Culture Bomb’s guide to tattoo and piercing

By Kelly McGarry

In the last few decades, the art of piercing and tattooing has become increasingly popular throughout all different sub-cultures and is now a mainstream form of expression in our society.

Of course, neither of these art forms are anything new, both have been around for centuries and have different meanings depending on the different cultures of origin.

We’ve all seen pictures of people from around the world with mad tattoos and intimidating piercing; if you look around your local area you’re sure to find people are getting more creative with their own body art.

So, if we’re going to partake in this ancient form of expression we may as well know some of the history and important details about it.

Tattoo History

Evidence of tattooing dates back thousands of years. Different cultures around the globe have used tattoos to signify all kinds of different things about themselves, their status, their heritage, or even to tell stories of their history.

Focusing on the history of our own ancestors, the Celts were one of many tribal people who took great pride in their permanent body painting.

The Celts moved across Western Europe around 1200 and 700 B.C. and arrived at the British Isles around 400 B.C. The method the Celts used for tattooing included using ‘Woad,’ which left a blue design on the skin.

We’ve all seen the beautiful Celtic patterns that are often used for decorating and giving a “new age” feel to typically plain trinkets, these are the kinds of patterns that would have been found tattooed on the Celts.

How is Tattooing Done?

These days tattoos are applied using a round tip needle, which is attached to a motorized instrument that holds up to 14 needles.

The needles insert color pigments into the middle layer of the skin. It can take minutes or several hours depending on the size and details of the design.

Tattoo Care

Always do exactly as your tattooist says for a start, too many people ignore the warnings from professionals and then wonder why their tattoo gets infected.

You will either be given a cream to use or recommended something to keep your tattoo clean and hydrated. Dried up tattoos are more likely to scab and flake, leaving you with a patchy picture.

If you can’t afford the branded stuff, Vaseline or even coconut oil lotion will do the trick.

If you’re considering getting a tattoo, consult someone who knows what they are talking about on the subject, talking to a professional tattoo artist is probably the best option.

Make sure you really want a tattoo for the right reasons, don’t get one just because everyone else is doing it or because you think it looks cool. The best tattoos are the ones that hold meaning for you.

Rachael McKee, 21, student: “I have a tattoo of an “Emily Rose” on my wrist, this is for my Nan, Emily Rose, who died a few years ago.”

Lucy Homer, 27, Addictions Consultant: “I’m having a tattoo designed which is meant to pay homage to my favorite horror movies.”

Stacy Jenner, 25, P.A: “The tattoo above my left breast is of a blue swallow and an anchor. This is because I have always had a thing about birds, especially swallows, I’m thinking of getting more so it follows a pattern.”

Piercing History

Like tattoos, the art of piercing has been around for countless years and used to represent a variety of different things for the people wearing them. Ever wondered what your piercing would actually mean in its culture of origin?

We tracked down some examples of the deeper meaning behind popular female piercing.

Cartilage of the ear:  This piercing is meant to imply beauty and wealth, it is thought to have been used most in Africa, North America, south America, Indonesia and India.

Eyebrow and Navel: Originally used in ancient Egypt as a sign of royalty.

Lips: In places like Australia, New Guinea and Africa this piercing is used to celebrate the passage from childhood to adulthood.

Nose: Used in India as a sign of beauty.

Tongue: This was used by the Mayans in a ritual to talk with the spirits of their ancestors.

Female Genitals (In case you were curious)-

Labia: Trukese women would pierce this place and attach a little bell to attract men.

Clitoris: This is actually a modern technique, which is said to enhance orgasms.

Nipple: 14th Century Bavarian women would have diamond studded rings through their nipples and would use them to attract men.

Although piercing isn’t as permanent as tattoos, you still need to consider carefully what piercing you get and who does it. Make sure you are dealing with a professional and do not attempt them yourself.

How is Piercing Done?

In case you didn’t know already, the method of piercing depends on where it’s located. One of the easiest is your earlobe because you can use a gun that inserts a stud straight in to your ear. [Editor’s note: although this isn’t the most hygienic way – a needle at a reputable piercing studio is best.]

Other piercing requires the flesh to be clamped and a needle inserted with the bar following shortly after.

Piercing Care

Doing what the professionals say is vital since what you’re doing is placing pieces of metal into open wounds. If it’s not done right it is dangerous.

You will usually be told to move your piercing a little everyday and use disinfectant lotion to keep the piercing clean. Do not remove your piercing before you are told to, it will get infected or close up and then you’ll just have to spend more money getting it re-done.

Editor’s final note: No matter what you get pierced or tattooed on your body, never do anything you are not comfortable with. Only go somewhere clean, certified and do not be afraid or intimidated to ask questions or request to see their portfolio.

If a studio makes you uncomfortable or you are unsure about anything, leave! Don’t let anyone pressure you into anything. Finally, be creative and express yourself, that’s what it’s all about.

For more information, visit BME, an online source for body modification.

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