Does Jenny look better with or without her piercings and tattoos?

Jenny May with her piercings

Jenny May with her piercings - Credit: Archant

Here writer Jenny May looks at how others react to her piercings and tattoos.

Jenny May

Jenny May - Credit: Archant

I have two tattoos and 16 piercings: a fact that often surprises people. I always find this an interesting debate and one on which I can’t quite find my position. Obviously I am not against either of these body modifications or else I wouldn’t have any myself, and yet I have to admit I have at times fallen into the judgemental trap of thinking you can go too far. But how far is too far? That is the question I can’t answer. To some people, even just the one piercing in each ear is too much, although it does seem to be widely accepted. But for those of us who have continued to punch holes in ourselves (let’s face it, that is what we are doing) when is enough enough?

I haven’t had a new piercing now for about four years and recently have taken to wearing only four earrings (the standard ones in my lower lobes, one in my left tregus and one in my right upper ear cart) and I don’t think I will get any more. (I do still wear my nose stud and, although never likely to see the light of day again, my belly button stud.) The reason I won’t be getting any more is simply this: as I have got older, I just can’t be bothered with the pain you have to go through. It didn’t bother me when I was younger and, much to my mother’s resigned despair, I even did several of my ear piercings myself as a young teenager, but these days the idea of trying to get to sleep with a painfully throbbing ear is enough to put me off.

But here’s another thing; I have recently been to a few job interviews and have felt very much that I should remove all my piercings for them (and did so – with much wrangling and a pair of pliers for some!). I knew it was sensible, I knew it was the “right” thing to do, and yet part of me railed against this as there is something in me which thinks “Does a small piece of metal in my ear and nose really make a difference to how I work?” and the answer of course is No. I know it doesn’t. I know my brain still functions just as well with several earrings, not just one set. I know I won’t switch from Jekyll to Hyde depending on how many studs I have, but there is still a very negative perception from employers about piercings and of course tattoos too. A couple of years ago I was left feeling rather put out when I was asked by a manager to stop wearing my nose ring. I had been wearing it for the previous five years at my job and had managed not to bring the company crashing down, and I have to say I felt quite angry about having to remove it; but I did.

I do have this strange ambiguity towards tattoos and piercings, and how they are perceived. I love mine; I would feel very strange without them. I love the individualism that people create for themselves with body art and I think it can feel very freeing getting something done. But I know there have been occasions I have looked at someone and thought they have gone too far, and so I, in that sense, am as bad as the manager who asked me to take out my nose ring. OK, I really feel this only when someone has covered their face and neck, or their entire body, with these modifications, so I guess my limit on what is acceptable is quite far down the line; and yet if I have a limit, how does that make me any different to those who can’t get beyond one pair of earrings?

So with all the negativity out there, why do we do what we do? There are so many reasons. A lot of the time it is a way to try to break away from the general blob of “norm”: a way to express that you are an individual who is not the same as every other group-styled person (although this does make me chuckle because, actually, a new fashion is created and I dare say the pierced and tattooed do end up all looking the same to others.) Sometimes people do these things to mark a particular time in their life: a feeling; a life-changing moment. It is not uncommon for some to get tattooed the name or even portrait of a person (or pet) close to them who has passed away. Couples get matching tattoos to commemorate their relationship. (This is something, however, I am rather cynical of and personally would never do. I saw, with horrified fascination, the many painful stages of a tattoo removal, with someone I know having a wedding tattoo removed – after the divorce.) Some people just enjoy the experience of getting a tattoo or piercing. Whatever the reasons, it generally encapsulates a period in that person’s life; kind of like a physical diary in a way, and so it is a personal thing. A personal choice. A personal memory or motivation to get these things done. And so when people are very negative about these modifications it can feel like a very personal slight.

However, despite how much I am for tattoos and piercings, my personal acceptance is stretched at the following: getting tattoos when drunk. Worse is a person giving a tattoo to someone obviously inebriated. I hate hate hate with a passion people piercing babies’ or small children’s ears. Modifying your body should be an informed choice made by that person – not imposed on them when they are too small to have a say. As I said before, I am not a fan of the “couple’s tattoos” or having your “other half’s” name indelibly punctured in you. I have seen too many reversals, cover-ups and regrets to think this is a good idea.

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I suppose this leads me to the only advice I can give to anyone thinking of getting a tattoo or piercing. Only ever do so for you. When it is your choice. What you want. When you want and how you want. Make it something that is about you, only, and you won’t regret it. If you are in any way unsure – don’t do it. Think about it. Print a picture of what you are thinking of getting tattooed and tape it onto where you’re thinking of having it. This might sound daft but can really help you think if that is actually what you want and where. Try false piercings if you are unsure if you want to get something different done. See how you feel looking at yourself with them; see what reactions you get. And if you are someone with a low pain threshold or can’t cope with blood, perhaps body modification is not for you.

I have never got anything done that I had even the tiniest doubt about before going for it, and as a result I love each of my piercings and tattoos. I think I am past having more piercings but I know, one day, I will get inked again.

n WHAT DO YOU THINK? Do Jenny’s tattoos and piercings make her more beautiful? Email or write to EA Life, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN.