Body Mod Hypocrisy feedback

Back from the near-dead! I’ve gotten my technical issues resolved so there should be no more future problems!

Now, this post has been a long time coming, but a while back I asked some friends to answer some questions for me regarding hypocrisy in the body modification community. And these are their responses.

Cheryl answers:

1) List what you think of when you hear “body modification”. Anything and everything.

Anything that alters your appearance, hair colour, tattoos, piercings, scarification, makeup, nail polish, fake nails, plastic surgery and contact lenses (especially circle lenses).

2) Of those you listed, which ones do you deem “acceptable” for society? Why?

All. They all are acceptable in their own ways.

3) What hypocrisies in body modification bother you most? Like which ones hit closest to home?

Have blue hair, get told you shouldn’t do that by people who have blonde highlights and other “natural” colours.

Get insulted for having tattoos? The person insulting you has permanent makeup on.

Get insulted for having piercings, destroying your body, the whole shebang, they have ear piercings! Heck maybe even a nose piercing!

Wear dark makeup or bright makeup, you shouldn’t hide behind that mask says that woman with a face full of too dark foundation.

Black nails are so depressing, says the woman with dark blue nails.

So you got a boob job because you really didn’t like the size of your breasts! That’s alright! But of course as soon as someone finds out you get an ear full about how you should have been satisfied with what god gave you. Woman gets into a car accident and her face is brutally mutilated, she gets plastic surgery to reverse the damage she is praised for getting though it.. even though some would say that the car accident and what happened to her face was an act of god so she should have kept it. ;]

I’ve only had to deal with the hair, piercings, makeup, and nails. Really funny seeing people try to insult what you are doing when they are doing the same things. Annoying though.

4) Anything you’d care to contribute on the subject.

People are always going to be hypocritical. Doesn’t matter if it’s about body mods or anything else.

Perfect example, a person who shows up stoned to work on a daily basis.. isn’t really seen to have a problem at all even though they are under the influence at work, they are just “a big stoner”. A person shows up to work drunk on a daily basis.. it’s a big deal since they can make more of a scene.. they are under the influence at work and they shouldn’t be. Even though the stoner won’t be as belligerent, why isn’t it a big deal for someone to show up stoned to work but when one is drunk it’s a big deal? Shouldn’t both be treated equally as bad?

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LAUREN:

1) List what you think of when you hear “body modification”. Anything and everything.

Piercings, stretched lobes, tattoos, implants (trans,sub, dermal) scarification, branding or whatever getting an image burnt into your skin, tongue splitting, plastic surgery

2) Of those you listed, which ones do you deem “acceptable” for society? Why?

Piercings to an extent, tattoos (as long as they aren’t offensive like pussy licker or fuck you across the face) to any extent, dermal implants as long as they aren’t facial.

3) What hypocrisies in body modification bother you most? Like which ones hit closest to home?

People saying that tattoos and unnatural hair colour is unnatural but they are sporting an ear piercing or a smallish tattoo. Or on a personal note my mother got her first tattoo when she was 43 but I still got tattoos before her. She than proceeded to get 2 more, however it’s like a HUGE sin for me to want to get tattooed but it’s okay for her even though I am of legal age and I pay for it myself. Or it’s okay for my cousin to get a piercing/tattoo but OMG if I get a piercing or tattoo than that’s just nuts! I hate modded people bashing other modded people for their mods.

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HANNAH:

1) List what you think of when you hear “body modification”. Anything and everything.

Tattoos, piercings, branding, scarification, any form of cosmetic surgery (I don’t count medical surgery, as modification is a choice, and most, if not all, medical surgeries are not), hair styles, hair colour, makeup, nail polish, nail clippings, contact lenses, etc. Essentially, anything that alters your appearance, regardless of how permanent.

2) Of those you listed, which ones do you deem “acceptable” for society? Why?

I deem every form acceptable. It’s visual self expression, and I believe every person on the planet has that right from the day they are born to the day they die. Whether I personally find one aesthetically pleasing or not is entirely irrelevant.

3) What hypocrisies in body modification bother you most? Like which ones hit closest to home?

It bothers me when people are accepting of piercings and tattoos, but not stretched lobes or anything else. To me, it’s all or nothing. Or when people say you’re going to hell for being pierced and/or tattooed and “ruining the body God gave you,” when they themselves have lobe piercings, or have clearly gotten cosmetic surgery.

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CHARLOTTE: 

1) List what you think of when you hear “body modification”. Anything and everything.

Mainly I think of piercings, tattoos, branding, scarification, implants (of any type) and plastic surgery. But really little things, like dying your hair, shaving, even clipping your nails is body modification. I think it’s cool because even the people most against “body modification” do it too without even thinking.

2) Of those you listed, which ones do you deem “acceptable” for society? Why?

Every single one as long as they are appropriate. For example, getting “FUCK YOU” tattooed on your forehead with bleeding and flaming skulls to the side is not appropriate. If you feel the need to get something inappropriate, at least get it somewhere where yo can hide it, for the sake of others and perhaps future employers. As long as your modifications are tasteful and done well, I’m cool with it. Anything is acceptable, but there are limits to when and where they are deemed acceptable.

