Welcome to a very a special segment of Self-Care Sunday! One of the things that I advocate for with this series is that it is vital to do whatever you can to take care of your emotional, mental, and physical health; that it is 100% okay to prioritise the needs of your health and wellness above all else. How else are you going to the make most out of your life? More often than not, the articles are me sharing my own experiences, what has worked for me, what did not work, and any ideas, tips, or suggestions that I may have regarding specific topics discussed.
This week’s Self-Care Sunday (albeit it’s a couple days late, which I sincerely apologise for. Yay for random, shitty health scares) is going to follow in the same vein in that it is about self-care via self-expression.
One of the biggest hurdles that I had to get across in my nearly thirty-one years of life is discovering who I am as an individual, learning to accept and love myself for who I am, and also for not allowing myself to change or alter credence for people who don’t have my best interests at heart, even if they strongly feel as they do. They very well may, but if it’s tuned to their personal beliefs and morals over that of my own, then introspective contemplation is required. I remember when I had to do that when I realised that I was a gender non-conforming individual who was also asexual and biromantic. I knew there were people who would blame my identity on my “trauma,” or “abuse from past relationships,” but in my heart I knew that I had always been this person. I was simply making excuses and denying myself my own identity to compensate for other people’s discomfort with said identity and the way it conflicted with their values and beliefs. Body modifications are no exception to these sorts of attitudes and pressure.
When I decided I wanted to have body modifications, it was a process that required deep thinking and for me to understand, for myself, why I wanted this and why/how important is it in my life to me as an individual?
Body modifications get a shitty reputation, usually pertaining to drug users, criminals, or some other highly negative and harmfully incorrect stereotypes. There are many other reasons to get body mods, such as for cultural affiliation and practices, sentimentality, and much more that have nothing to do with the dark, dreary, and gritty bullshit that society uses to shun us away from a highly misunderstood artform. Body modifications can be essential to an individual’s mental and emotional health, for their self-care, if it’s something that is really important to them. Self-expression is a powerful tool and technique for coping with tons of mental disabilities and I think it’s about time we shed some light on how it all works.
This week, I’m tossing the reigns over to Sir Betrothed!!! They are a Christian Pastor, a piercing apprentice, and also an advocate for the body modification industry, particularly in how it’s an amazing artistic form as well as a means of self-expression that will mean something different for everyone who participates. They also have about six tattoos of their own! So, please check-out this marvellous article written by Sir Betrothed. They did interview me for their article, and it was quite fun (and quite a bit pensive) to say the least!
Hello all, I am the much heard about Sir Betrothed and I wanted to steal a little space of the BiblioNyan to share with you a subject that I am very passionate about. Body Modification. For those of you who didn’t live through much of the 1990s and even early 2000s, it may seem weird to know there used to be a time where seeing someone with some sort of piercing or tattoo was a rare thing. It started being more common towards the end of the 90s and into the early aughts, but it wasn’t until the last decade or so that it became so prevalent.
To put this into perspective, thirty years ago there were only five hundred tattoo shops in the United States, now there are over twenty-one THOUSAND. That is an increase of over TWENTY THOUSAND in only thirty years. This shows that the demand for modifications has increased over the past three decades and with that a demand for professionals to assist people to become the person they see in their mind.
With that short history lesson aside, let’s get to the subject at hand. I want to discuss a few things here; Firstly, why modification is important to those who do it; and secondly, some guidelines to help you find the correct shop in your area with some general etiquette guidelines to ensure a good time for you and your artist.
I would like to shed some light on what drives people to get modified. If you talk to someone who doesn’t understand, or hasn’t been through it, you usually will hear one of two things, “Why would you go through that, doesn’t it hurt? (To which I reply, “Not as badly as you’d think, and the slight pain you feel makes you appreciate it more.”) Or “What will ________ think? Or you can’t get a job if you get that done!” (To which I would reply, “While I respect ______, this is something I am doing for myself.”) As far as the job, that one is something you have to weigh yourself. If you are lucky to have a job like mine that doesn’t care and pays enough to cover bills, then cool. But not everyone is that lucky.
