‘THE first spiritual want of man is decoration’
“We had a 70-year-old woman who asked for a tattoo of a stick man pushing a lawn mower on her pubic mound."
I couldn’t agree more.
Every morning I deck my hands with my uniform of rings and my three trademark chains - and that’s just my removable jewellery. Though I haven't opted for more permanent adornments as of yet.
Of course, tattooing isn't a fleeting fancy like deciding to dye your hair bright pink and it isn’t for the faint-hearted. The thought of putting myself through a Tattoo Fixers episode sends my mind into a tailspin. I won’t even buy a pair of trainers without some serious reflection.
Where tattoos and piercings were once an ode to rebellion, they’ve become more commonplace. I challenge you to walk into a bar or restaurant in the Northern Quarter without seeing a smattering of tattoos interspersed with beards of varying lengths and volumes and piercings that aren’t limited to earlobes. And I’m not just talking about the men.
But why do we want to change ourselves? Is it because we want to project our inner uniqueness outwardly on the world? Or is it because we’ve become hardcore trend-followers? I wondered how many would wish the ink wasn't so indelible when the trend blows over...
I remember when I first entertained the idea of getting my ears pierced. My sisters all wanted to do it but were too chicken shit to ask Baba (that’s dad in Arabic to those who don’t know). So I sauntered in at half time, assuming my assigned role as the sisterhood martyr, while dad's favourite Egyptian football team were 2-1 up and asked him if I could punch a hole in each of my ears, to which he said, 'of course, why were you scared to ask?’ Around ten years on, and sixteen piercing sittings later, I’m a veteran to the sensation of a cold sterile piercing gun permeating my flesh. I genuinely worry about walking through metal detectors when I next decide to attempt to leave the country.
As a ‘lady’, I won’t detail the levels and locations of the metal that adorns my body, but I know that for my own cultural and religious background, my attitude to piercings is not considered conventional. It’s regarded as outlandish, deviant, and non-conformist. I’ve shed three piercings over the last year, deciding that they’ve become too mainstream and that they don’t fit with my own individual style. My piercings are an extension of me. Therein lies the beauty in piercings – you can just take them out. Job done.
Why do people decide to modify themselves? Helen from Holier than Thou, a Northern Quarter tattooing institution, explained: “We get sixteen-year-olds who want ear piercings and we get 60-year-olds who want their tongues split. Even people who are anti-tattoos and body modifications have had their ears pierced.”
We chat over the buzz of the tattooing needle inking a very calm woman to my immediate left. Helen explained to me that she would never be branded or have a scarification done but she had her ears shaped and her tongue split. “Manchester is very cosmopolitan – the variation of cultures and mixes is astonishing and means that people are open-minded,”she says.
It’s impossible to ignore the number of septum piercings that seem to have sprung up with celebrities like Rihanna sporting high-end jewellery that appeals to the younger and more impressionable. But body modification knows no age boundary: “We had a 70-year-old woman who asked for a tattoo of a stick man pushing a lawn mower on her pubic mound." But whilst these might all be elective choices, some of them aren’t reversible. You can’t just sew a bit of your ear back on if you have it removed whereas a DIY home peroxide experiment is reversible with a good hairdresser, right?
"I loved the idea of being able to create new skin for myself," says Jordan, a tattoo enthusiast (pictured). She explained that she wanted to turn an insecurity about scarring into 'a thing of beauty'. I asked her if she cared what people might say about her. She said: "Those that matter don’t mind and those that mind don’t matter." Well said.
Still, there's a hosts of assumptions society may make about someone who chooses to heavily ink themselves.
"Back in 2008, if you were a girl with a lot of tattoos people thought you were a lesbian or a goth," laughs Jordan.
Fast-forward eight years and that couldn’t be more untrue. Yet despite her body of artwork, Jordan believes 'you shouldn’t do anything extreme for a trend.'
A piercing can be spontaneous. A tattoo is for life - well as much as marriage is in the 21st century. We are whimsical and spontaneous, but changing our bodies isn’t the same as buying an outfit that makes us look like Mrs Trunchbull. Piercings don’t have the permanency of implants and tattoos. It all comes down to having a considered conversation with yourself. We create our own image, and choose how to portray that to those around us. Whether you do that by punching holes in your body, getting implants, or undergoing hours of intricate needlework, that remains your choice. It’s about expression as much as it is exhibition. I’m going to stick to henna tattoos. For the bolder among us, just make sure you hide that tattoo from your conservative nana at Sunday lunch.
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