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Body piercing, tattoos Would you?

April 16, 2002

Mark Twain once said, "When you find yourself on the side of the majority it is time to pause and reflect." But would he still being saying the same thing if his daughter wanted to join the minority of people who have their tongues pierced?

Pretty soon she might not in the minority. Tattoos and body piercing are more popular than ever, especially with the younger crowd. Asher (who did not want his last name published), a body piercer at Voodoo Tattoo in Hagerstown, concluded that the majority of his clients are between the ages of 16 and 21.

So, what's the reason for the recent surge in popularity of once obscure practices such as body piercing and tattooing? And what would posses a man to go through the pain of having a large needle shoved through his sensitive areas? Well, the answer depends on whom you ask.

"Honestly, I have these piercings and tattoos because I like them," said 18-year-old Jillian Weller of Middletown. (Jill has one-inch thick plastic rings in each ear, a nose and eyebrow ring, a tattoo on her arm and ankle, as well as a piercing she claims she can't show us.)

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"I mean, I realize I attract a lot of attention and I don't mind that, but all this is for me," she added. "It makes me different from everyone else and I like the way it looks."

While Weller claims her body art makes her an individual, others say that they get their bodies pierced because they want to fit in.

"One day me and my friends just went and got it done," said 16-year-old Kayla Lawrence, lifting her shirt to show-off a belly button piercing. "I like it; it looks cute."

Self-expression, individualism or conformity - whatever the reason for the piercing, the bottom line is it seems that nearly every teen is jumping on the bandwagon and that doesn't sit well with some parents.

"I think that it's just a fad," said mother-of-three Susie Michael. "I believe many kids may regret permanently damaging their bodes just to fit in as adolescents."

Other parents, skeptical about the cleanliness of tattoo parlors and the professionalism of the artists themselves, worry about the safety of their children. However, Voodoo Tattoo artists say they use hospital sterilization techniques, making sure all needles are new and fresh out of a sterile plastic bag. All re-used tools, such as forceps, are autoclaved and sterilized with ultrasonic sound before every use.

So, have you decided to brave the needle (and your parents) and get a tattoo or piercing? Now there is the question of what to get, where to get it, and how many you want.

According to Asher at Voodoo, the most popular spot to get pierced these days is the tongue. "It's the trend," he said. "People think it looks cool and a lot of people get it done because their girlfriend/boyfriend wants them to. I'm definitely doing a lot more tongues than I used to."

Other popular spots include the belly-button, eyebrow and nose. Want something different? It looks like you'll have to go all out and try a surface piercing.

"Surface piercings are pretty rare," Asher said. "But every once in a while someone will come in and get their arms or legs pierced all the way up like railroad tracks. Genital piercings are pretty rare too. If we get one a week that's a lot."

Do you squirm when your doctor gives you your hepatitis vaccination? Then you definitely wouldn't want to get anything pierced in cartilage, as experts claim the pain is pretty extreme. Other obvious painful spots include the genitals and nipples.

Tattoos more your thing?

"The most popular tattoo that I do on girls is definitely roses and butterflies," said Jason, a tattoo artist from Voodoo who does not want his last name in the paper. "For guys it is definitely tribal designs. I don't really understand it but most guys these days want something tribal."

Whatever design is punctured into your skin, you bleed. And you need to be ready to take care of your skin after the tattooing to prevent infection.

OK, so that doesn't deter you. You've decided to get your nose pierced and while you're there you figure you might as well get that Elvis tattoo you've always wanted. There are still some things you need to know.

Make sure you bring ID proving you are at least 18 years old, and if you're not of legal age, make sure you bring a parent willing to sign for you who brings ID proving they are indeed your legal guardian and not someone you found on the street.

If you're getting a tattoo, make sure you shave the area around the spot. "If you don't shave, we have to do it for you," Jason lamented. Also, be sure you are not pregnant, as the shock from the needle could cause a miscarriage.

Finally, for your own safety, watch the tattoo artist/body piercer carefully. "Make sure they never touch anything without gloves on," Asher said. "Everything should come out of a sealed bag and they should open it in front of you. If you have any questions about safety or sanitation you should definitely ask."

It has never been safer or more mainstream to get a tattoo or a body piercing, but that doesn't mean you should put this paper down and get it done it right now. Both are fairly important decisions that shouldn't be made in a drunken stupor or done at home with an icepick. You can do as you please and pierce what you want, but just remember that Bugs Bunny tattoo might not look the same when it is twice as big and your employer may not appreciate your six lip rings.

To pierce or not to pierceonly you can decide.

Aaron Michael and Justin Warner are seniors at South Hagerstown High School and interns at The Herald-Mail.

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