Body Art

Photo by Rodolfo Clix on

I did not have my ears pierced until I was in my forties. I have an aversion to needles and I remembered watching brave souls getting piercings at slumber parties in a ritual that appeared brutal to me. The process involved numbing the lobe with ice and then sterilizing a needle over the flame of a gas stove. With a wine cork to steady the maneuver the needle pierced the skin of the ear lobe and pulled through a loop of thread that was tied into a circle. The brave soul willing to risk such a process would then move the string back and forth during the healing process to keep the hole open while also applying alcohol to both sanitize and dry the wound. 

Needless to say I was a willing witness to such torture but there was no way that I was going to become the victim of the barbarism that it appeared to be. Later I watched our family doctor pierce the ears of patients in a much more sterile manner. Even then I found the process too unappealing to risk. It was only when someone had invented a kind of staple gun for the ears that created a perfect hole into which a gold post was placed that I found the courage to prepare my ears for freedom from the old school earrings that always pinched my lobes. It proved to be easy and pain free and a wonderful decision that I probably would never have made without the urgings of my friend, Pat.

That is the extent of my willingness to create a permanent hole in my body. When I see men and women with multiple piercings on their ears, their lips, their tongues, their noses, their navels, and some very sensitive areas my needle phobia causes me to become rather dizzy. In truth I also find many of those choices to be unattractive, especially the ones on facial features. Of course being a rather open minded person I feel that deciding whether or not to do such things is a matter of personal taste. I just get a bit weirded out when they become excessive and I wonder what leads to a kind of addiction to creating holes to sport so much body jewelry. 

I have never had a tattoo. I once asked someone who had endured the steps of getting that form of body art if it involved any pain. She admitted that it hurt a bit and that was enough for me to vow that I would never engage in such a process. If I ever did garner the courage I would be rather circumspect. Mine would be some tiny image on my ankle or the inside of my wrist. It would have to be something very meaningful and personal but never a name or anything large enough to see from a distance. 

I can’t imagine getting a tattoo on my face. I see beautiful young people whose countenances are covered with ink and again I wonder what has driven them to hide under all of the images. It’s something I do not understand when I see someone whose entire body is like a walking canvas. I suppose that it might be considered beautiful by some but I see it as a kind of self destructive behavior like drinking too much, or taking drugs, or spending money recklessly. The compulsion to to anything in excess never quite squares with me. 

I once had a conference with a parent who had only recently been freed from prison. He was a nice man who was genuinely concerned about his son. He was remorseful for the crimes he had committed and the difficulties that his actions had created for his family. He wanted to be a better person and show his son how to live well. I sat in front of this contrite soul looking into a face dotted with tattooed tears. His arms were covered with tattooed expletives and gang symbols. He spoke of the regrets he had and I wondered if emblazoning his body with designs from a lifestyle he was hoping to leave was one of the things that he wished he had not done. I guessed that they made his reentry into society more difficult. 

As this man was leaving the conference we saw his son with a group of boys whose reputations were far from sterling. The father spoke to the group commanding them all to behave, work hard, study, do the right thing and be respectful to me. While I appreciated his advice I had no idea how much it would change those students. They became like choir boys in my class and began excelling academically and behaviorally. When I thanked one of them for the extraordinary change he explained that the tattooed tears on the father’s face had told them all he needed to know. “He killed or hurt people, Miss,” the boy explained. “Those tattoos showed us how many people he had put down when they messed with him. We have to be good or he will come after us.”

I never knew whether or not my once recalcitrant students were correct in their assessment of the situation but it lead me to a better understanding of the messages that our choices sometimes present. I have never been flamboyant and like to melt into a crowd so I keep my body decorating simple. I see how we present ourselves as a kind of art and in that regard we each prefer different styles. I’m fine with the two little holes in my ears. More power to anyone who wants more but lots of body art is not my thing.