“We did 15 piercings last week,” said Jasin Chapman, owner of Bad Seed Piercing in downtown Portland. “Three punks, two from Boston and two weight lifters.” He describes the other 10 people that came in as members of the “college crowd” that comprise more and more of his clientele.
Chapman has enjoyed a prime view of the evolution of body piercing in Portland. He has owned and run Bad Seed, one of the city’s most successful piercing studios, for six years, and has seen piercing move from an alternative and often stigmatic form of body art to something more accepted by mainstream culture. The number of people getting pierced from the hardcore punk scene that once made up a prominent percentage of the piercing community has slowly dwindled, while the number of “cleaner cut” people and college students getting pierced has escalated. What once used to be a definite mark of certain social groups has become much more diverse.
Chapman claims that the shift in the popularity of piercing among college students has been driven by the rise of its appearance in the popular media, especially MTV. Chapman insists that it is not uncommon to hear young people talk about getting specific parts of their bodies pierced in attempts to mirror how musicians are portrayed in current music videos. Chapman recalls when a Janet Jackson video featured the singer with her septum (the cartilage that separates the nostrils) pierced. Afterward, girls came in with the intention of getting the piercing.
“It’s got to be one of the most painful piercings available,” Chapman said with a smirk. “Jackson’s piercing was probably fake, too.”
Eric Blumenthal, a USM behavioral science major, has been piercing professionally since 1991 and agrees with MTV being a major influence in the heightened popularity of body piercing, a trend that has left many would-be piercees unaware of the social history behind body piercing in modern culture.
“In the United States, more exotic piercings, such as nipple rings, were a gay right of passage,” he said. “Genital piercings were S+M related.”
Blumenthal states that body piercing is now no longer connected to such stigmatic social implications. This means that piercings that may have prevented someone from getting a job 10 years ago have become so commonplace as to not even merit a second glance. Blumenthal embraces this shift, stating that the newfound popularity of piercing is increasing acceptance of those who are already pierced and enabling many more people to use piercing as a vehicle for expression.
“I decided to get pierced for both artistic and personal reasons,” said Shawn Baker, an undecided sophomore. “Body piercing is gaining acceptability among USM students-it’s become like hairstyles or fashion.”
The acceptability that piercing has gained among college students has transformed the formerly exotic form of expression into something of a fashion accessory. Chapman and Blumenthal have similar theories on what lies down the road of their art’s future. They claim the hardcore scene that began this trend so long ago will attempt to push the boundaries of piercing even farther, incorporating scarring and body modification in an effort to separate themselves from the “college kid” faction. In the meantime, piercing shows no sign of waning as a popular form of body art among the college crowd.