PIERCED to Death

By Kinnon, Joy Bennett | Ebony, April 2000 | Go to article overview

PIERCED to Death


Kinnon, Joy Bennett, Ebony


The trend is popular among celebrities, athletes and everyday people

DESPITE needling from parents, sports officials and authority figures, celebrities, athletes, and now teens and adults are taking the body-piercing trend to another level.

Once associated with punk rockers, bikers and prison inmates, body-piercing is now popular with middle-class adults in all occupations, including some doctors like psychiatrist Walter Shervington, who has a pierced ear.

Today, the "art" has gone far beyond the traditional pierced ear lobe. It now includes the piercing of ear cartilage, the tongue, lips, eyebrows, nipples, navel and genitals. Done without anesthesia, the actual piercing is done quickly and then an object such as jewelry is usually inserted into the pierced area. Despite the risky nature of body-piercing, the trend apparently is here to stay. It's cheaper ($25-$125) compared to $50 to $2000-plus for tattoos, according to one published report; it takes less time than tattoos, which can take hours to apply, and body-piercing is easily reversed.

Popular athletes such as running back Ricky Williams, who has tattoos and his ears pierced, and basketball's Dennis Rodman, who has numerous body-piercings, have pushed the trend into mainstream culture. Popular entertainers such as Eve, Janet Jackson, Lenny Kravitz, Sisqo and Nokio of Dru Hill, and Cherokee have made piercing socially acceptable to their teen audience who are especially drawn to "body art."

Why do people pierce their bodies? "There's a very, very, sexual component to all of piercing," says Shervington, president of the National Medical Association. While there is the "radical element, there's also a great deal of sexual expression embedded in the practice--a little bit of the peacock," he adds. Nokio of Dru Hill seems to agree with the doctor when he says he did it "for the ladies. It's something about it. It's sexual." He said his tongue-piercing took about three months to heal and while it didn't affect his singing voice, he did "talk funny for a couple of days after it was pierced."

Janet Jackson, Nokio and several other stars have had their chest pierced. "At any given moment of the day ... a lot of it [body-piercing] can be very sexual," she said during a guest appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show. She has also had her tongue and nose pierced. Nose-piercing is quite popular with the stars. Other celebrities with nose-piercings include Eve, Lenny Kravitz, Da Brat and Jermaine Dupri.

Athletes have made body-piercing much more visible to the public, although most coaches require their players to remove the studs during a game. Kinsley O'Garrow, a senior lacrosse player at George Mason University, has an eyebrow barbell, a tongue stud and seven other piercings. Her coach says she is concerned about her athletes' safety, but doesn't dictate what they do on their own time. "They're addictive, they really are," O'Garrow says of the piercings. "Some people think I'm crazy because I have all these piercings. Then they get to know me and I'm not exactly everything they see me to be," she says. Sisqo of Dru Hill and Lisa (Left Eye) Lopes of TLC also sport eyebrow rings. Sisqo admits the eyebrow-piercing hurt, but said he did it to give his image an "edge."

Singers Shanice and Tracie Spencer, Beyonce of the singing group Destiny's Child and actress Suzzanne Douglas sport navel-piercings. New vocalist Cherokee, who has her nose and navel pierced, told Jet, "It's a symbol of beauty and expression to some people. For me, it's beauty." All cultures paint, pierce, tattoo or adorn their bodies, one anthropologist noted, to attract the opposite sex, boost self-esteem, show allegiance to a particular group or set themselves up as apart or different from the group. Egyptian pharaohs brandished their royalty by piercing the navel and Roman soldiers showed virility and courage with pierced nipples, according to one writer. …

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