For me, tattoos have been my modification of choice. I can remember being really young and getting fake tattoos in a cereal box and seeing them on my skin always just felt right. I started plotting my own tattoos around ten or eleven (thankfully I didn’t get any then as my tastes have changed quite a bit) and while I always got the lectures as to why I shouldn’t get them (what will people think, you can’t get a good job, and for me, at least, there was an element of religious thought processes and how it might affect any ministry I may or may not have), at nineteen I finally got my first tattoo. I was nervous but knew that it was something I had to do to feel right with my skin, and from the moment that first set of ink laden needle bars hit my skin, I knew this is what I needed in order to be complete. I now have six, which isn’t a lot by most standards, but hey bills before ink. I won’t say all my tattoos have this deep esoteric meaning, but they all have meaning for me in some way. Over all though, as I get each piece and it becomes part of me, it helps me feel a bit more whole. I think that is the thing about modification that is hard to explain to other people, that there is an innate feeling deep inside you that doesn’t feel whole until you see that first bit of ink, or that first piercing, and just know that it’s right and you are on your way to being who you are meant to be.
Making that choice to be modified can be a really difficult one. You can be torn between what you feel a need to do, and what society (be it family, friends, or work) may say about it. My advice is don’t allow yourself to be incomplete; know that you may lose people in your life, and you may get dirty looks and comments, but this is something you really have to do for yourself and no one else. If this is something you need to feel whole with yourself, and you can withstand those who would hate you for it, know that you may find a whole new community of people who will help you and embrace you for doing it.
Now, that word vomit was my own personal feelings. I wanted to share an alternative view and asked our gracious host, Neko Neha, some questions to get their take.
Sir Betrothed: When did you first know you wanted to be modified?
Neko Neha: The first time that I realised I wanted body modifications was probably after I had my nose pierced for the very first time—I was about 16 and it was all my mom’s idea due to cultural reasons—and I liked how it looked. It made me curious about other piercings. I became interested in tattoos not long afterwards because I had some friends who had tattoos and for most—if not all—of them the tattoos had deeper meanings behind them. I felt that artistic expression like that, especially if there is sentimentality tied to it, was really awesome.
SB: What does Modification mean for you personally and in general?
NN: Since I grew up in a super conservative house-hold, I was never allowed to dabble in any realm of self-expression that utilised physical modification. This wasn’t only limited to piercings or tattoos. I was never allowed to dye my hair an “unnatural” colour; wear clothes that weren’t “appropriate,” i.e.: all black, men’s clothing, tomboy attire, etc.; even wear jewellery that could be construed as inappropriate or that went against cultural beliefs, i.e.: nothing with snakes, dragons, or any animal of any kind, etc. Because of that I always felt uncomfortable in my own skin and this identity that I was forced to upkeep. I never felt like myself. My mom even made me wear girl clothing. At the time, I felt wholly wrong identifying as a girl, but back then we didn’t have the open and expressive means of identification that we do today. I didn’t know I was a non-binary or gender non-conforming individual, I just knew that specific gender labels were not for me. Being called a woman was a symbol of oppression and inequality, and frilly girly dresses and shit. Being a man was a label of being the oppressor, as well as someone who disrespects and feels entitled (these were my thoughts growing up, not my current beliefs). I felt I was born wrong, somewhere in the middle. Years later, and I mean years later, when I finally escaped the conservative and suffocating environment, I finally had the freedom to explore my identity and dabble in self-expressionism that I wasn’t able to as a child.