3) What hypocrisies in body modification bother you most? Like which ones hit closest to home?

When people just bash body modification in general, especially when they have no knowledge in the subject. You can’t put a a good argument when you have no knowledge. Another one is if you have any piercing besides what others have. If they have on helix and you have a triple helix all of the sudden you are mutilating yourself just be wise you don’t have exactly what they believe is acceptable. This one isn’t really a hypocrisy but it bothers me when people ask why I got a said piercing done. I understand they are curious, but use a little common sense! I get pierced because I want to, not because John Doe has that piercing and he is just so cool. (although that is a reason some people get pierced) Or because Jane Doe told me to get said piercing.

4) Anything you’d care to contribute on the subject.

Just because someone chooses to modify themselves, it does not make them any less of a person than someone who does. And if someone chooses NOT to modify themselves, they are not any less of a person who does.

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 ANONYMOUS

1) List what you think of when you hear “body modification”. Anything and everything.

– Exciting

– Beautiful

– Knowledge/Education

– Open mind

– Significance/Memories

Piercings, tattoos, scarification, hair dying, manicures/pedicures, dental/breast/skin implants… can’t think of anymore at the moment.

2) Of those you listed, which ones do you deem “acceptable” for society? Why?

Personally, I think all of them are acceptable, because they are done to alter our appearances in personal preference. It’s not hurting or endangering anyone else, other than the body modifier, when a modification is performed. Though if I was a “reputable business person”, I might not hire someone who went “overboard” (as in, cannot function on a day to day basis or the modifications interfere with physical work) and/or is immature/ignorant/uneducated about modification.

3) What hypocrisies in body modification bother you most? Like which ones hit closest to home?

I am disturbed greatly when people say things like “it’s just for attention”, “it’s just a fad” and/or “if you get tattoos, you will regret them later or you will hate them when they are wrinkly when you are old”. Well maybe I want to be noticed… it’s not a fad when humans have been doing some of the modifications for centuries now… if I get tattoos and they became wrinkly like me when I’m older, they will still hold the same significance and memories like they always did.

Not sure if this matches the question, but I get bothered when people say things like, “I could have done the same piercing for you, but cheaper,” or “They aren’t professional, anyone can go do what they do.” No, you can’t do the exact same thing, you have no knowledge and experience. Yes, they are professionals. There’s reasons why they are working in shops and not in homes or anywhere else. There’s reasons why they are always willing to keep learning about modifications, why they always have concerns about their clients and make sure to give them the best service they can provide.

4) Anything you’d care to contribute on the subject.

Yeah, DON’T be an IDIOT, go get everything PROFESSIONALLY done. NEVER stop learning and ALWAYS be accepting of others personal preferences.  

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NAME WITHHELD BY REQUEST:

 1) List what you think of when you hear “body modification”. Anything and everything.

First of all, modifications themselves. Piercings, tattoos, scarification, cosmetic surgery, ear-pointing, tongue-splitting, hair-dying etc, etc. First thing that popped into my head today was a girl with purple hair and snakebites.

Then all the things associated with them: beauty, self-expression, art, etc.

2) Of those you listed, which ones do you deem “acceptable” for society? Why?

For me personally, any healthy mod that isn’t deliberately worn to offend (someone else mentioned a “fuck off” tattoo on the forehead… another one I consider inappropriate is one I’ve had described of a sleeve with two lesbian devil chicks getting it on…). What I see society accepting, though, is piercings in the ears, cheeky small hidden tattoos, boob jobs, nose jobs, and not-too-far-off-natural hair dye.

3) What hypocrisies in body modification bother you most? Like which ones hit closest to home?

The ones I hear most are people with shitty gun-pierced lobes complaining about how any other piercings are “barbaric” “disgusting” “unhealthy” and “disrespectful to your body”, and people with no clue how to care for piercings ignoring advice from less modified people, as they couldn’t possibly know their stuff.

That latter one hits me closest to home. I am not heavily modified, I’m light on the piercings, I’m tattoo-free… but the reason for that is I pay the extra to get top-notch jewellery and to get pierced by a fantastic piercer, and I know my body and my health, so I’m cautious. I have done (and am still doing) my research, firstly for my own safety and then purely out of curiosity… so it does upset me when some idiot with a nasty, red, oozing piercing with jewellery a good half-inch too long and a pocket full of alco-wipes tells me I don’t know what I’m talking about.

4) Anything you’d care to contribute on the subject.

There is a remarkable amount of hypocrisy both within and outside of the “modified community”, from people covered in tatts expressing disgust at people with breast enhancements, to people drawing arbitrary lines between what is “okay” and what is “wrong” and “inhuman” and fiercely defending those standpoints. I just wish that people would stop and think about what they’re saying sometimes.

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BIANCA:

1) List what you think of when you hear “body modification”. Anything and everything.

