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IDENTITY Body piercing is fast becoming a fad among youngsters. Punitha Kumar writes about the art, which was once seen as rebellious and extreme
In the past, body piercing was considered a sacred art.
Roman centurions pierced their nipples to signify strength and virility. It was a “badge” of honour to show their dedication to the empire.
During Thaipusam, faithful devotees pierce their tongues and cheeks to impede speech and attain full concentration on Lord Murugan. But nowadays, body piercing is adorned by people from all walks of life.
Once a proud bearer of 13 piercings on her body, Tabitha Penelope Chang Swee Ling now only keeps her tongue and ear piercings.
The 25-year-old corporate event management freelancer experienced her first piercing 10 years ago.
“It was just an ear piercing and the pain only lasted a day.” Chang said it was her tongue piercing that attracted a lot of attention among family and friends.
“They wanted to know if it hurts while eating but it didn’t.” She said her tongue piercing was done at a parlour in Sungai Wang Plaza and cost RM100. She added that the piercings never got in the way of her work and she never bothered what others thought of her looks. A real estate agent, who wished to be known as Sani, said he took off his eyebrow piercing on the same day he got it because of family pressure. “I pierced my left eyebrow at the age of 15, but it was short-lived.” However, the 26-year-old said his family respected his choice after he pierced both corners of his bottom lip seven years later.
“I went to Switzerland to study and got my bottom lip pierced . It’s known as snakebite piercings.”
He said getting pierced on the face was ten times more painful than on the ears.
The snakebite piercings cost him almost RM300 but he said it was worth it to show his unique identity in society. Although some people looked down on his body art, he believed that one’s character should never be judged based on his or her piercings. Public relations executive Darshinii Arumugam, 25, had to endure pain for two weeks after piercing her nose. My family was shocked to see my nose piercing after having five on my ears. “Later, I influenced my cousins and friends to go for piercings, too. But as a working adult, I want to project a professional image. Currently, I only sport a pair of earrings.”
Musician Jerome Kugan seldom receives attention for his piercings at work, but does occasionally attract glares from passers-by.
Often remembered as “the short guy with a nose piercing”, the 36-year-old takes pride in all three of his piercings despite the sniggers and sarcastic remarks he receives.
“Many are intimidated by my nose ring, also known as a ‘bullring’, because it’s right in the middle of the face!” People had refused to talk to him because of his nose piercing, but he took it all in stride.
Besides the bullring, Kugan also has nipple and “Prince Albert” piercings. A “Prince Albert” piercing is done at the genitals. Kugan said his piercings had become part of his identity. “If my piercings stir people and make them think of the world outside their circles of life, then it makes me feel good.” Ronny Needles, a piercing artist at Spec Body Art studio, said he loved experimenting with different types of piercings on his body.
He said every month, there would be at least two clients who ask for genital piercings at his studio, owned by a man named Spec Ung. “Malaysian female teenagers form the majority of clients and they prefer tongue or navel piercings.” Needles, who had been piercing customers for eight years, advised that pierced areas should always be washed with salt water.
Tribal Bodyworks tattoo and piercing studio artist Kydd Choong agreed that teenage girls preferred tongue and navel piercings because it made them look sexy.
Quirky requests are rare, he said. It costs nearly RM300 to perform genital piercings while nipple piercings cost RM150.
“Customers sometimes come in scared. But I tell them to count to three, and then, I pierce when they say two,” he joked.
The outlet’s owners, who wished to be known as Derek and Water, also operate a tattoo parlour. Since opening their outlets in 1998, they receive more than 180 clients each year.
Many might wonder why these youngsters want to go through the pain just to achieve something they perceived as “cool”.
Help University psychology department head and senior lecturer Kenneth Phun said people these days did not pierce their body just for religious purposes.
“The youth today pierce their body to distinguish themselves from others, and the ornaments made them feel ‘powerful’.” International Psychology Centre principal consultant psychologist Dr Edward Chan said some resort to piercing because of peer pressure. Certain people pierce to attain a sense of belonging, but others pierce just to spice up their lives,” he said.