It seems as if everywhere you look these days
someone has something pierced or a tattoo displayed on his or
her body. Tattoos and body piercings, also known as body modification,
are showing up not only on celebrities and sports stars, but
also on classmates, friends and perhaps even on you.
The reasons why people pierce some part of their body or get tattoos
are endless. Some do it for self-expression, some just because
they can. Still others do it simply for shock value.
Lynn, a former co-worker, gave herself a small
tattoo on her ankle when she was a freshman in high school —just
to see if I could do it.— It was an expression of the creative
and curious side of her personality, she says. But she admits
that she—s glad it's small and unnoticeable.
Whatever your thoughts on body modification, some issues deserve
your attention. In this Youth Update, we—ll look at some
issues and motives involved in determining whether or not getting
a tattoo or body piercing is a good decision for you.
While body modifications are not forbidden by the Catholic Church,
defiance, deceit and rebellion toward authority are not in the
spirit of Jesus and the teaching of the Church. This means why
is as important a question as what and when and
where. We—ll address all these issues here.
Forever Is a Long, Long Time
Think of all the different styles or fads that have already come
and gone in your life. Would you go back to some of them?
One of the big things when I was in high school was to dye one—s
hair different colors. It seemed really cool then, but when
I look back it doesn—t impress me much. I can—t imagine how
I would feel now if I could have permanently dyed my hair rainbow
colors. Had I decided at the time to get a tattoo or have my
nose pierced, I would still be living with the effects of that
Jerry, a guy with whom I went to high school, had his ear pierced
during his senior year. He liked the look, but didn—t like the
fact that people made fun of him for it and told him he looked
like a girl. Although I didn—t like seeing my friend get made
fun of, I told him that if he was adult enough to get the earring,
then he should be adult enough to accept the negative consequences.
My sister—s friend Jill got a tattoo on her ankle last year and
says she doesn—t regret it, but won—t get any more. Her advice
to anyone considering a tattoo is to —make sure it—s what you
really want, because it—s with you forever.—
She also pointed out that where you get the tattoo is an important
part of the decision. Jill noted that having a tattoo on your
arm, where it can be easily seen, is more likely to influence
other people—s reactions to you than if it is located someplace
less noticeable. She says, —It is not a decision to be made
lightly, and you have to be mature enough to make that decision.—
Messages and Misunderstandings
Permanence is not the only issue around body modification. You
will want to consider what the changes you choose communicate.
Whether it—s right or wrong, some people hold the stereotype
that people with tattoos and body piercings are troublemakers
This fact was made evident in a news report I read about a man
who was beginning treatments to remove the tattoos from his
head, hands and arms. He said that people often would cross
to the other side of the street when they saw him coming, or
if he would hold a door open for an older woman she would often
use another door, simply because of the way he looked.
Perhaps one reason people develop this stereotype is the prevalence
of tattoos in gangs. Gang members often have their gang name
tattooed on their body and can earn other tattoos signifying
things such as jail time. Those who decide to leave the gang
or want to put that part of life behind them will have a constant
reminder of that period of their life, as will everyone else
with whom they come in contact. If you have wisely chosen to
avoid gangs and gang activities, your tattoos may still be read
by others as gang symbols.
Beauty and Health
Most professionals who perform tattoos and body piercings will
not work on anyone under the age of 18 without the consent of
a parent or guardian. If you find someplace that will give a
tattoo or piercing to someone under that age without parental
consent, you may want to stop and think of what that says about
If a business is willing to ignore the law by performing these
procedures on underage persons, perhaps its employees may not
be very concerned with the strict sanitary procedures that most
tattoo shops or stores that do body piercings follow. If you
are willing to deceive them or to do business with them despite
your parents— wishes, your dishonesty and disobedience are issues
as significant as your actions.
One of the biggest health concerns with tattooing and body piercing
is AIDS. Both procedures require that a needle be inserted into
your skin. If the needles were not properly cleaned and sterilized
after being used on someone else, your chance of contracting
a disease is much greater. Much attention is given to the hazards
of drug addicts sharing needles. This is a similar concern.
The average time it takes a tattoo to heal completely is four
to six weeks. Body piercings, depending on the placement, can
take anywhere from four weeks to six months to heal. That is,
of course, if there are no complications or infections. Everyone
Infections can occur even when proper sanitation procedures are
followed. For instance, after I got my ears pierced, I kept
playing with the earrings. Both my ears got infected, not because
of the store where I had my ears pierced, but because of the
germs on my own hands that I was putting in contact with the
holes in my ears.
