The Move to the Mainstream

Most piercers, however, will emphasize that the people who get pierced do not often fit into any of these groups, and may indeed be, for example, corporate or grandparental types whose under-the-clothes piercings almost certainly go unsuspected. The more fashionable pierc-ings—particularly tongue, navel, nostril, and eyebrow— tend to attract a younger and more specifically (or overtly) fashion-oriented clientele. A significant influence on the entry of body piercing into mainstream fashion has been popular music, as formerly "edgy" or marginal looks were assimilated into pop and made widely visible in music videos. The most famous instance here is undoubtedly the inspirationally pierced navel of the singer Britney Spears, which has taken thousands if not millions of young women into piercing shops they might not otherwise have frequented.

In general, "mainstream" body piercing involves relatively small-gauge jewelry, often (particularly for navel piercings) with ornamental, even jeweled, beads. Gold, while expensive, may be used as well as more commonly used nonreactive metals including stainless steel and titanium. Perhaps in response, those who identify as more marginal or as members of the body-art community tend to prize piercings that are unusual in location or style, such as surface piercings (piercings that go under the skin rather than through a protruding part of the body—the eyebrow is a surface piercing, but less common versions include the nape or front of the neck, the back along the spine, and the wrists), multiple piercings in a single location (even the navel offers top, bottom, left, and right options), or very large-gauge piercings.

As body piercing has grown in popularity, it has come to be increasingly regulated, though it is still much less so than tattooing. In most of the United States, and in parts of Canada and Australia, local legislation sets hygienic standards via departments of health, and limits the piercing permitted to minors, either banning it outright or requiring parental permission. Interestingly, earlobe piercing is almost invariably excluded from this legislation, a reflection of its well-established and unthreaten-ing presence. The Association of Professional Piercers, a voluntary organization, promotes self-regulation regarding cleanliness standards and piercing practices, and many piercers are members.

Legislation in the United Kingdom is somewhat ambiguous, although piercing seems in general to be legal so long as its purpose is solely cosmetic. In 1991, Mr. Sebastian was found guilty of "gross bodily harm" to thirteen of his clients (they had not complained, but their names were located in his records), on the principle that one cannot assent to assault or mutilation. Cosmetic piercing is regulated in London, and ear piercing elsewhere in the United Kingdom, but it is not quite clear how or whether laws on injury, surgery, or female circumcision might apply (see Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council).

Despite occasional suggestions that the proper legislation regarding body piercing is to ban it outright, the phenomenon seems unlikely to disappear altogether. Undoubtedly its popularity will wane, perhaps to wax again at some point, but the longevity of the practice among human beings suggests that it has an enduring, as well as cross-cultural, appeal.

See also Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery; Punk; Scarification; Tattoos.

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