Growing up in a body modification culture

Jenica Paulin is a public relations student studying at Humber College

Posted March 3, 2015

Tattoo by my dad, Bob Paulin www.123forever.com
Tattoo by my dad, Bob Paulin http://www.123forever.com

Most kids born in the 90s can remember a childhood laced with Pokémon, mood rings and light up sneakers, not tattoos and split tongues. Although all these made appearances in my youth, the body modification scene manifested itself into most parts of my life, including style, mannerisms and hobbies.

When I was born, my parents decided they needed to give up their part time jobs as a cashier and a carpenter and make enough money to support another human being. Knowing that body modification was a growing scene at the time, coupled with my dad’s artistic talents, they opened their first tattoo shop.

I’ll start by saying that I know there are a lot of questionable artists, practices and shops, where a lot of serious problems can arise. The first positive thing I learned from this scene is cleanliness and talent get respect. Bad, unclean tattoo artists never move up any higher than their own grimy shop because the rest of the community looks down on them as dangerous (diseases can be passed through unclean needles) and disrespectful for marking them permanently with bad art. My father always led through example; if you have enough money and talent to start up a business, you start the right way. You don’t buy cheap equipment and hope to move up, you buy the medical grade sterilizer and the FDA approved ink.

When my friends from elementary school were at Girl Guides, I was at the NYX tattoo convention watching my parents win awards for best black and white portrait and most original piercing. At this point, most people think: “Why would you let a child into such a toxic environment?” Understandable, seeing as you’ve been to so many tattoo conventions.

The first thing you notice walking into a room full of people covered in tattoos, piercings, implants, even some people missing body parts on purpose, is that you are not the only unique person out there. Neither are they. You expect it to be a big competition of people trying to see who can get the most shock value, but most of the time it’s just normal people showing off their collection of their favourite art; which happens to be on their body. In this community, you could literally have horns and no one would think you were a special flower unless you had a personality too.

I also think I grew up in one of the safest environments a kid can. By the time I was ten, everyone in the city knew my parents, and knew me. A lot of different types of people get tattooed, including cops, construction workers, and teachers. To this day, I cannot walk around my hometown without running into one of my parents friends. This has gotten me caught smoking, drinking and sneaking out of the house.

Lastly, people always ask me where all my tattoos and piercings are. When your parents are educated in things a lot of their generation isn’t very familiar with, it leads to more rational arguments. Instead of my mom saying, “You can’t get a tattoo because you’ll get ink poisoning and you’ll hate it when you’re older,” which I would promptly dismiss as ridiculous, I get “You can get a tattoo when you’re old enough, but take into consideration that you’re not done growing and the image will stretch with your skin.” A lot of decisions we make when we’re younger are just to prove we can, not because we really want it.

Click here to visit BME, an online ‘zine about body modification culture.

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