Well back a few years ago, I just thought it was just plastic surgery, but I realized that it’s also tattoos, piercings, scarification, etc.

2) Of those you listed, which ones do you deem “acceptable” for society? Why?

All body mods should be accepted. The person choose to modified themselves, and if they’re happy about it, nobody should be trying to bash it.

3) What hypocrisies in body modification bother you most? Like which ones hit closest to home?

Oh god, I hate when people bash it, but the worst are religious bashers. I know this personally since my mom goes all bible when my brother mentioned he wanted a tattoo.Another is saying “Oh, you’re destroying your face” or “Modded people are destroying themselves.”

4) Anything you’d care to contribute on the subject.

Don’t get gunned ever. And don’t DIY your mods unless you are a trained professional. Also, be accepting of other people’s likes for mods.
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LOTUS:

1) List what you think of when you hear “body modification”. Anything and everything.

Piercings, tattoos and scarrification of course. Cosmetic surgery, hair removal. An argument can be made for less lasting things like nail polish and haircuts/shaving, but they don’t tend to jump out to the front of my mind. And corset training, because it can have a dramatic and lasting effect on your torso’s overall shape. It sure has mine.

2) Of those you listed, which ones do you deem “acceptable” for society? Why?

I don’t think I get to decide what society at large is accepting of, but I know I always enjoy seeing well-done tattoos and piercings, and have a tendency to want to talk shop with other corset training people when I meet them. I think every sort of mod has its place and should be an option, but I think that the more permanent mods should be approached like any other major life decision: with research and thought.

3) What hypocrisies in body modification bother you most? Like which ones hit closest to home?

I don’t have any tattoos myself, but it bugs the heck out of me when people with pierced ears or cosmetic work are rude to friends with ink, and I also find it really infuriating when people with any sort of mod(or wearing high heels. The pain one is especially rich from someone in steep heels.) imply that my corset must be painful, or that it’s going to damage my organs. I’ve been corset training for several years now, thanks. If it were painful or affecting my health, I’d have stopped. I am very careful with my corsets and have done my research. Just because you don’t enjoy it doesn’t mean I’m not doing it safely and having a blast.

4) Anything you’d care to contribute on the subject.

I get sort of weird unhappy feelings when I see a pre-toddler with pierced ears, and I can’t really explain why, but I got mine pierced as a something-teenth birthday gift from my folks and I feel like that’s alright. I would probably not have a very young child wear a real, body-shaping corset either, but my sixteen year old sister recently got her first corset and now we’re training buddies, finding outfits to wear with our modified silhouettes. I guess what I’m trying to say is, please wait to start modding your children until they express an interest in it and are old enough to understand some of the implications of permanence. It’s a personal thing, and it should be a personal decision. Even little things like ear piercings can last a long time, and if someone doesn’t like them they should be free to not have them, same as people who want them should have the freedom to go get them.

My thoughts on the new TLC show “Tattoo School”.

It’s been said best once, so why waste my breath?

He is a seasoned, weathered, experienced tattoo artist, so offensive language will be contained within.

What are your thoughts on this new show? Good idea or bad? Do you think it will have lasting effects on the tattoo community, artists and collectors alike, or will it just be a passing fad show?

Tattoo Aftercare

Now that your tattoo is complete, your tattoo artist should go over aftercare with you. Use this as a refresher or a reminder, but remember that you can call your tattoo artist if you have any specific questions.

LOTIONS:
First things first. On the way home from the tattoo shop, you’ll need to pick up some lotion for your tattoo. You can also do this before you go in for the tattoo as well. You cannot use just any lotion for your tattoo. You want to avoid colors, dyes, glitter, and especially scents. Scents can really irritate newly tattooed skin; any girl who has used scented lotion on newly shaved legs knows exactly what this feels like. It burns, itches and leads to red bumps and razor burn-like reactions. So, what can you use?

My personal favorite tattoo lotion is called Aquaphor. Every tattoo artist I’ve spoken to recommends this lotion. It’s a Vaseline like texture without being Vaseline, which is bad for tattoos and we’ll get into that later. It absorbs into the skin slowly, allowing for the most moisturization possible. And a little bit of this stuff goes a long way, so a single small pot will last you the entire healing period of your tattoo and beyond.

What other lotions can you use? Since not everyone lives in the same area, or even country, lotion brands are going to vary, so I’ll list as many as I can and hopefully you’ll be able to find at least one in your area. Good lotions for tattoos include: Aquaphor, Eucerine, basic Lubriderm, A&D lotion, and some have even had good luck with basic Aveeno lotion and E45 lotion. Bottom line, you want the most basic, bare necessity lotions you can find. You want lotions with no scents, no colors, no sparkles or glitter, no products that contain Vaseline, petroleum, lanoline, or aloe vera. Even though the tattoo may feel hot and like a sunburn, you don’t want to use aloe vera because it doesn’t get absorbed into the skin well and can actually dry out the skin.

Do not use Vaseline, Neopsorin or Polysproin, Bacitracin, or any other healing ointment. These aren’t absorbed into the skin well and actually trap any bacteria against the tattoo, which can increase your risk of infection.

Some shops will carry a product called Tattoo Goo. I’ve never used it, but have honestly heard conflicting reports about its effectiveness. It usually comes in small tins, so it’s not a good idea for larger tattoos, since you’ll run out quickly and will have to keep rebuying more and more tins. Some say that it’s effective for healing, while others have had issues with it. My cousin was actually allergic to something in Tattoo Goo that made her break out in a rash even getting it on her hands and fingers. Honestly, if your tattoo is small and you want to try it, go for it. I just think it’s a little too expensive for such small volume, usually, and it’s so much easier to just get lotions you can find in a drug store. They’re usually cheaper, much more volume, and you can restock whenever you need. If you run out of Tattoo Goo, you either have to go back to your tattoo artist when the shop is open, which can sometimes be a pain, or just hope that another shop carries it. Of all the various shops I’ve visited, no one has carried it. So there you go.

Once your tattoo is finished, you’re going to want to leave the plastic wrapping on it for no less than 2 hours, and no more than 24 hours. Depending on the time of day you finish your tattoo, you can even sleep with the cover on if you wish. Once you decide to take the wrapper off, you’ll need to rinse your tattoo clean of any leftover ink, lotion, lymph and plasma that may be left over. Stay out of the shower if you can help it. The water pressure is much too harsh for a new tattoo. Just cup your hand, fill it with cool water and very gently run it over the tattoo. Don’t use hot water, and don’t use cold, either. Nice and cool and refreshing will be just fine. Pat it dry with paper towels and let it air dry the rest of the way for about 15 minutes, then apply your first layer of lotion. Most of the time a little goes a long way, you want to apply just enough to make it shiny. Do not rewrap your tattoo for any reason. Believe it or not your tattoo does need to breathe to heal properly. Even though your skin itself doesn’t need to breathe, we’re not amphibians after all, but a new tattoo does need to have fresh air flow over it to allow it to heal properly.

When you do shower, don’t let the water beat directly on the tattoo. Not only is that incredibly painful on a new tattoo, but you don’t want to saturate the tattoo with water because that can cause scabs to drop off prematurely and that can pull ink out of your skin. You can load up on extra lotion before you shower to help create a sort of barrier between your skin and the water, but you also want to wash your tattoo. Some artist say you can use anti-bacterial soap on the tattoo, but my personal preference is to not. Anti-bacterial soaps tend to dry out my skin and make it tight. I’ve even had my hands crack and bleed if I use it too often to wash my hands, I can only imagine what it would do to my tattoos! Just warm water and a soft hand running over the tattoo is fine. DO NOT use a loofa or shower puff or wash cloth, because these things are filthy, harbor bacteria and can scrub off scabs, again, pulling ink out of your tattoo.

You should be applying lotion about 2-3 times a day. Do not over apply. Apply fresh lotion when you wake up, after you shower and before bed at the bare minimum. You can also apply throughout the day if you notice your tattoo getting dry and tight, but only apply in thin layers and with clean hands. Usually, just the 3 times a day is enough.

HEALING:
For the first few days of your tattoo, slight bleeding, plasma weeping and ink-bleeding is normal. Plasma is a clear fluid secreted by your skin, its natural reaction to trauma. It’s the same clear stuff that oozes out after a bad rug-burn. Slight bleeding is normal for the first day or two after the tattoo, and should stop quickly. Ink-bleeding is just excess ink being removed, washed away, and cleared up. This doesn’t mean your skin is rejecting the tattoo ink completely, it’s just basically deciding that it doesn’t need that much and gets rid of the excess. This is normal, so don’t freak out.

Some people can be allergic to tattoo inks. It seems this is most common with red colors and white colors. There’s no way to know if you’ll end up being allergic to tattoo ink until you get tattooed with it. The most common reaction to ink allergies is the ink will be forced from the skin, meaning that you’ll have to get it re-tattooed later on with a slightly different color, a different ink mixture, a different brand, etc., to avoid whatever it was you were allergic to. It also usually manifests as an itchy rash around the area. Don’t scratch it, just double check with your tattoo artist to make sure it is just allergic reactions and not infection, and they’ll direct you on the best course of action from there.

Depending on the location of your tattoo, sleeping and sitting can be difficult and even painful. You want to make sure everything that comes into contact with your tattoo is clean and soft. For bedding, I recommend changing into either old sheets that are still clean, or getting new cheap sheets that you use just for tattoo healing. Tattoo ink can stain, and certain lotions can leave greasy stains on the sheets, and you don’t want that on your good bedding. Most of the time the ink and lotion stains come out in the wash, but sometimes not, so better safe than sorry. Make sure your blankets are newly washed and clean as well. I’d wash them at least every 2-3 days as well, or at least change for a new set. It sounds like a lot of work, but for a healthy tattoo, it’s worth it. You can also wear a clean cotton t-shirt or cotton sweatpants when you sleep to help protect your tattoo from contact with the bedding.

