Growing up with Tattoos and Piercings

If you have ever remotely considered adding a tattoo or piercing to your body, you have probably encountered that special someone who asks you jokingly, “So what are you going to do when youʼre 80?” Iʼd say most people feel insulted by that question, but maybe it should get us thinking. Who are we supposed to be when weʼre older? And why does everyone believe that at 80 we will all of a sudden regret whatever alteration weʼve made to our bodies. Who decided that tattoos would be something each and every teenager would regret at the sight of their first wrinkle or after the birth of their first child? Which authority on adornments decreed that all piercings should be rendered obsolete after age 30 (or 40, or 50?) Is the first AARP invitation in the mailbox our signal that weʼre aging and body modifications are taboo? Donʼt pull out the Frosty the Snowman sweaters and Hush Puppies just yet, letʼs take another look at this.

On March 8, 2012, my husband and I welcomed our daughter Victoria into the world. As she grows like a weed, Iʼve been wondering just how her presence has changed my beliefs about modifications, and Iʼve found that they have not changed at all. A life milestone like having a baby didnʼt alter my personality or change my behavior. She doesnʼt make me ashamed of myself, and in fact, I feel all the more empowered and secure in myself because of her! Her presence really encourages me to take hold of the things I believe, to solidify their meanings to myself, to remember that in order to be a great parent I must remain true to myself. As the Dalai Lama suggests, “Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, youʼll be able to enjoy it a second time.” So as I transition in motherhood, I will remain the same sarcastic, dry- humored, unstoppable mile-a-minute ball buster that Iʼve always been. I will remain true to myself so that I can honor my daughter by being the best example of a strong, empowered woman. After all, isnʼt that what we want for our children? To enable them to fly the coop, leave the nest, strike out on their own? How can I do that if I stop following the beat of my own drum and bend to someone elseʼs idea of what I should be and look like as a mother?

At Onetribe, a jewelry company dedicated to making fine jewelry for traditional stretched piercings, Iʼve spent the last 10 years of my life watching young and old alike strike out on a personal adornment journey. Itʼs my and my teamʼs job to make sure that people are educated about their jewelry and modification choices, and itʼs something we spend a lot of energy talking about with our customers. Sure we could just sell stuff and call it a day, but we think itʼs so important to walk with our customers, help them through their decisions, encourage them to make good choices. If someone wants to stretch their ears, scalpel a labret, tell us about a scarification, or talk about their tattoos, itʼs welcomed. Yes, we have those moments where we get an email from a 14-year old with 2” stretched lobes (exaggerating a little) and we raise our eyebrows. We worry that they havenʼt thought the whole thing through, that they really didnʼt consider how difficult it would be to find a job later. But instead of insulting them with a, “What in the world are you going to do when you get older ” speech, we will talk with them and remind them that people will discriminate against them because of their appearance. Period. Expect it. Donʼt hate, dear 14-year old, just be better, smarter, and more savvy than the ignorant who judge books by their covers. To sum it up, our personal decisions are ours to make, but donʼt expect everyone else to applaud them.

This may be the secret to life that our elders, those 80-year old figureheads that we all shall become one day; that life is about living good and honorably and nothing more. What is good and honorable for me may be odd and icky to you. My tattoos, piercings, and scarifications may be repulsive to the suburbanite, mini-van driving soccer mom, but that seemingly cookie-cutter way of life is just as icky to me. But suburbanite, urbanite, dynamite, we can march, hop, skip, and mini-van drive to the beat of my own drum and stop worrying about what will happen when weʼre 80. So tattoos sag. At 80, everything sags. One thing I can be certain of is that my body will tell a story of the choices Iʼve made, the places that Iʼve been, the people who I have met.

My dear friend Sid asked her 85-year old grandmother what she thought about a tattoo design she wanted to have done, and her grandmother replied, “Oh yes, you should get that. Itʼs very beautiful and thatʼs something you should wear forever. Wear it for me.” Wait. No “what are you going to do when youʼre my age,” no half-joking remarks about wrinkles and skin sags? In the wisdom of her years, Sidʼs grandma recognized that her choices were important to her, they meant something to her, and that when she did grow older, she would have a story to tell. Personally, I feel my story is only in itʼs second or third chapter. Iʼm just beginning, but I love where the plot is going. I make each choice as thoughtfully as possible, remembering to live with honor, respecting those around me, striving for truth day in and day out. And now I get to think about finishing those tattoos I started before I was pregnant and think about the new ones I might get after that. All with the most beautiful little bundle of living art, named Victoria, strapped to my back. I hope that she will grow up knowing how to respect other peoplesʼ opinions but to strike out on her own if she doesnʼt agree (even if that opinion happens to be mine!) Bare skinned, tattooed, pierced, or plain, I hope that when she is 80, she will look at her children and grandchildren with pride, and perhaps she will ask them to wear a little of their pride for her.

Note: Modification choices are yours to make, but remember to make them thoughtfully and after careful consideration. Tattoos, scarifications, and large stretched ears are very permanent. If youʼre very young or uneasy about big modifications, start out small and be conservative. You have your entire life to take this journey, so you donʼt have to try to climb Mt. Everest all at once. If in doubt, get piercings. You can take those out if you change your mind, your clothes, or your job.

Rachel Stevenson