I met Sir Betrothed (YOU) and we would have these long, very interesting and usually pensive chit-chats on body modifications and what it meant to individuals. This was also during the same time where I figured out my personal cultural identity and began to accept it and explore it in ways that were intimate and important to me (Asian-Polynesian). That conversation combined with my desire to connect more to my cultures and find a way to express my identity freely, would eventually lead to my desires to get modified. So… all of that jazz said to answer your questions: body modifications—piercings and tattoos specifically, because I know there are more beyond that—are a means of me connecting to, practising, and accepting my cultures, which are Indian and Fijian, and it’s a personal means for me to finally be comfortable in my skin no matter how “abnormal” it is in relation to society. In order for me to be myself and for me love myself, I need to accept myself. A good example of this are nose piercings. I have a septum piercing and a left nostril piercing.
In traditional tribal Indian cultures, through the ages, the septum piercing is a symbol of coming-of-age. The nostril piercing has two meanings behind it: initially it was a sign of being betrothed or married to someone else, so a sign of ownership as you will. But then as women began to rise up against inequality and being oppressed by the patriarch, they would get their left nostrils pierced as a sign of freedom, as a means of taking back their lives and owning it. That was very powerful to me, especially when growing up I was told I couldn’t do certain things because I was a girl, so to speak. So, the nostril piercing became a cultural mark of fighting oppression and inequality between genders. So… that’s essentially what body modifications mean to me.
SB: How did you know what modifications where right for you?
NN: This is a bit of a difficult question to answer as I am still in the process of sorting out what modifications I want. I don’t want to have every single one planned out all meticulously, which is a challenge in and of itself because of my nature to plan shit out. But I think most of them will come as I get older and more sentimentality or self-exploration leads me to ideas. So, far the only one I have planned out for a definite must-have is my left eyebrow. In Fiji-Indian belief, if you are a woman and your left eye twitches, it’s a sign that something bad is going to happen. If the right twitches, then you are going to be blessed with good tidings. Ever since I was a child, every time my left eye twitched, I felt very crippled by fear and at the prospect of that terrible thing that was headed my way. While most of the time, these beliefs have actually proven to be rather correct, it’s a terrible way to live—constantly in fear. I want to break that cycle of fear and my way of expressing that is by breaking the messenger of bad news, or by piercing my left eyebrow. It’s a symbol of me breaking the cycle of being oppressed, again, but in a different form. I highly suppose that most, if not all, of my modifications will revolve around themes of fighting oppression or negativity. When they aren’t about that, then they will be about my multi-cultural parts of self-expression, like a traditional, Fijian tattoo. When I think about them, I can feel it in my heart that they are a perfect fit for me and for the first time in my life, I feel like I’ve figured out who the bleeding hell I am.
SB: Any advice for someone who wants to be modified but aren’t sure how to go about it, or don’t have a good support network around them?
NN: I never had a support network around me when it came to modifications. Even some of my friends who had modifications of their own, tended to be judgemental about other people and the mods they would have (they/we were all teenagers and decidedly entitled dumbasses at that time period; they don’t feel that way now at all). Then there was my mum. I would sometimes talk about tattoos and she would humour me by chatting with me about artistic ideas and where I could get them. But it was mostly just a way for her to connect with her adolescent kid. For her and my father, tattoos and non-cultural body piercings (i.e.: anything aside from the nostril and ears) were sinful and not tolerated in our religion. This was the belief for many in my cultural, familial, and religious circles.
So, I know very intimately how challenging and discouraging it is to not have any support from the ones closest to you. But you know what? There is a whole community out there that will support you. That will listen to your ideas, help you create ideas and help whatever artistic designs you have in mind grow, and they will even tell you if your idea is dumb (such as getting a poop emoji tattoo on your middle finger because some celebrity has it, and yes… it’s a thing, unfortunately). In the very same way that misunderstood otaku have founded and built a community on mutual love of anime, manga, video games, and comics, we have a community and a family built on the passions of body modifications and the artistic culture that it is. You just have to be willing to reach out. The first step would be go into a tattoo/piercing shop that you feel is trustworthy (see Sir Betrothed’s information and suggestions above or below for finding one of these ), and sit down with an artist. If there is an exposition or convention in town, find a way to attend and chat with the professionals there. They are going to be your best resource. Don’t just look up videos on YouTube or Instagram. Being in the environment can be very inspiring and positive for folks who want to explore this part of self-expression, and it’s best to speak to people who’ve been in the business for years. They will understand you and what you wish to accomplish the most, and even help guide you further into the community for support. Lastly, if your friends or loved ones really want to support you, they will take the time and make the time to talk to you and understand the whys and hows and importance of this part of you. If they would rather tell you you’re wrong without hearing you out, then they aren’t worth your time or your passion, no matter who they are.