For clothing during the day, wear loose clothes that are soft and comfortable. If you got a thigh tattoo, for example, you don’t want to wear super tight abrasive denim jeans. Wear soft loose cotton sweatpants or pajama pants as often as possible instead. Or wear shorts short enough to expose the tattoo. If your tattoo is on the back of your shoulder, either wear a shirt with a low back like a cami tank top, or just walk around shirtless as much as possible. When you do need to cover it, again, choose something light and soft, like cotton. Common sense and comfort will kind of rule here, so wear what’s comfortable and what works best for you.

As you begin to heal, your tattoo will start to scab and peel. For the love of all that is holy DO NOT PICK THE SCABS. This is one of the worst things you can do to a healing tattoo. Picking the scabs off will pull out chunks of ink, leaving bare patches or uneven color in the tattoo. It also opens up the skin again and can allow infectious bacteria inside. Just keep up with the lotion and within about two or three weeks you should be healed up completely. Even after the scabbing phase is over, the skin itself may still be a little sensitive, almost feeling like a mild sunburn. This is not unheard of and will clear up over more time.

The average healing times for most tattoos is about 2-3 weeks. How you take care of your tattoo, the lotion you choose, and how well you take care of your body and skin can all affect this. Avoid smoking, drinking, and caffeine as much as you can during the healing process. Get lots of rest, drink lots of water, eat healthy. You can take an over the counter multivitamin if you want just to keep all of your vitamins and minerals up to encourage your bodies full healing potential.

Even if you treat your tattoo perfectly, sometimes bare or light patches in the tattoo can still happen. Most artists offer free touchup for at least six months afterward, some offer them for a year, or even a lifetime. If you notice these light patches, just call up your artist, tell them what’s up and set up an appointment for touchups. Treat the new touchup tattoos as you would a new tattoo, and start the healing process over again. Touchups are usually small areas and take a bit less time to heal, in my experience anyway.

AVOID INFECTION, AND LEARN TO RECOGNIZE IT
The best way to avoid infection is to keep your tattoo clean. Do not over clean if you’re paranoid, because this just leads to prolonged healing, excessive irritation, and can actually damage your tattoo. Basic hygiene and proper lotion application is really all you need. Avoid dirty locations, like pools, hot tubs, saunas, lakes, rivers, oceans, home bathtubs, etc. Don’t let people touch your new tattoo. Make sure any clothes or bedding that come into contact with the tattoo are clean and freshly washed. Don’t pick at or scratch the tattoo, because that opens the skin up and leaves it vulnerable to airborne bacteria.

I personally have never had a tattoo get infected, and I’ve really never met anyone who’s had their tattoo get infected. It can and does happen, but as with most other body modification infections, 99% of all cases are wearer’s fault, not tattooists or piercers fault. Meaning YOU did something that exposed the modification to infectious material that caused it to be infected. Tattoo infection can be recognized by swelling, excessive redness and soreness, pus oozing (pus is green, dark yellow, or “spicy mustard” colored, foul smelling and thick/goopy), and excessive pain. The only way to treat true infection is with doctor prescribed antibiotics. If you honestly believe that your tattoo is infected, go see a doctor, or even your tattoo artist for verification. They’ll be able to tell you the difference between infection and just irritation and will tell you when a doctor visit is needed.

DO’S AND DON’TS:
Do not expose your tattoo to extended sunlight at any point during the healing process. Sunlight is a tattoo’s number one enemy once healed. Nothing will fade and distort and fuzzy out your tattoo faster than exposure to UV rays, natural or artificial. This means no sunbathing or tanning for the first few months of your new tattoo. Once it’s fully healed you may show it to the sun, but you MUST wear a sunblock with at least 30 SPF and UVA and UVB protection. Reapply as often as the bottle instructs, and limit sun exposure as much as possible. You shouldn’t have any extended exposure to sunlight for at least the first 3 weeks of a new tattoo. The longer you can go, the better.

Avoid all bodies of water, like pools, hot tubs, lakes, oceans, rivers, saunas, steam baths, home bathtubs, etc. These are all festering cesspools of filth that can damage your tattoo. Soaking in water can also pull ink out of your tattoo as scabs soak off. I read a book once called “Tattoo Machine: Tall Tales, True Stories, and My Life in Ink” by Jeff Johnson, and he described hot tubs as: (paraphrasing) “Ever wonder what that foam in hot tubs is? It’s like an ass, dick and pussy cappuccino.” I haven’t been in a hot tub since reading that, I just can’t get the visual and horror out of my mind. Great read, by the way, I suggest everyone pick this up or borrow it from the library.

Respect your tattoo and your skin. A tattoo is considered an invasive procedure, and it will take more than just a few days to heal up. Leave it alone other than to wash it and apply lotion, don’t pick it, don’t scratch it, don’t touch it, and just leave it alone!

Don’t let other people touch your tattoo. I can’t believe I have to say this, but based on past experience, apparently I do. Do not let other people, with their filthy hands, touch your new open wound. Sure, it does feel odd and weird, but if they want to feel what a new tattoo feels like, they can go get their own and feel up their own for themselves. You have no idea where people’s hands have been, what they’ve touched and you’re now exposing your new, open, very vulnerable wound to those germs, which can very easily cause infection. Gross.

