Pleasure and Pain

By Kylee Dawson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Metal, ink and flesh: the painful pleasure of tattoos and piercings

No living human is a stranger to pain. But why do humans choose to endure pain in exchange for something as aesthetic as a tattoo or piercing?

When asked why she got so many piercings, aerospace engineering junior Brittany Neverman gave the most honest answer.

"I don't know," she said. "I think I'm addicted to piercing. It's kind of a rush."

With nine piercings on her body, including genital, tongue and multiple ear piercings, Neverman, 20, said she would have about 50 if she could pierce every part she wanted pierced.

No matter how repulsed or impressed people might be by the various mediums of body art, it has become more acceptable in modern society and more common in the college community.

A trio of nursing specialists tried to figure out some of the reasons why in their November 1999 study, "Tattooing and Body Piercing: Body Art Practices Among College Students."

According to the study, conducted by Judith Greif, Walter Hewitt and Myrna L. Armstrong, 53 percent of the students they surveyed said they got tattooed for "self-expression," and 48 percent got piercings for the same reason. However, 11 percent of students said they got tattoos for "independence," while 38 percent got piercings simply because they wanted "to be different."

Reason for defiance

Nothing is new about tattooing, considering the ancient Egyptians practiced it four thousand years ago to pay homage to their gods. Today, it seems that youngsters are doing it to rebel against their parents and societal mores.

"I think it probably has something to do with exercising solidarity, distinguishing themselves from one portion of society while including themselves in another portion of society," said Rand Shipp, an associate photography professor, who sports three tattoos he designed himself.

Though some won't admit to it, rebelling against Mom and Dad's strict stance against tattooing and piercing is one of the motivating factors for young people's decisions to take the plunge.

"I get my piercings and my tattoos in places where my mom can't see because she saw one of my tongue piercings and she flipped out," said Christine Anderson, a chemistry sophomore.

Otto Ramon Bohon, a pre-business junior, admits he got his tattoos to shock his conservative stepfamily.

"My mom slapped me," he said.

Parisa Hajizadeh-Amini, a biology freshman, has all seven of her piercings in both ears, including an industrial piercing in her right ear, which took three separate needles to administer.

"I got it on my 18th birthday and it was one of those liberating experiences," Amini said.

Friends like these

Founded at the university in 1930, the Chi Chapter of the Theta Tau is unique because it is the largest and oldest coed engineering fraternity in the nation. The fact that four of its members have genital piercings makes it even more unique.

Calling themselves "genital buddies," Christine Anderson, Bryan Booth, Steve Molina and Brittany Neverman, social chair of Theta Tau, saw getting their genitals pierced as a "bonding thing."

Booth, 18, is an electrical engineering junior with a piercing called a "Prince Albert," so named after the royal who supposedly had a penile piercing through his urethra. But before he got that one, he had his foreskin pierced too.

"I wanted to get something pierced, but I thought getting something on my face might prevent me from getting a job," he said.

Molina, 19, a mechanical engineering freshman, describes his genital piercing as "cute like a puppy dog."

Known as a "dydoe," the piercing is a small barbell inserted on the side of the penis' head. Molina got the piercing after friends, namely fraternity brothers and sisters, encouraged him to do it.

"I've always thought a penis was an ugly thing," Molina said. "And well, when you got an ugly car, so what do you do? Accessorize it and make it a little less ugly. So, I figured, 'Why not accessorize it?'"

When Neverman got a vertical hood piercing through her clitoris, Anderson, 19, had hers pierced a week later.

"She got it done and I was jealous," Anderson said.

Why? Why not?

The line between vanity and self-expression can also be blurred when some make the decision to get tattooed or pierced.

Otto Ramon Bohon, 21, got a crescent moon - picked off the wall of a tattoo studio - on his calf in red and blue to show his UA spirit but primarily to match his swimming trunks.

Political science junior Matt Ortega, 20, said it did not take much convincing or advice when he decided to get his ears pierced.

"Before I started dating my current girlfriend, I had asked her what she thought about earrings on me, and she lit up and told me how it would look really good," he said. "So after that, I was sold."

A deeper meaning

While on his way from Walnut, Calif., to Tucson his freshman year in August 2003, Scott Groobin came close to death when his father fell asleep at the wheel.

Unfortunately, his father lost his life when their car went off-road and flipped several times in Parker, Ariz.

Little more than a year after the accident, Groobin, 19, got a tattoo of the Grim Reaper on his left shoulder.

"When I got out of that, the cops told me that I had missed death by maybe 2 or 3 inches," Groobin said. "So I always have it on my shoulder as a reminder that death is always there and to live life to its fullest."

To create his second tattoo, Otto Ramon Bohon intermixed Aztec and Mayan symbols after visiting the ancient pyramids of the Chichen Itza and Tulun archeological sites in Cancun, Mexico. The tattoo represents his personal growth, Mexican heritage and will soon reflect his Chinese heritage once he adds to it.

Marks of wisdom

Rand Shipp, a master of fine arts student with a focus on digital photography, got his first tattoo at age 19, his second at 20 and his latest at 21.

Now at 33, Shipp said he does not regret getting his tattoos, but feels he got them for the wrong reasons at the time.

"Part of it had to do with your standard adolescent male revolt against authority, against the norm," Shipp said. "I doubt I would have said that at the time, but looking back, thinking about it more, that was probably the core reason. I think it's a little different for me nowadays."

Shannon C. Smith, also a master of fine arts student, has six tattoos, four of which could pass as murals. She has also had numerous piercings, in her nose, labret (below the bottom lip), nipples, labia, clitoris and ears, on which she also had her lobes stretched.

At 26, with a 5-month-old daughter, Smith said she is now more concerned that some will be afraid or taken aback by her appearance.

"You do think about it. Now that I'm older, and especially now that I'm a mother, it's still weird," she said. "I'm kinda nervous. When her friends come over, are they gonna freak out?"

Smith has since removed most of her piercings, including her hood and labial piercings when she was 8 1/2 months pregnant.

"It was a different time of my life at the time, and I don't really see myself putting them back in right now," she said about her three genital piercings.

Shipp and Smith are not concerned with being able to find employment because their field tends to be more accepting of people who have visible body art.

Nina Marie graduated in December with a degree in elementary education and currently works in an after-school program for K-5 students.

Marie, 23, obviously stands out from the other teachers with whom she works, but her students love her just the same.

"They ask funny questions. Like, 'Why do you have an earring in your chin?' but they've all come to accept it," Marie said. "They don't ask about it anymore. It's part of my jewelry."

However, Marie said she does not like the social stigmas attached to piercing, especially when parents question her teaching their children.

"I have found that frustrating, especially in the College of Ed.," Marie said. "But I did end up getting the Outstanding Student Teacher of the Year Award right before I graduated," she laughed.