The Desensitization and Introduction of Body Piercing as a Fashion Statement


Body piercing dates back thousands of years in tribes around the world. I know for example, that ear stretching, known as the subang, was done thousands of years ago by the people of Belize. Back then it consisted of wrapping banana leaves around bamboo. It may surprise you that modern forms of body modification along with many piercings were only just invented recently. The first piercing studio was only opened in 1975 []. In fact the people who invented some of the newer piercings like the rook (Erik Dakota) and the fourchette (Elayne Angel) are still alive and actively piercing today. I recently watched a documentary on CBC I believe entitled “The Last Nomad.” I found it particularly interesting (yet also somehow disappointing) how tribes around the world are being wiped out by urbanization and with it goes their symbolic and ritualistic meanings for their body modifications. Instead of body modifications being completely forgotten about, a new meaning has brought them into the mainstream: vanity. When I first started piercing it really bothered me (and still does occasionally)  that people could take something that was so meaningful to me and regard it as something no more than a fashion statement.

Marshall McLuhan tells us how the different communication technologies influence cognitive and social organization. He divides the different communication cultures in 4 categories; oral culture/society, written culture/society, print culture/society, and electronic culture/society. Using these categories we can better understand how body piercing evolved into mainstream fashion today.

First and foremost, before publications such as Piercing Fans International Quarterly and Body Play entered the written and print society in the 70’s and 90’s, and before people with various piercings were seen on television, people interested in piercing had no choice but to find themselves through oral society.  I recently met the man accredited with pioneering the modern primitive body piercing movement, Fakir Musafar, this past July. He turned 82 this year. I especially enjoyed his stories about meeting others who found themselves interested in piercing back in the day when this kind of thing was solely underground. There were no other cultures of communication tailored to include this new thing and word spread solely by oral culture. Through word of mouth, people were able to find each other and experiment together to create the exposure into the latter cultures of communication. Without the oral society the piercing publications would not have even existed, and electronic sources would surely be delayed in regards of this area.

Elayne Angel, the president of the Association of Professional Piercers, who also worked at the very first piercing studio in the United States, briefly describes how written and print culture/society has helped pioneer the movement in her book ‘The Piercing Bible.’ Here is an excerpt: Image

She also has a section of her book entitled “The Media Brings the Message” in which she gives credit to electronic culture for popularizing navel piercings.The music video ‘Cryin’ by Aerosmith in 1993 (coincidently the year I was born) was one of the first electronic sources to feature a woman getting her navel pierced. To show how unorthodox piercing was still considered even in the 90’s, consider Alicia Silverstone who was in the music video. She is recorded as saying that getting a navel pierced was “gross” during the video shoot. I find that ironic just because she has her ears pierced and I also know she has the perfect ridge for a navel piercing. After this music video became hugely popular there became a wild demand for navel piercings.  [ Pg.16]

With the commonality of body piercing in oral, written, print, and electronic culture and society we are no longer baffled/horrified by it. Thanks to desensitization, we now see body piercing in everyday fashion.


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