modern primitive, but the actual term modern primitivism came from one of the pioneers, a very respected individual that is known in the body modification industry that had in a sense revived in western culture and brought to all of our eyes and a lot of our minds and gave us visuals and brought back to life body modification as a whole, and that would be Fakhir Musafar. He is one that is known to have come up with the term.

We are as modern day people expressing ourselves in whatever form or fashion or way. That's how I feel a lot about the work that I have had done or the body modification I have had done. It is, to me, the most beautiful way I can express who I am as an individual. For me, it runs on a very deep spiritual level, while for a lot of people, whether it had been in the past or present, we as human beings have always looked for ways to ornate, decorate or beautify ourselves or our bodies in whatever way. Whether it be modification of the body, piercing, branding or scarification, but a lot of people, say your average Joe or Jane who doesn't realize that there are many other forms of body modifications that are practiced by the average Joe or Jane in many ways, such as cosmetic surgery, plastic surgery and even working out or dieting. We are not exactly happy or pleased with what we might see in the mirror or we visualize what we'd like to look like.

Aguirre talks about the sacrifices people make to gain muscle mass or lose weight, which are also forms of body modification. Any change in your natural appearance is body modification, this includes your style of dress, dying your hair and wearing makeup and jewelry.

DB; Can you share some of the history of body modification?

AA: From the research that I've done, the piercing itself started in different parts of the world for different reasons, such as my culture, my ancestry being of Mayan descent and the Mayans and the Aztecs and the Itzas and the Toltecas and the many indigenous Indians throughout Mexico and South America.

Aguirre explains that the Mayans had sacred rituals piercing different parts of their bodies. Women would show their love to their husbands by running a thorn-studded rope through their tongues. There were blood letting rituals as well. Male warriors would pierce different parts of their bodies. One of the most sacred rituals was for a warrior to pierce his genitalia with a stingray barb or the tip of the magay plant (an aloe-type plant). They would puncture or rake the skin and allow the blood to drip on papyrus. Rather than leaving the wound open, they would stem the bleeding with direct pressure. Then the men would take the papyrus to the sacrificial altar and light it on fire, believing that through the smoke being raised to the heavens, they were paying homage to the gods. The Mayans didn't put decorative jewelry in their piercings, these were blood letting rituals to pay homage to gods or a loved one.

For thousands of years in different cultures throughout the world, there were many practices, Aguirre adds. The Messai would stretch their earlobes for status, Amazon tribes would stretch their labras (lip) and their lobes. The Chinese Buddha even has elongated lobes. The women of Surma have lip plates for beauty and scarification for beauty is prevalent in Africa as well.

"All over the world in most of your older cultures, there were some body modifications," Aguirre states.

DB: What are some of the modern meanings of body modification?

AA: Nowadays people are so much more in touch with their consciousness and there's so much more available out there. People are doing their own research and are getting in touch with their spiritual side and their consciousness and are searching and seeking out the shops where the artists doing the work, there is a bond, a connection on the spiritual level. So it's not on a whim. There is a connection on a spiritual level so it makes the experience just that more pleasant, that much more memorable and that much more spiritual.

For example, some of the clients who come to Church of Steel ask for smudging the room with sage or meditation or breathing exercises, Aguirre adds.

Aguirre only performs only piercings, as OSHA, the health department and the AMA do not allow scarification or implants, the practices are illegal in California. The groups are seeking regulation.

AA: If you do not regulate it, then it's an open can of worms. Scalpels and dermal punches and branding is going to end up in the hands of individuals who don't know what they're doing and hurting and damaging a lot of people who don't know any better. The innocent consumer who doesn't know that this individual is using them as guinea pigs.

Currently, the AMA is going through shops looking for any evidence of these practices. Aguirre is not against the practices if they are performed by someone who is experienced.

DB: What is your most popular piercing?

AA: I'm speaking from a lot of years of experience, my establishment and my reputation and my clientele, we do a bit of everything.

Some establishments will not perform certain piercings, such as genital, and will refer clients to Aguirre. He notes that in the past the people being pierced in "unusual" ways were in the gay or S&M segments of society. Surprisingly, he also performs more female than male genital piercings, which he attributes this to his shop's location, as well as to the fact that women are braver and more comfortable with themselves.

