Teen Guides to Health & Wellness Anxiety, Depression, and Mood Disorders Diets, Cleanses, and Fitness Drugs and Alcohol School and Your Health Sexuality and Gender Identity Sleep and Hygiene Smoking and Vaping Social Media and the Internet Suicide and Self-Harm Tattoos, Piercings, and Body Modifications

Teen Guides to Health & Wellness

H.W. Poole

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CONTENTS Introduction. ...................................................................6 Chapter 1: Tattooing and Scarification. ...........................9 Chapter 2: Piercing and Stretching................................29 Chapter 3: Other Body Modifications............................. 43 Chapter 4: What Do I Do Now?. ......................................69 Further Reading and Online Resources...........................90 Series Glossary of Key Terms.......................................... 92 Index. ............................................................................94 About the Author / Credits. ............................................96 K E Y I C O N S T O L O O K F O R : Words to Understand: These words with their easy-to-understand definitions will increase the reader’s understanding of the text, while building vocabulary skills. Sidebars: This boxed material within the main text allows readers to build knowledge, gain insights, explore possibilities, and broaden their perspectives by weaving together additional information to provide realistic and holistic perspectives. Educational Videos: Readers can view videos by scanning our QR codes, providing them with additional educational content to supplement the text. Examples include news coverage, moments in history, speeches, iconic sports moments, and much more! Text-Dependent Questions: These questions send the reader back to the text for more careful attention to the evidence presented there. Research Projects: Readers are pointed toward areas of further inquiry connected to each chapter. Suggestions are provided for projects that encourage deeper research and analysis. Series Glossary of Key Terms: This back-of-the-book glossary contains terminology used throughout this series. Words found here increase the reader’s ability to read and comprehend higher-level books and articles in this field.

To “modify” something means to change it, and humans have been modifying their bodies for a very long time. Throughout this book, you’ll come across examples of ancient peoples who practiced body modification, as well as contemporary indigenous groups who still do. The current popularity of body art in Western countries dates to the late 1980s, when people began exploring body modification as a means of self-expression. The trendiness of tattoos, piercings, and other “body mods” is worrying to some observers. Some critics say it’s just a fashionable form of mutilation. The psychologist Corinne Sweet went so far as to describe body modification as anger at the world turned against the self. But to others, body modification is about empowerment—a way of undermining oppressive social expectations. In the words of scholar Victoria Pitts, body modifications reject “the classical ideal of the skin as a pristine, smooth, closed envelope for the self.” Body modders also undercut the assumption that the human body is permanent and unchanging. After all, the argument goes, bodies are shaped by their environments all the time in all kinds of ways, so why shouldn’t some of it be under the individual’s control? Pitts observes that people who feel disenfranchised or oppressed may experience an increased sense of autonomy and belonging that stems from their body art. The theoretical arguments for and against body art are interesting, but body modification has a practical side, too.


People with piercings need to keep those piercings clean, for example, and people with tattoos need to remember their sunscreen. This book steers away from the “should you or shouldn’t you” aspect of body modification, and instead it focuses on practical and health-related issues. How do body modifications work? What are the risks? What should you consider before getting body art, and how do you take care of it afterward? These are the kinds of questions we’ll try to answer in this book. And if the answer to your question isn’t here, you can try the Further Reading section, where you’ll find contact information for expert advice.

Tattooing is one of many forms of body modification.


Tattoos can be a unique form of expression.


aesthetics: beauty and how things look carcinogens: substances known to cause cancer fibroblast: a type of cell found in the connective tissue of animals heavy metals: certain elements that are high density and therefore “heavy” pigment: a substance used to create color (in inks and dyes, for example)


Tattooing and Scarification

It’s ironic that tattooing has become hip and trendy in the 21st century, because humans have in fact been inscribing designs on themselves for thousands of years. The art of tattooing is about as ancient as a hip trend can get. Motivations for tattooing are almost as variable as the designs themselves. People have been tattooed for spiritual reasons and for therapeutic ones, as punishments, as group identification, and as evidence of high or low status, depending on the culture. Today, most people get tattoos for very personal reasons—to mark an important event in their lives, for example, or to demonstrate their allegiance to a particular person, group, or ideology. Tattooing is also used to hide scars, moles, and other blemishes, and even to alter regretted tattoos from the past. Permanent makeup is where tattoos replicate the work of eyeliner, lipstick, or eyebrow pencil.


Tattooing in History In 1991 a mummified man was discovered in the ice of the Ötztal Alps in Austria. Nicknamed Ötzi (or sometimes “Iceman”), he was more than 5,000 years old. Ötzi had around 60 tattoos of dots, lines, and crosses arranged in patterns all over his body. There’s no way to know for sure why he had so many tattoos, but experts hypothesize that they may have been intended to alleviate joint pain, rather than for decoration.

Reconstruction of Ötzi showing some of his tattoos.

Many of Ötzi’s tattoos were on his joints (such as the knee and ankle); others were found in spots that acupuncturists use when treating patients. What’s more, scans suggest that Ötzi did, in fact, have some tissue degeneration at the precise points where the tattoos were located.

Teen Guides to Health & Wellness: Tattoos, Piercings, and Body Modifications


A series of "S" shapes can be seen on the ancient Egyptian female Gebelein mummy.

