No pain, no gain: changing the face of body modification culture stereotypes, practices, and the law

Take a second to think about this. Do you, or anyone you know, have a piercing, tattoo, or other form of aesthetic body modification? Have you ever seen somebody with any body modifications? Chances are, you’ve said yes to both of those questions, so let’s get down to what matters: smashing the stereotypes surrounding body mods and creating a new era of enlightenment around them.

In 1998, a survey revealed that intravenous drug use and youths with tattoos and piercings were strongly correlated, leading to bloodborne diseases from shared needles. This deadweight stereotype has been dragged into the 21st century, where laws governing hygiene and training practices are needed to keep any respectable body mod artist afloat. While the glass ceiling separating the decorated and the unornamented is cracking, it’s yet to shatter due to the early pigeonholing of a subculture of “freaks” as drug-addled, problem kids. If you’re somehow unfortunately still lumped into this mindset, consider the number of lovely individuals history has produced, who are rather lacking in the body mod area.

The same 1998 survey revealed that 10% of people aged 14 and over have had a tattoo and 8% have a body piercing besides their ears. Mods aren’t a new fad at all- it’s been done for thousands of years and it’s not uncommon in many cultures (think India’s piercing traditions and Maori facial tattoos). Western stigmatization is an unfortunate byproduct of taking a social and cultural phenomenon no different or damaging to having a smoke out of context. Taking into consideration their ever-growing prevalence…

…it’s time to get serious. To be fair, health risks associated with body mods are very real, though not everyone’s keen to admit it. A big problem is that laws governing body mods aren’t nationally enforced in Australia, and vary from state to state. Aside from the Professional Tattooing Organisation of Australia working with government health officials to regulate safe practices, the world of body mods is still riddled with potholes. This precarious situation can afford for dodgy practitioners to jump through legal loopholes, leaving the uninformed at serious risk of catching anything from HIV to hep C. Worse, there is no formal schooling in the practice of body mods- an apprenticeship and some equipment is really all you need to get started in your “professional” career as a piercer or tattoo artist.

It boils down to this: for change to happen, it’s a two-way street where the term “no pain, no gain” applies to more than just needles and skin. The more the law cracks down on the industry, the more likely it is that body modification practices are conducted safely and sensibly. For the enthusiasts, a growing community is scattered nationwide in Australia. While the old stereotypes may still stand due to a few individuals who are a little slower on the uptake…

…don’t let this put you off getting that piercing or tattoo you’ve always wanted. The times, they are a-changin’, and the future’s looking brighter than the metal in a fresh piercing.

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