Extremes of expression

As body art becomes more common, some people choose subtle piercings and tattoos, and others are more willing to share their ado

As body art becomes more common, some people choose subtle piercings and tattoos, and others are more willing to share their ado

October 12, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

You have to look closely to see Candy Craig's nose piercing. You have to look away to miss Judy Bernard's tattoos and body piercings.

Craig and Bernard, both of Hagerstown, stand on opposite ends of the body art-as-self-expression spectrum. But they exemplify a trend that's crossed all socioeconomic boundaries.

Tattoos and body piercings have gone mainstream - so, for body art enthusiasts who want to get noticed, it takes more ink and creative puncturing than ever before to stand out in a society where tattoos and piercings rarely make people stop and stare.


"People see it all the time now. It's not unusual anymore," says registered nurse Myrna Armstrong, a professor in the School of Nursing at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center who has been tracking body art trends since 1989. "It's not just the biker who's getting a tattoo or piercing. The renaissance has gone into the middle and upper classes. And the more you see something, the more comfortable you are with it."

Parents, peers and some employers are more accepting of body art than they were in years past, Armstrong says. She cites a recent study of nearly 500 college students, the majority of whom said they support the practice of body piercing. And many parents who strongly objected to body art have relaxed their opposition because they realize they've got more important issues to worry about, Armstrong adds.

"I'm floored by how many women have tattoos - and they're not biker chicks," says Christopher Bell, 39, a computer programmer and Hagerstown-based guitarist in the country-rock band Ashley Marie and Family.

Bell boasts five tattoos that reflect his lifelong love of music and film. Fewer people comment on his body art now than when he got his first tattoo at age 24, he says, but today's dissenters voice a familiar protest.

"People get hung up on that permanence thing. There are so many other things you can do that are more permanent - being overweight, not finishing school, working a dead-end job," Bell says. "Removing a tattoo, that's an afternoon."

He says exotic body piercings have usurped some of the shock value that tattoos once held.

"I think tattoos have gained widespread acceptance because there's a lot worse out there now," Bell says. "I guess it's my age bracket, but I don't get that piercing thing."

If Judy Bernard's multiple tongue, chin, nose and eyebrow piercings don't attract too much attention anymore, her "vampire kiss" sure does, she says. And if the six beaded hoops sticking out of her neck in front of her throat don't draw oohs and aahs, then the tattoos covering her skin from shoulder to shin might.

Bernard says she has continued to alter her appearance with body art since she got her first tattoo - a large black panther on her right leg - six years ago because she loves the way it looks and feels. And she likes the mixed reactions she gets from onlookers.

Most are awed; a few are appalled; all are curious, says Bernard, 52.

"They want to see all my tattoos," she says. "And they can't get over the piercings."

Like Bernard, a small percentage of the tattooed and pierced population "grab for the unusual" in a bid to assert their uniqueness, Armstrong says. Most people, however, get relatively tame tattoos or piercings to express their individuality, she says.

Candy Craig's tiny nose piercing is an adornment she'd wanted since meeting an Indian woman as a child. She finally had it done in 1997 while living overseas.

"It just seems to fit my personality," says Craig, 30, a singer-songwriter and massage therapist. "It makes me feel more confident."

Ed Higgins, who has a wild coyote tattoo on his right arm, two ear piercings and a tongue piercing, says other people's negative opinions about his body art have prompted him to consider having his tattoo removed.

"If God meant for us to have tattoos and piercings, He would have given them to us," says Higgins, 24, of Waynesboro, Pa. He's undecided as to whether he'll keep his tongue piercing, he says.

Sonja Hoover has tattoos of a cross and a flower on her hip area and lower back. Hoover and her husband enjoy the tattoos - but she opted to keep her ink out of sight in order to maintain a professional appearance for her job as a fiscal/research specialist for the Washington County Economic Development Commission.

"I purposefully had them put there because I didn't want to offend anybody," says Hoover, 32, of Hagerstown.

Elizabeth Lewis plotted her tattoos around her job as a middle school teacher in Frederick County, Md. The Hagerstown resident - whose husband is a tattoo artist - boasts a whale on her shoulder, fish on her foot, cherries on her chest and two large gargoyle-like creatures on her lower back.

"I don't know what (my employer) would say if I got visible tattoos," Lewis says. "I can't even wear a white shirt now because my tattoos would show through, and I don't know what they would say about it."

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