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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Sexcapades: The benefits of body art

Published: February 18, 2011
Section: Opinions

The question of body art has recently come up a lot, and it’s made me wonder exactly what our cohorts’ take on the subject is anyway? Beginning in the late 1980s, body art became a really popular thing among teens and young adults, meaning that when we were growing up, all those cool looking older kids and sometimes our babysitters, had piercings and tattoos up the wazoo. We are technically, however, a different generation and with that comes the differences between our predecessors and us.

Now, I grew up in New York City, so maybe my viewpoint is skewed, but body art never really went out of style. What has changed is what type of body art is seen as cool versus not. That “not” can be anything from ugly, to “skanky,” or just plain weird. My parents didn’t let me get my ears pierced until I was 13-years-old, and even that was a concession as the original age was set at sixteen. By the time I was 11, I knew I wanted second holes, my bellybutton pierced and a tattoo, at the very least. My parents, convinced that the whole thing would pass by the time I was old enough just kind of ignored it. Instead, I did the whole shebang: at 13 I got my ears pierced, followed for a brief moment by my tongue when I was 15 and second holes when I was 16. A series of cartilage piercings followed closely when I was 17 and finally, when I turned 18, I bought a lottery ticket, some porn and headed to my favorite piercer for my bellybutton.

My boyfriend when I was a junior in high school was a college student who worked at a piercing and tattoo parlor as a desk clerk and apprentice tattoo artist. I used to leave parties around 1 a.m. to hang out with him for a little bit before he got off work at 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and to see who came in. Obviously, that late on a weekend, most people were drunk asking for a litany of barely thought-out jobs. One girl walked in, lifted her shirt and straight out asked him if he thought she should get her nipples pierced. Spending so much time in this arena, I was able to see both the positive and negative aspects of body art.

So the real question is, what do we think? Or I guess, as the columnist, what do I think? We live in a sort of liberated generation, where our parents’ fears are focused more on STIs, drugs and our futures than on what hair color we have or how many holes are in our ears. There are (obviously) really awesome things about having it this way, but there are also things that maybe we should have been warned about. Unless you’re living in Spain, which has a sort of no-holds-barred attitude about personal fashion, it’s unlikely you can get a job if you have a barbell through your eyebrow or a tattoo that runs from the bottom of your ear to your wrist. We all know, and probably use, the term “tramp stamp,” and don’t pretend that you don’t associate it with a certain kind of activity and person. I myself battled with my father’s firm belief that tattoos are un-Jewish before deciding to go ahead and get one anyway.

Beyond maybe three or four holes in our ears, every decision we make about how to decorate our bodies is judged by people who weigh not only our general cultural standards, but also their own prejudices when coming to conclusions about us upon first meetings. So while in reality most of us have probably thought about getting a nipple or tongue pierced, know someone who has a Prince Albert, or want tattoos on our feet and hands, we struggle with the knowledge that we may find ourselves socially or professionally ostracized should we make those decisions. Body art is a means of personal expression and as such it is intensely private. Maybe that’s what we should all be going for. Acquire all the piercings and tattoos you want, but keep them for yourself, and your significant other to enjoy. Nipple rings, tattoos and bellybutton rings don’t necessarily have to be shared with the world. Instead, they can be interesting surprises for those lucky enough to get us naked.

In reality though, it doesn’t matter what other people think. If you feel hot and sexy with your body as a canvas or left the way it came, that’s all that matters. One day, all the bosses and politicians will be people closer to our age who may have made some of the same choices as we did, and it won’t matter so much anymore.