DB: Do you ever refuse to perform a piercing?

AA: I explain to them that it's unethical. I have to draw the line as a professional as to what I will and won't do. It's not a matter of sometimes I can't do it. I explain to them that this is why I won't do it not that I can't do it. That's the key word… it's not that I can't do it. Because then they're going to walk into another shop and an individual might tell them, 'Oh, I can do it.' I never said that I couldn't, it's more so that I won't because I believe that ethically it's wrong. It boils down to my integrity, my passion and my professionalism. It's very important and I hope that people would respect the honesty.

Among the "problem" piercings Aguirre will not perform are those which would cause a major infection or be rejected or migrate downward.

DB: What advise do you offer to those considering body modification?

AA: There's many things that should be major concerns any time over price because, as I explain to people, you never shop around. You're not shopping around for something that's materialistic, this is your body, your health, your life and your well being that you're trusting more than likely a perfect stranger with.

Aguirre states that you should take time to look at the establishments and go with your gut feeling. See that you're attended to, talked to and treated well and that you feel confident with the artist.

"You should feel confident with the individual that's going to do the work for you because that's going to make the experience a lot nicer, a lot more peaceful, a lot more memorable." Aguirre says, "Get a feel for the shop, you shop have a bond with the individual."

He also encourages prospective clients to ask questions, do research and consider their career and future.

AA: A few years back, I reached a point in my life where I felt I was at a crossroad. I knew what I felt before that and how passionate I was about it and being my life and my lifestyle. It's what I breathed, it's what I lived, it's just been in me since I was a kid. But I came at a crossroad because I know I was reaching an age and a stage in my life where is this something that I'm going to continue to do the rest of my life? Because right now at this stage I still have an opportunity and I might want to stem off.

I was looking into getting into forensic medicine. But I had to do some checking in in a sense and some meditation and some time with myself in seclusion and do some self-realization work to see and check in with my guides to see which way I needed to go. I made a decision of staying with it because it's my passion, it's my love and I couldn't see myself doing anything else.

DB: Is there one important point about body modification that you would like to get across?

AA: I think an important point would be to make sure that people understand how important it is for them to take and make the time to talk to artists, to talk to piercers, to talk to these individuals so they have a good experience. This is something that you don't take lightly. You're not shopping around for a mechanic, you're not shopping around for something that's materialistic that's replaceable.

You want to have a good beautiful experience. You want it to be something to where you are just on a high from the endorphins and the anticipation and then finally your day comes and you just want to walk out of there glowing. You want to feel good. We want to try to direct people in the right direction, that's so important.

There are so many individuals out there who are just in it monetarily or they're looking for the stardom. If you're in it for that, you're in it for the wrong reasons. It needs to be everything, what you eat and breathe. It's like anything that might be a passion in life, it has to be. Unfortunately there are so many people that are unhappy with what they are doing, that they're not giving 110 percent. Let alone somebody you're going to be putting your body, your well being in their hands.

Aguirre also wants to remind clients to be aware of blood-bourne pathogens, such as Hepatitis B and C and HIV. You need to find an artist who is educated and up to date on health, blood bourne pathogens, cross-contamination and antiseptic sterilization.

AA: As long as we're protecting ourselves then we're not subjecting anybody who walks into our doors to anything. The same time we're protecting ourselves, we're protecting our clientele.

DB: How many piercings do you have?

Aguirre isn't sure, but he provides an insightful answer: I only have one piercing that is not what I would consider an older cultural piercing that dates back to many many years. They're all about stretching and cultural piercing that have been practiced by many cultures throughout the world.

Different experiences in life have been put there to, what I believe, make me a better person, to help me become the person that I am and I am striving to become an even better person, well-rounded person. That's something I work on on a daily basis.

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You've read both points of view on body modification, but whatever way you may feel about the subject, DaBelly encourages you to do your research before having work done. Feel free to contact either of these artists or find someone who best suits your needs. ... Or perhaps, just admire the art from a "safe distance." Open your eyes and your mind.

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