So BiblioNyan’s reasons while somewhat similar in ways, was completely different, as theirs highlighted a need to connect with culture and break free of oppression brought by religion, culture, and society norms to be like everyone else and accept their role based on gender (also I love the idea of saying Fuck you fear with the eyebrow piercing). While mine are about a need to be one with myself, carving my own path, and breaking free of suffocating restraints. The wonderful thing about this culture [body modifications] is that it is completely one about finding things about yourself and being able to express them in very personal and healthy ways.
Now for part 2: Your Artist and You!
First thing you need to do is find a good shop to go to. Whether piercing or tattoo going, to a bad shop is going to sour you on the whole venture, leave you with bad art or infection, and just be a bad time for all. So, you may be asking. “How do I pick one out of the several hundred or more around me?” Well, firstly, every tattoo artist and piercer should have a portfolio of their work, either online or in the shop. Look through it, and when doing so, first figure out if their work matches what you are looking for (more for tattoos), and secondly look for bad work in it (for piercings this would be like something done too close to the surface, which shows the piercer isn’t good at placement and is not someone you want poking holes in you; for tattoos look for clean straight lines; if your artist can’t draw a straight line, they can’t draw any fucking thing else either). Those portfolios are the best way to figure out if someone is worth the money you are going to pay. On that note, money is another factor. QUALITY WORK IS NOT CHEAP WORK. Be prepared to pay for quality (even more so with tattoos; don’t cheap out on something that will always be with you.) If your choice is between paying less or getting good quality, save up for quality. Also check to make sure the shop is clean; a dirty shop is just asking for infection and bad times
Secondly, remember the thin line, which is this. You don’t know as much or close to what your artist does. They’ve been doing this for a long time, or at least have been training under someone who has. Listen to their advice on placement, and style as they are trying to give you the best-looking art or jewellery that you can have, and that may at times mean telling you why your first idea may not work well. The other side of that line is on the artist, they should be patient with you and not be pushy or rude. You are paying them for a service and putting a lot of trust in them. It is a two-way street and I encourage you to work with your artist to come to the best possible solution to meet your vision and their understanding of how it will look based on their experience.
Lastly, respect the art form! Don’t get tattooed or pierced in these situations; You’re drunk/high (you won’t make good choices, you will be obnoxious, will probably move a lot which can be very bad, and you will feel more pain/bleed more—all of which are bad news). I personally recommend not getting something just because someone you like has it; example “O my God the tattoo/piercing that *insert celebrity here* has, I want one just like it.” It’s just not a good idea. I mean, who knows if you will even like them in five years? Sure we get inspired by seeing something on someone else, that is a given, but don’t make your sole reason of getting something, to be you wanting to look like your favourite celebrity. This is a personal thing; try and respect it. And really, it’s hard to be unique when you look like everyone else. 😉
Well, that about does it for me. Thank you for reading my ramblings and musings, and I hoped I shed some positive lights on this little section of the world, as well as hopefully inspired some of you to get out there and start their modification journey. Remember to always modify safely and respectfully.
I hope you enjoyed this joint-article, which was all Sir Betrothed’s idea and creation. If you’d like more information, or are interested in learning more, or if you simply want someone to chat with about this, my inquiries and my DMs on Twitter are always open.