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Main \\ Unusual hobbies \\
  The history of contemporary body piercing

piercing


Body piercing is ancient and according to Ted Polhemus "arguably the most widespread of all the permanent (semi-permanent) body arts" (Polhemus 1996). The names and origins of all the types of piercings now practised is a subject covered in more depth in other publications such as Eye of the Needle or Modern Primitives. However, it is worth noting some facts to provide background.


Piercing is known to have been practised by the Romans, who used nipple piercings as a sign of bravery and functionally as a means of attaching cloaks. The Karma Sutra refers to the apadravya, a genital piercing, whilst a similar piercing, the ampallang (a horizontally orientated apadravya), is said to have originated in Borneo and in particular is associated with the Dyak tribe (Eye of the Needle). The Carafa Indians of South America wear a thin cane in the lower lip, this denotes one being in their prime of life. In Africa similar decorations can be found worn by the women but they are stretched to huge sizes, a possible theory as to the extent the piercing is taken to is that it was used to discourage the slave trade. Modern body piercing then, consists of an amalgam of body art from ancient and present day non-industrialised societies coupled with modern hygiene and piercing techniques. This has given rise to new, and more technically difficult, piercings such as the diath and rook invented by Eric Dakota and even more extreme the piercing of the uvula. Many types of piercings possible are show in the illustrations section.


There seem to be two main schools of thought as to how modern body piercing arose, one based in America and the other in the United Kingdom. Most books attribute modern body piercing to three men, Doug Malloy and Jim Ward, in the US, and Mr Sebastian, in the UK. Their contributions to body piercing are documented in both Eye of the Needle and Modern Primitives, and document piercing's development and expansion from the gay and sadomasochistic communities in the US. In this explanation the rise of piercing in the UK is attributed to Mr Sebastian and his connections with Malloy and Ward. The other account of body piercing's development, within the UK, was given to me by Dave of Cold Steel, a professional piercer who has been involved with piercing since he was fourteen. According to Dave body piercing had always existed to some degree amongst members of certain sub-cultural groups. The major factor in launching body piercing from being rare in such groups, and as a consequence becoming more common throughout the UK, was the opening of the first shop which produced jewellery specifically for body piercing. This shop, called Wildcat, is based in Brighton and is one of, if not the, largest supplier of medical grade stainless steel body jewellery in the UK. It was the availability of purpose made, hypoallergenic jewellery available cheaply and easily that contributed to piercings rise in popularity.


Piercing in the UK was, as noted above, originally limited to a variety of fringe groups, most notably the punks, 'travellers' and members of the sadomasochistic scene. These groups are by no means the only ones which practised body piercing, nor are the names assigned to them meant to be especially descriptive, they are meant purely to give a general indication of the fringe position which body piercing held.


The sudden and marked change in the nature of body piercing occurred about three to four years ago. This change was brought about by a number of factors but most notably the uptake of navel and eyebrow piercings by the fashion world, the piercing of the eyebrow of a member of the 'boy band' Take That and the increased amount of exposure given to the fetish scene on British television. These factors had three main effects. Firstly they made piercing fashionable to the general public, secondly they opened up the realm of extreme, as opposed to fashion, body piercing to people who had never realised it was possible and thirdly, people who had been piercing their own bodies for years were made aware of the extent to which the practise was widespread.

Eyebrow Piercings
The Hazards Of Body Piercing

One of the most modern body piercings is the eyebrow piercing. Coming from the "if it protrudes, pierce it" philosophy of the 1990s, the eyebrow has become rather popular, despite being a notoriously problematic piercing. This is actually a surface piercing, a placement of permanent jewelry in a part of the body that does not really have a skin fold

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Venerable organizations--American Academy of Dermatology, American Dental Association--frown upon the popular practice of piercing. And the American Medical Association goes as far as considering some forms of body piercing, as illegal surgery.

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Specific health hazards
Tongue Piercings

One type of piercing - in the tongue - has raised the ire of the American Dental Association (ADA). Last year, the ADA roundly criticized oral piercings, including those on lips, cheeks, and particularly the tongue.

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Many facial piercings are more contemporary in nature, and the tongue piercing fall into this category as well. You don"t see this piercing in tribal cultures, you see it being worn by middle-class American college students, rock musicians and porn stars. For some people this is an easy piercing and for others it can be difficult.

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Nose Piercings: Healing and Aftercare
Nose Piercings

One of the most common "old World" piercings to become popular in the Western world is the nose piercing. Most often, this is a piercing made somewhere along the curve of the nostril rim on either the left or right side as the wearer chooses. Nose piercings can take from between six and twelve weeks to heal.

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The most common place for piercing the nose is through the curve of one of the nostrils. Placement can be anywhere along the nostril, depending on the preference of the wearer.

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Nipple Piercings: Healing and Aftercare
Nipple Piercings

For those who choose to have their nipples pierced, healing times run between three and six months for most men, and six to twelve months for most women. This is a major piercing, considered a deep tissue wound technically. The piercing heals from the outer edges back towards the center and can often take a long time to become comfortably established.

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One search term that has been consistently popular since the inception of the Internet is "nipple piercing." Historically, there have been rumors of references to Roman centurions having pierced nipples to fasten their short dress capes. More recently, the repressive Victorian ladies supposedly affected nipple jewelry to make their nipples more prominent through their tight bodices.

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Navel Piercings
The Labret, Or Lip Piercing

Piercing lore has it that the Egyptian royal family had pierced belly buttons and wore gold rings in their navels, and that this was easily facilitated by the fact that they all had deep navels due to inbreeding. If that is true, then navel piercing has been around for a very long time.

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One of the more unusual piercings, both in ancient and modern practice, is the labret, or lip piercing. The term "labret" is French in origin, meaning "lip" but it is the modern, umbrella term for all piercings around the opening of the mouth. Primitive and contemporary piercings are found in both the upper and lower lips in a variety of thicknesses and placements

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Ear Piercings
Nipple Piercing Led to Lactation

One of the most widely accepted body modifications found in cultures all over the planet is the pierced ear. Modern piercing techniques allow for easy piercing and more successful healing, especially for cartilage piercings.

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Add lactation to the list of potential hazards of body piercing. Doctors in Boston report that a young woman began producing milk, apparently because her nipple rings stimulated her breasts into thinking she was nursing.

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