A Brief History of Body Piercing

For centuries people all over the world have chosen to pierce their bodies. Ancient cultures who supposedly had little to no known communication with each other found it necessary to pierce themselves in a very similar fashion. Ear lobe piercings of varied sizes were commonplace, and many indigenous peoples also pierced their nasal septums, nostrils, areas around their lips, and even their genitalia. The 2400 year old Ice Princess from the Ukok Plateau; Otzi the 5300 year old mummified Iceman; and King Tutankhamun all were found with evidence of enlarged ear lobes and ancient piercing jewelry. Written texts such as the Kama Sutra, the Vedas, and the Christian Bible all describe body piercings in a positive light including parts of the penis, the ear lobes and the nose. Piercing was a cultural tradition for many tribes in the Americas, as well as China, Greece, and Australia, among others. We may never know if the similarities of these acts were merely coincidence or something more.
Roughly 700 years ago body piercing, in particularly ear lobe piercing, became popular among sailors as they returned home wearing souvenirs from faraway lands. Many piercings became popular with soldiering types as they were thought to add an image of fierce masculinity. The Victorian Era saw some popularity in nipple and genital piercings among the upper class men and women, but by the 1930s the popularity of piercings outside of tribal origins had been retained mostly by sideshow performers. Fetishists, punk rockers and modern primitives (those in Western society who hold a reverence for the sacred tribal origins of the piercing and its ritual use) drove body piercing that much closer to social acceptance and popularity over the next several decades. In 1978 the first official body piercing storefront in the world was opened in Los Angeles named the Gauntlet. The men behind the venture are still considered to this day fathers of the modern piercing industry; Doug Malloy, Jim Ward, and Fakir Musafar. Sadly the Gauntlet closed its doors 20 years later after amassing many retail locations, jewelry manufacturing, mail-order department, and corporate offices. With the Gauntlet died the defining magazine of the sub-culture, Piercing Fans International Quarterly (PFIQ). The Gauntlet had created and refined many techniques and jewelry designs used for body piercing, they also trained the generation of piercers that would push the newly created industry to a higher level of popularity. In 1993, Paul King pierced a young Alicia Silverstone’s body double for the Aerosmith music video “Cryin'”, almost immediately a new craze engulfed the land and the popularity of the navel piercing was born.
Today body piercing can be found in businesses around the globe. It has been depicted in major television series, feature length movies, and chart topping songs. You can find about as many tattoo studios in the United States that offer body piercing services as do not. There are several locations that focus on piercing solely. There is a professional membership organization dedicated to piercing safety and dissemination of education called the Association of Professional Piercers (APP), which holds an annual educational seminar for piercers to advance their knowledge of the craft. There are several piercing related courses and seminars available for further knowledge to industry professionals, as well as industry specific trade publications. Nowadays people get pierced for a variety of reasons; to mark time and events, as a rite of passage, for a bonding experience, for spiritual or therapeutic reasons of importance to the individual, and even for erotic gratification. It is hard to establish if piercing has the same importance today as in the ancient cultures of long ago, but regardless of its history there seems to be some inherent need to perforate our skin. 

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