If you have any questions, concerns, or just general curiosity about your new tattoo, never be afraid to give your tattoo artist or the shop in general a call. The only stupid question is the unasked one.

Only Skin Deep

This blog seems to be focusing mostly on piercings, which wasn’t really my intention. It just seems that piercings are more popular, are easier to screw up, and usually has more information that needs to be covered. But since there is more to the body modification world than just piercings, this next entry is all about tattoos.

A VERY BRIEF HISTORY OF TATTOOS
Oh goodness, the history of tattoos is a long and colorful one. Nearly every culture that has walked the earth has had its own form of tattoos. Asia, Africa, Europe, India, North and South and Central America, New Zealand and Micronesia, I can hardly think of one area of the world or one culture that doesn’t have some history of tattooing in it. Many have done it for religious or even medical purposes, to mark the passage into adulthood, to mark important events in the individual’s life, among other reasons.

It was only in the early to mid 1900’s or so that tattoos began to take on a negative connotation. It was believed that only foreign people, sailors, sideshow spectacles, criminals and other “dregs of society” were getting tattooed. Certain religious influences are partially responsible for this as well, as more western cultures viewed tattooing as barbaric or savage.

As of the last thirty years or so, tattooing has seen quite a resurgence. It’s becoming more an art form now rather than marks of pride, of where one’s been and done, and people enjoy being a walking canvas. Many people who would never even dream of getting a tattoo in their entire life actually would consider, or even have, permanent makeup, which very much is a type of tattoo.

WHAT IS A TATTOO?
So, now that there’s a little history behind us, what exactly is a tattoo? A tattoo is described as an insertion of ink beneath the dermis layer of skin to change the pigment. Before the invention of the modern tattoo machine, people would poke the tattoo into the skin with sharp sticks, shards of metal, animal bones, thorns, or the skin would be cut and dyes rubbed in. That’s actually one of the explanations of how the word “tattoo” came into existence, because that was the sound of one stick hitting another stick that held the needles dipped in ink as it was tapped into the skin. “Tat to! Tat to!”

In the past, people have used soot, charcoal, and other natural dyes and pigments to create their tattoos, the colors of which were extremely limited, probably just blacks and blues. More recently, tattoo inks are made of vegetable ingredients, trace metals, carbon, and synthetic pigments.

HOW DOES IT WORK?
In modern times, with modern tattoo machines and inks, the insertion of ink is much easier, faster, and I would imagine less painful. We actually have Thomas Edison to thank for the modern tattoo machine, though that wasn’t his intention for it when he created it. Rather, he meant for it to be a duplicating device or an engraving device for hard surfaces, and it was later discovered by a man named Samuel O’Reilly that it could be altered and modified to hold ink and inject it beneath the skin. He later patented those modifications into the tattoo machine we all recognize today. It’s remained relatively unchanged since that original patent.

As clarification, it is not called a tattoo gun. That name came about mostly because of the shape of the machine. This is because the machine does not shoot the ink into the skin. Rather, it injects it like a hypodermic needle underneath a few layers of skin.

The skin has essentially three major layers, and the tattoo machine injects the ink into the second layer. In the first layer, the body would replace the cells and the tattoo would disappear. Too deep, and the body will flush away the ink. The ink doesn’t even sit as deep in the skin as the hair follicle, so the myth that tattoos can interfere with and damage vital or important nerves is absolutely false. Here’s a handy diagram:

The tattoo machine uses a cluster of needles and creates a puncture wound in the skin, injecting a drop of ink as it goes. Most tattoo machines run at about 50-200 injections per second, and this can be altered to suit the needs of the specific tattoo, going slower or faster. The amount of needles used each time can also vary, depending on what’s needing to be done. Liner clusters, used to make thin lines and outlines, have anywhere between 1 and 5 needles, and can be arranged in a long line or a small cluster, to make thin or thick lines. Shaders, used for filling in large areas, hold about 4-6 needles in a row. Other shaders will have clusters between 5-8 needles arranged in a diamond shape or partial pyramid shape. All of this can be altered and moved to accommodate whatever effect the artist is trying to create.

WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE GETTING A TATTOO
Probably the most important thing to remember is that tattoos are for life. Wrap your head around that, any young people who are reading this. FOR. LIFE. Until you die. Until you’re worm food. You’ll have it at your wedding, in the hospital when you have your kids, when you watch those kids graduate from high school, at your work retirement party, at the bridge table when you’re in the old folks home. FOR YOUR ENTIRE LIFETIME. Whatever you may be into right now you may not like in 20, 30, 40 years. So, do you really want that Justin Bieber tattoo on your wrist? Do you really want to explain to your grandkids the significance of the gigantic Charlie Sheen wearing a tiger skin across the back of your shoulders? Do you really want to be in your golden years, walking along the beach in Hawaii with naked chicks humping flaming devil skulls scrawled all down your entire calf?

