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Tattoos and piercings: Decorations of the body and stories of the soul

Alexus Goodrum's chest tattoo.
Alexus Goodrum's chest tattoo.

The true importance of art lies in its power to bring people together and tell a story.

From the stunning paintings hanging in museums to the street art in Atlanta, art has power. In recent times, there has been an increase in creativity and self-expression as art — including body modifications. While body modifications through tattoos and piercings have been around for centuries as they play important roles within countless cultures, the full beauty of this art form and access to it is now more widespread than ever.

Tattoos and piercings offer a glimpse into the soul of a person, an outward projection of inner thoughts, deepest secrets or even simply what an individual thinks is cool. Tattoos and piercings can mean a multitude of things, but most importantly, they stand for self-expression and — for many — self-love.

“I use tattoos and piercings as a way to express myself, especially the tattoos. Piercings are more of a vanity, but tattoos contribute an artistic aspect to my own body, which I think is really neat,” said Jackson Sundgren, a sophomore at Mercer University.

Sundgren also described the importance of one of his tattoos as a reminder of his past.

“My piercings are really just for fun, as I can switch them out with whatever vibe I’m feeling. One of my tattoos does have an underlying significance — I have a serotonin molecule on my bicep. It’s a reminder of some tough times I’ve been through but to always be happy, since it is the ‘happy’ neurotransmitter,” Sundgren said.

Lauren Torres, a junior neuroscience major also shares the belief that tattoos specifically help us  remember moments and important parts of one’s life.

“My small cross on my wrist represents my religious beliefs, as my family is Catholic. My second tattoo on my right collarbone is my mother’s birthday in Roman numerals, since she’s my best friend and the person I admire most. My third tattoo on my right wrist is my little brother’s name in Arabic,” Torres said.

Lauren Torres' industrial bar piercing. (Image: Natalie Yaeger)

Other students described how tattoos and piercings are just for fun, an expression of themselves and their unique perspectives without carrying a heavy emphasis on a specific time or definitive meaning.

One such student is Alexus Goodrum, a sophomore and lover of tattoos as an art form.

“I think seeing my parents get tattoos when I was younger influenced me some to get tattoos, as I always thought of it as a way to take beautiful pieces of art with me,” Goodrum said. “Honestly, they don’t have that much significance. The one with the most meaning is the butterfly on my arm that says ‘Soul Shine’ because no matter what, at the end of the day, I’m going to shine through and do what’s right for me.”

Lauren Cheek, a senior, shares these thoughts, describing a snake on her forearm. It's the only tattoo she has gotten thus far.

“Snakes make me happy,” Cheek said. “Every time I look at my tattoo, I smile now. Some people think that because tattoos are permanent, the decision of what to get needs to be a big production. For me, tattoos and piercings are just about what brings me joy.”

Cheek and Torres both described how their favorite piercing is their industrial bar, a long bar piercing through the top of the ear. Both also have nose piercings that they love, Cheek with a septum piercing and Torres with a simple stud.

“I think I ultimately decided to get my septum piercing because I was in a bad place last semester, and I wanted a change. I wanted to do something for myself, something that made me smile. It worked completely. As soon as it was done, I couldn’t stop thanking the guy who did the piercing. I felt like a brand new person,” Cheek said.

Torres boasts a total of 14 piercings, 13 in her ears and her one nose stud — but she said more piercings aren’t out of the question. She’s thought about getting a daith piercing, which passes through the ear’s innermost cartilage fold, or tragus piercing, which sits near the entrance of the ear canal.

“Those are both painful piercings, as they would be going through a thick piece of cartilage in my ear. Also, I already have so many piercings in my ear that I doubt it would be a big difference for me, so that’s another reason I haven’t gotten more — besides their cost,” Torres said with a laugh.

While tattoos and piercings are important to many, Goodrum articulates how important it is to do research to find a good creator. She said she definitely wants to get more tattoos but also wants to stand up for herself within the creative process to get pieces that are perfectly “her.”

Jackson Sundgren shows off his tattoo and septum piercing. (Image: Natalie Yaeger)

“I don’t regret any of (my tattoos), but I do wish I would have spoken up and been more clear about what I wanted. For example, with the peach branch on my shoulder, I really don’t like how brown and realistic the colors are,” Goodrum said.

All four students believe that tattoos are an art form.

“People always say, ‘Your body is a temple,’ but temples are full of art,” Sundgren said. “I think they’re a fun way to express yourself and turn your own body into a work of art. Body modification makes me feel more confident and powerful. I see them as a unique aspect of my personality.”

Torres describes how tattoos and piercings are a form of art in that they are an expression of one’s truest self.

“Our bodies are like a living, breathing canvas that can be altered and changed with ink, color and metal,” Torres said. “Tattoos and piercings are ultimately an expression of one’s views, personality and outlooks on life. They are an expression of how I view myself because it’s not about someone else liking the fact of whether or not I have tattoos or piercings."

Goodrum shares this feeling, describing how amazing it is to look back on the experience and realize how much she has grown.

“The thing that makes me happiest about my tattoos is remembering the state of mind I was in when I got it and realizing how far I’ve come since then. My tattoos make me feel so badass and having them is definitely a big part of my personality. They make me, me,” Goodrum said.

Cheek said her tattoo and piercings are such a large part of her life and story, making her both more comfortable in herself and also happier as it is something she can control.

“There’s not a lot about our lives we get to choose or control, but this is something for me,” Cheek said. “My tattoo and piercings also remind me of certain times in my life. Sometimes it reminds me of happy times, and sometimes it reminds me of sad times. But even when it reminds me of sad times, it’s a reminder that I’ve moved past that."

Cheek says it best when she said the joy she feels about being her authentic self is the most important part of body modifications.

“Maybe it sounds silly, but I really think there’s something magical about doing something solely because it makes you happy and makes you love yourself more,” she said. “You can’t control all the terrible parts of life, but in the face of sadness, you can choose joy. That’s how I feel about getting piercings and tattoos. I’m choosing something that makes me happy.”


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