Women in ancient Egypt often got tattoos—markings have been found on mummies themselves, and they are also depicted in Egyptian art. Archaeologists have also found what appears to be tattooing tools that date back to 3,000 BCE. In Egyptian culture, tattooing was considered a female-only activity. Like Ötzi’s tattoos, at least some of the women’s tattoos were likely motivated by health concerns. The scholar Joann Fletcher argues that the placement and designs of some ancient Egyptian tattoos suggest they might have been intended to protect women from the risks of childbirth or from sexually transmitted diseases. On the other hand, some elite tattooed women were probably priestesses, and they tattooed images on themselves to demonstrate their high status. Other ancient cultures also practiced tattooing. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that tattoos were “a mark of nobility” among the Scythian people of what is now southern

Tattooing and Scarification



Siberia. Later, a tribe of Britons would be nicknamed “Picti” by the Romans, which means “painted people.” Long before the invention of the tattoo machine (see box), tattoos were created using all kinds of sharp implements— needles, picks, chisels, and even rakes. In Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia, Indonesia, and Thailand, tattoos have been made with sharpened bamboo for thousands of years, and bamboo tattooing remains popular there. Some indigenous groups create tattoos by means of a needle and thread; the thread is coated with soot and then pulled through the skin, leaving the pigment behind. The tattoo machine was invented in 1891 by Samuel O’Reilly. O’Reilly was inspired by an invention of Thomas Edison called the Electric Pen. Edison’s pen used a motor to drive a needle, but for the purpose of copying documents more quickly, not for inscribing words and images onto human skin. O’Reilly reformulated Edison’s basic idea, making it workable for tattoos. Although the tattoo machine has been improved over time—most notably by the inventor and tattoo artist Percy Waters in the 1920s—the basic concept of mechanized tattooing remains the same today as it was in the late 19th century.

Teen Guides to Health & Wellness: Tattoos, Piercings, and Body Modifications


Many of today’s indigenous cultures have tattooing practices that stretch back to ancient times. The Maori people of New Zealand still practice the tattoo traditions of ta moko and kirituhi. Ta moko tattoos are considered sacred and are worn by Maori people only; kirituhi tattoos are Maori style but can be worn by anyone. Traditional Maori tattoos are done with an uhi , which is a type of chisel, rather than a needle. The elaborate and beautiful designs are highly symbolic, with patterns and images that relate to the person’s family, health, career, and other aspects of his or her life. The Tattoo Process To get a tattoo, the first step is to decide on the design. Even if you already have something in mind, you should consult

The Maori people of New Zealand still practice the tattoo traditions of ta moko.

Tattooing and Scarification


“I believe tattoos are a form

of healing, personal growth, and embedding lessons learned throughout life. Even a silly tattoo can bring about a healing smile.” —Tina Poe, tattoo artist

with your tattoo artist, who may have useful feedback about size, colors, and placement. Some artists are very skilled at creating original art; others are not. Shop around beforehand, so you know that you’ll be working with someone who can create the look you want. Once the design is settled, a paper stencil will be made— usually using a machine called a thermal fax. After the site is cleaned and any hair is removed, the stencil will be placed onto your skin. Then colored ink and sterile needles are put into the tattoo machine, and it’s time to insert the pigment. The tattoo artist usually does the outline of the tattoo first, and then follows up with color and shading. Be sure to take deep breaths and try to relax! Many people say that the first minute or two hurts the most, and then the pain fades as the work continues. You might be wondering, why does this process even work? Why does the ink stay in the skin, rather than just disappearing into the body or washing off? The answer has to do with the way the human body responds to injury.

Teen Guides to Health & Wellness: Tattoos, Piercings, and Body Modifications


Whenever the body is injured, white blood cells rush in, ready to start the healing process and fight off any infections. The needle of a tattoo machine can puncture the skin anywhere from 50 to 3,000 times per minute, which is perceived by the immune system as an injury. The needle travels below the top layer of skin (called the epidermis) and leaves the pigment cells in the next layer (called the dermis). But the cells in the ink are too large for white blood cells to destroy. Instead, the ink stays trapped in fibroblast cells, and the skin heals around it. While the skin is healing, it’s important that you take good care of the site. See chapter 4 for information on aftercare.

The tattoo ink stays trapped in fibroblast cells, and the skin heals around it.

Tattooing and Scarification


Are Tattoos Healthy? While the Iceman may have gotten his tattoos to help with joint pain, that’s not a very common motivation for tattoos these days. But that doesn’t mean the process has zero health implications. A tattooed area of skin will not perspire the way un tattooed skin will. And while less sweating might sound like a good idea, that’s not really true—sweat is your way of regulating body temperature. Fortunately, the body is able to compensate by perspiring more in some places if it is prevented from perspiring in others. Consequently, sweat issues from tattoos are unlikely to be a problem unless you are really covered. However, the safety question has been raised in the context of heavily tattooed professional athletes and others whose jobs involve a lot of physical exertion. Arguably a more pressing question—and, unfortunately, one we don’t have great answers to—is what is the long-term health impact of those pigments inserted into the skin? The truth is, we don’t really know for sure. You might assume that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would regulate the ingredients of inks that are injected into the body, but you’d be wrong. The FDA has jurisdiction over pigments that go on the body—that is, cosmetics—but not in the body. Because the inks are not safety tested, we can’t be completely certain what effects they might have. Not only that it’s not easy to find out the ingredients of the inks in the first place. Certain pigments get their color from heavy metals like lead, mercury, copper, or titanium, but do tattoo dyes contain allergens? What about carcinogens ? What is the impact of having those inks removed later on?

Teen Guides to Health & Wellness: Tattoos, Piercings, and Body Modifications


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