As cliché as it is, and how much I hate to hear it, you do have to think about where you might be when you’re 80. My personal response to this is “I’ll be 80, I won’t care what I look like and even more so I’ll have earned the right to not care!” But you still have to think about it. So you need to make sure that the tattoo you want is something you’re going to continue to love for the rest of your life, and that the artist you choose is capable of making the tattoo beautiful.

HOW TO CHOOSE A GOOD ARTIST AND SHOP
It may sound daunting, but finding a good tattoo artist involves more than just walking into your most local shop and taking whatever it is they have to offer. Not all tattooists deserve to call themselves “artists”. There are no laws preventing just anyone from buying a tattoo machine, bottles of ink, a business license to operate as a shop, and then they can start tattooing. Some don’t even take the time and effort and money to open a legitimate shop, they operate out of their homes, or go on house calls. We’ll go into why these guys are so bad a little later. So just because someone has all the tools it doesn’t mean they’re really qualified to use them.

Non-professional tattooists are called scratchers, because they tend to just scratch the tattoo haphazardly into the skin and call it good. They won’t follow sterilization procedures and laws, they have no artistic skill whatsoever, and you’re going to get a terrible tattoo because of it. So how do you tell the difference between a good artist and a scratcher?

The best way is to recognize that a professional will NEVER work out of his or her or someone else’s home, their car, a basement, a back room in some random business establishment, etc. They will have a specific SHOP that they work in, specializing in tattooing and sometimes piercing as well. Not all tattoo shops pierce also, though I’ve never found a piercing-only shop, either. When you do find an artist in a shop, ask to see their portfolio. This will be a binder, a book or some other record of their past work, to show what they’re capable of. Some artists specialize in a specific style, like portraits, traditional Japanese style, etc. Just because an artist specializes in a certain style, does NOT mean they can’t do other styles. They may refer you to another artist who does specialize in what you want to assure that you get the best tattoo possible. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Sometimes you can ask the artist if you can sit in on a session with another client to see them at work. Of course, you MUST ASK and get permission from the artist and the client for this. Working artists should be wearing gloves 100% of the time, and changing them CONSTANTLY. If they have to touch something while tattooing, like the phone or they drop something, they should be taking the old gloves off before touching the item, and replacing them when they come back to the station.

Once you find an artist you feel comfortable with and who has the quality of work you’d like on you, make sure the shop they work in is up to par. It should be clean and uncluttered, and smell like a doctor’s or dentist’s office, smell clean. The tattoo stations should be clean and uncluttered, and each station should be separated by a wall, or at least a partial wall. Most I’ve seen are stone or cinder block, rising to about chest height or more. Each station should have a door, curtains, or another way to shut off visuals 100%. The employees should be clean and neat, professional yet causal looking, if that makes any sense. People who tattoo and who get tattooed tend to be artistic, maybe a little eclectic, so they shouldn’t be wearing suits and ties and business sets, but their jeans should be washed, their hair should be shampooed, their teeth brushed, that sort of thing. They should be willing to answer any questions you may have readily and fully. Don’t ever be afraid that a question is dumb, or obvious, or inappropriate or anything like that. The employees should all be absolutely willing to answer your questions, find the answers, or refer you to someone who does know the answer. If they don’t answer you to your satisfaction, ask for clarification. If they refuse to answer a legitimate question or concern of yours, walk out.

Demand to see autoclave spore test records. This is VERY important. The autoclave is the same machine that doctors and dentists use to clean their reusable tools. It uses steam or chemicals and pressure to destroy and kill 100% of all potentially living germs, viruses and organisms on whatever is placed into it. Some shops operate on a 100% disposable system, meaning they never reuse tools. There is nothing wrong with this; you just have to make sure that they really ARE throwing away everything after each use and not using dirty tools on various people or reusing dull and dirty needles on people. If a shop does clean and reuse tools, you can ask to watch them open these sterilized packages in front of you to assure that they are brand new clean and sterile.

Demand to see any licenses to operate (state business license, city license, etc.). Demand to watch them set up their station and watch them remove new needles from sterile packages. Make sure everything is single use, sterile and thrown away after each use and each client. If the artist you talk to denies even one of these requests, walk out. Ask if the artists or shop belong to any professional organizations, like the APP (Association of Professional Piercers). These memberships are not required, since many can be expensive to maintain, but if they are members they’re likely to have current, up to date information on health and safety, laws, regulations, trends and new innovations in the industry.

Ultimately, trust your gut. Bring a friend for a second set of eyes and ears and opinions. If something about the shop makes you uncomfortable or uneasy, leave. If something about the artists or the people you talk to make you uncomfortable or they don’t answer your questions satisfactorily, leave. Remember that you’re going to be paying these people to perform a service FOR YOU, so if they’re not up to YOUR standards, find another shop and another artist who is.

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU DECIDE TO GET YOUR TATTOO
So, you’ve found the perfect shop and the most amazing artist. You have your design ready to go, but what if you can’t draw, like me? How do you get what’s in your head onto paper, and ultimately into your skin?

Any tattoo artist worth their machine will draw you a custom piece of artwork if you don’t have one of your own ready to go. And even if you do have something you want, they will be more than willing to help you finish it, perfect it, alter it, tweek it, whatever needs to be done to make it perfect. Bring in any designs you have made up already, any reference pictures, books, materials, even movies or DVD’s, ANYTHING you have that will help the artist and you design the perfect piece of art.

Bring your materials with you when you walk in. Initially, you’ll talk to an artist about what you’re visualizing and what you want to do. The artist may take measurements of the area, pictures of the area so that they can use it later with the final artwork. They may do a quick rough sketch of the idea to get down important points, then will have you come back in a few days for the final piece. Some will ask for a deposit on the artwork, just so they know you’re going to come back for it and they’re not wasting their time drawing custom work that you’ll never come back for. The average seems to be about $50 for the deposit, and that will be added into the final cost of the tattoo. Once you agree on the design, you’ll either start then, or will get an appointment to come back later and get started.

This is about the time when you decide on a final price. Sometimes artists will ask you early on what your price range is and will work with you, cutting the tattoo into several sessions at a certain price each time, if necessary. There is no such thing as a general price range for any tattoo, since there are so many factors involved that will affect it. Location of the shop, region of the world or country, the piece itself, the amount of detail in the art, the size of the artwork, the individual artist, the shop’s minimum price, etc., will all affect the ultimate cost. Some artists charge solely by the hour, no matter the size of the piece or how long it takes. Some will agree that a small tattoo should only cost however much, say about $60, even if their hourly charge is $100 or more. Talk with the artist, discuss payment options and your price limit, if you only have so much money to spend you can very much work on a tattoo in sessions. If they’re not willing to work with you, walk out. Again, THEY are performing a service for YOU, and since you’re paying for it, it’s going to be on your skin forever, everything should be done to your satisfaction, within reason.

The day arrives! How should you prepare? First of all, EAT SOMETHING!!! I know a lot of people are nervous about getting their tattoo and forget to eat, or don’t eat enough. You really don’t want to get tattooed on an empty stomach. I recommend eating something hearty, with solid proteins and good sugars and complex carbohydrates in it. Getting tattooed is a traumatic experience for your body, so it needs the energy to combat the pain and trauma. On your way to the shop, you might want to swing into a store and grab a juice, or sports drink, but avoid energy drinks and sodas. The juice and sports drinks will help you replenish sugars and electrolytes lost during the tattoo process and keep you stable, while the caffeine in sodas and energy drinks will drain you, make you shaky and get your heart rate up, potentially making you bleed excessively during the tattoo because caffeine can thin your blood.

Once you get to the shop, make sure you watch the artist set up their station. You should be able to watch them open new sterile packages, wrap and rewrap their machine, their station, the chair, everything around them in disposable plastic wrap. They should be changing their gloves CONSTANTLY during this process.

Once the artist is ready for you, he or she will have you come over and they’ll examine the placement once again. The area will be shaved of hair, if needed, and your skin will be cleaned. The stencil will be placed on your skin, if you’re using one. If not, the artist will draw on your skin what is to be done. Then you’ll review it in the mirror, give them the all good, and you’ll get started!

During the tattoo process it’s important to remember to BREATHE!!! If an area hurts, do not hold your breath. You can get lightheaded that way. My personal ritual is to inhale for four or five heartbeats, then exhale for four or five heartbeats. This will keep your breathing regular and deep and keep your heart rate even. Sip your juice or sports drink as you go, and don’t be afraid to ask the artist for a break if you need it.

Once the tattoo is complete, your artist will then wrap it up in plastic wrap and tape it on. This is to protect your newly open skin from outside elements and allow it at least a few hours to start scabbing over. This is a very important step, because again, it keeps germs in the air, from your clothes, from the car seat on the drive home, out of your new tattoo. Tattoo inks can also sometimes stain, so this protects surrounding surfaces as well. Now is when you’ll be paying your artist, cash or charge or however you chose to do it is fine. I’ve talked to some artists that will actually charge slightly less if you pay in cash since the shop has to pay a fee for the operation of the charge card machines, and that’s annoying. Remember also to tip your artist, however much you feel is appropriate. Use the same guidelines you would if you were in a restaurant. Anywhere between 10-20% of the total cost is customary, but if you’d like to tip more because you had a great experience, love the work, the artist was fun and entertaining, then by all means tip more. Besides, tipping makes it hurt less. ^_~

Now you have a beautiful tattoo, a mark that reflects yourself for the rest of your life. It’s an expression of who you are, what you believe, what you stand for, and how you view the world around you.

In the next entry, we’ll discuss the aftercare of your tattoo, what you should and shouldn’t do to it and with it, what happens if you notice something wrong with your tattoo and need to get it fixed. We’ll also look a bit into tattoo removal products and procedures, how effective they are, and other alternatives to cover, remove, or improve a tattoo.

So don’t go too far!