the hole story Whether fetish, fad or fashion,enthusiasm for body piercing goes beyond skin-deep

July 16, 1993|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

At first glance, Eric Poland looks like any other non-conformist in his mid-20s. His hair is long, his clothes are black and a bit grungy, and his attitude is low-key and congenial. Pass him on the street, and you probably wouldn't give him a second glance.

Unless you notice his jewelry. Or, more specifically, where he wears it.

Poland is a body-piercing enthusiast. In addition to eight earrings (four in each ear), the 23-year old has had his septum, nipples and navel pierced. He knows that some people find his interest bizarre -- he mentions a neighbor who wouldn't talk to him because, she said, "I thought you were a Satan worshiper" -- but shrugs off most such comments.

"All piercing is," he says, "is an adornment."

Maybe so, but people are adorning some pretty odd parts these days. Not only do a growing number of young people sport nose studs, eyebrow hoops and navel rings, but more extreme piercings -- nipple rings, tongue bars and genital piercings -- have become surprisingly common among the hip and trendy. Yet as tempting as it is to write piercing off as one more fad for the fashion-hungry, the fact is many devotees say the practice builds their self esteem and strengthens them spiritually.

But there are still a lot of people who think piercing is just plain weird.

Just ask Tamara Zuromskis. She also wears nose jewelry, but hers is just a stud through her nostril. "A lot of times, people will treat me a little bit odd, and I don't realize why unless I think about it," says the 19-year-old Johns Hopkins undergrad. "It's not the first thing I think of when I meet people, whereas the first thing they think of when they see me is that I have a nose pierce. And I'll forget that."

Nor are noses the only unusual body parts sporting jewelry these days. Look around on the night life circuit, and you'll see club kids sporting hoops through their eyebrows and mini-barbells through their tongues; head down to the beach, and you'll see sunbathers wearing navel rings along with their tans and bikinis.

And those are just the parts that show.

Star stuck

It helps, of course, that there are stars who have piercings. Like actress Lisa Bonet, who raised eyebrows with her nose ring. Or rocker Axl Rose, who turned up on the cover of Rolling Stone with a hoop through his left nipple. Or soul singer Mary J. Blige, who sports a discreet stud in her right nostril. Or porn star Madison, who has actually had a neck piercing named after her.

"You've got now a lot of younger people reading magazines like Details and Interview, and you see navel piercings in that," says Scott Shatsky, a master piercer at the Gauntlet in San Francisco, one of only a handful of above-ground piercing shops in America. (There are no body piercing shops in Maryland.) "And the fashion industry has made it sort of fadlike. Models on the runway in Paris have their septums pierced now."

"Piercing is becoming widespread because it has several functions," explains Gen (the only name she uses), an Orlando, Fla., piercer who fronts the rock band Genitorturers. "For instance, we have the aesthetic value of piercing. With the younger generation -- high school age and college age -- a lot of them are doing it for aesthetic reasons. They get a lot of navel piercings, nose piercings, eyebrow piercings and occasional nipple piercings. Those are all things that are more decorative piercings.

"One thing I find, however, is that more and more people are interested in piercing for the sexual and spiritual reasons. A lot of the piercings are performed as part of a spiritual ritual, such as the Mayan tongue piercing. In addition, there are a number of piercings that have actual sexual functions, to stimulate or repress, depending on the placement of the piercing," Gen says.

"And then there are people who actually enjoy the act of piercing and incorporate that into their sex life. What we're talking about is definitely someone who would perform piercings on their partner, or on themselves, and who would find this sexually stimulating."

Many of these practices have existed for years. For example, one popular male piercing is called the "Prince Albert" because it was popularized by Queen Victoria's consort. Other piercings have their roots in tribal practices or rites of passage.

Rebels with a hole

But for many American teens, body piercing is first and foremost a form of rebellion, a means of wearing your nonconformity on your face -- or abdomen, or wherever.

"People I've seen who have pierced noses, et cetera, tend to be rebels," says Zuromskis. "They tend to be kind of self-abusive, too. People with low self-esteem. My theory is that it's a form of socially acceptable self-mutilation. But for me, I think it's kind of a fetish."

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