Kristen MacMillan is a Rowan University student with four tattoos and six piercings. She believes people shouldn’t judge others for their tattoos and they shouldn’t take tattoos as an invitation to be rude to someone with a tat.
Q: Do any of your tattoos hold special meaning?
A: My tattoos all hold meaning, even if the meaning behind the physical artwork isn’t about my life or experiences. Getting a tattoo is a meaningful thing, because it’s something I enjoy and look forward to. The sparrows on my hips don’t have any philosophical meaning, but I got them during a really fun day, and they remind me of the people I spent that day with. My dream catcher holds the most symbolism, with the number of the feathers and beads representing things in my life. I don’t think a tattoo must have some deep meaning; if someone decides that it’s something he or she wants, let ’em do it! Artwork’s meaning isn’t always face-value, and that’s what tattoos are, in the end: art.
Q: Do you have a favorite form of modification?
A: My favorite form of body modification is definitely tattoos. I think they’re such a personal and beautiful way of self expression. They can be reminders of good times, triumphs, and important life milestones. They’re also permanent, unlike piercings (which can be taken out), so you have to plan them out pretty well.
Q: Do you feel like there is a body modification community? If so, are you a part of it?
A: There is definitely a body modification community. Online, there are thousands of web communities and informative websites (like bme.com) dedicated to body modification. There are hundreds of conferences and “meet-ups” sponsored by the mod community (as it’s called). There’s a Association of Professional Piercers, an organization dedicated to safe piercing procedures and practices. I’m friends with some people who participate in suspension (a spiritual activity where hooks are placed in temporary “play piercings” and participants are suspended to the ceiling by the piercing). I personally do not consider myself an active part of the mod community, but I am a supporter of it and do a lot of research about it. I know a few people who are active within the community.
Q: Can you share some things “beginners” should look into when seeking out a shop or artist?
A: It’s important to do a lot of research on tattoo or piercing parlors and tattooists and piercers before getting tattooed or pierced. Even after looking at a tattooist’s portfolio, a tattoo could be poorly executed or done under unsanitary conditions, so it’s important to get references about both the shop and the artist, and to speak at length with your artist about your expectations. If you have a bad feeling about the process at any point, you should politely inform the tattooist or piercer that you’ve changed your mind. Don’t ever jeopardize your safety or health just because you feel uncomfortable telling someone “no.” Particularly with piercings, poorly done body modifications have the possibility of doing a lot of permanent damage. With piercings, you run the risk of serious infection that sometimes can even result in death. It’s important that you consider the long-term effects of your body modifications, too; even though you like body modification and don’t believe in the stigmas, many people (like family members, peers, or potential employers) don’t see things the same way. Make sure you understand what you’re getting into and if you have even the slightest doubt in your mind, don’t go through with it.
Q: Do you feel like there’s anything people should know about body modifications or people who have them?
A: There are scores of people who believe the stigmas about people who have tattoos or other body modifications. Even one of my Psychology professors here at Rowan University, whose opinions I usually support and respect, believes that people who participate in body modification suffer from severe mental disorders. Contrary to popular belief, people who are tattooed or pierced aren’t always crazed delinquents or felons, don’t always participate in porn or S&M communities, and don’t always suffer from mental disorders. I’m a normal, hardworking, and intelligent college student, living a normal life. My tattoos and piercings don’t define who I am; they complement who I am. The only difference between me and non-modded people is that I wear my artwork, stories, and experiences on my body.
Q: Do you have any advice for tattoo etiquette in reference to admiring others’ pieces?
A: As a woman, I deal with people who have poor manners on a daily basis. Having visible tattoos opens a whole new can of worms as far as others’ etiquette goes. I’ve had people I just met pull down my shirt to get a better look at my chest tattoo, grab and twist my arm to look at the one I have there, and touch me in other aggressive and invasive ways, all without asking me first. People think that because a tattoo is visible that they have the right to ask you invasive questions about them. Just because some tattoos have symbolic meaning doesn’t mean all tattoos do, but people don’t realize that and often ask me to go into an in-depth description about the reasons behind them. It’s frustrating and uncomfortable, because some of the symbolism behind my tattoos is extremely personal and something I wouldn’t want to talk to strangers about.
I’ve had people ask me what I wore during the tattoo process of the one on my chest, which is large and goes far down my chest; this is a personal and invasive question, but people either don’t realize that or don’t care. Most people who talk to me about my tattoos are friendly and truly mean well, but they can be rude and disrespectful without realizing it. The best advice I can give to people who aren’t familiar with tattoo etiquette is ASK, ASK, ASK! Always ask a person’s permission before touching them, respect his or her answer to that question, and be polite about the questions you ask. Most importantly, don’t forget basic day-to-day manners. If you wouldn’t ask a question or do something to a person without body mods, it isn’t okay to do that to someone who does.
Q: Is there anything else you feel like I should know or you want to say?
A: I really appreciate you writing an article about this. Many people don’t think to ask people with body modification these questions, and they’re really important. If everyone I met knew about proper tattoo etiquette, it would save me a lot of frustration. I’m not a felon or a sexual deviant, and if people got to know who I am rather than judging me based off of the art on my body, they would meet a pretty cool chick with a lot of insight and life experience. People need to learn that just because someone looks different than everyone else doesn’t mean they should be feared or leered at. I’m just a normal girl with cool artwork on my body.
Photos courtesy of Kristen MacMillan