You may also know people who must wear certain types of jewelry
(hypoallergenic) to prevent an allergic reaction. The same applies
to body piercings. Sharing jewelry for your piercings is never
a good idea. What may work well with one person—s body may cause
an infection or reaction in yours.
Did you know that some people—s bodies won—t even accept some
piercings? I know of a young girl who after much thought got
her navel pierced, only to have to take the ring out because
her body rejected the piercing and the infections wouldn—t heal.
She told me that it was frustrating that, after all the research
she had done and finally making her decision, she had to take
the jewelry out. She never thought that there could be a problem
with her own body rejecting the piercing.
Taking care of your body is a basic responsibility you have. Putting
yourself in an unnecessarily dangerous situation is not having
respect for yourself. You must respect yourself enough to look
at all your options, ask questions and choose the healthiest
decision for yourself. Achieving a certain look is certainly
not worth a risk to your health or even your life.
Did you know that some religious denominations do not allow tattooing
or body piercing? For instance, among Jewish believers, a traditional
Jewish burial is denied to persons with tattoos or body piercings.
Some Christian churches also have restrictions on these body
The basis for many religious objections to tattoos and body piercings
is an Old Testament passage which states, —Do not lacerate your
bodies for the dead, and do not tattoo yourselves. I am the
Lord— (Leviticus 19:28). In this passage, the lacerations and
tattoos described were part of non-Jewish mourning rituals,
intended to disguise the living from the spirits of the dead.
Such religious motives seem to have little influence on those
who choose body modification today.
Perhaps they should. The Second Vatican Council declared that
the human person is obliged to regard the body —as good and
honorable since God created it and will raise it up on the last
day— (Gaudium et Spes, #14). Some tattoo motifs, at least,
seem less than good and honorable and, thus, inappropriate decoration
for the human person created by God.
Even if you judge body modification to be appropriate, you need
to acknowledge that others may not share your view and this
can affect your future. Will a potential employer look at you
differently because of the hole you have in your nose, or the
tattoo on your calf? Some may. I—m not just talking about your
future career. How you look may also affect your ability to
get a part-time job now. Or, if you have a job already, you
may want to check to see how your employers feel about tattoos
and body piercings.
My friend Matt, who got his ear pierced for his 18th birthday,
presents a good example. His parents were O.K. with it, but
his employer was not. His employer told him that he could not
wear the earring when he was at work. Since he had just had
the piercing done, Matt couldn—t take the earring out for a
couple of weeks or else the hole would close up. The employer
said that he would have to cover the earring up then.
After walking around at work with a Band-Aid on his earlobe for
a couple of weeks, Matt said he certainly wished he would have
checked out all the possible roadblocks to his getting an earring.
That—s not to say that he regretted his decision, but he says
he may have reconsidered the timing.
Another scenario you may want to consider is what if you have
your boyfriend or girlfriend—s name tattooed on your body and
then the two of you break up? Do you think other people you
date in the future will appreciate someone else—s name on your
And how is that tattoo going to look years from now when your
skin starts to sag or you gain weight, causing your skin—and
tattoo—to stretch? I recently heard a story about a girl who
had the rays of the sun tattooed around her navel. She was quite
pleased until her first pregnancy when the tattoo stretched
along with her expanding stomach. I—m sure you can imagine how
the tattoo looked after the pregnancy.
If you want the look that a tattoo or piercing will give you,
but not the permanence, you have some alternatives. Many stores
at the malls sell removable tattoos and fake nose rings, earrings,
etc. And I—m not talking about the fake tattoos you get in bubble
gum machines or as prizes in cereal boxes. Some of these imitations
look just like the real thing. Using these alternatives is a
healthy but temporary way to achieve the look that you want
and still decide whether or not it—s a look you want to keep.
Tattoos can be removed, but the procedure can be very costly and
painful. Removal of one square inch of tattoo can cost from
$500 to $1,000. Laser removal of a tattoo usually leaves some
type of scarring. The scar may be just as noticeable, if not
more so, than the original tattoo.
Also, sometimes the procedure to remove a tattoo simply removes
the pigment and color from the ink used for the tattoo. The
result is a flesh-colored scar in the shape of the tattoo. That—s
not to mention that the ink remains in your body and can cause
health problems, such as ink poisoning. Instances of that are
rare, but still a possibility.
Permanence is also an issue with body piercings. Just because
you no longer put jewelry in a pierced part of your body doesn—t
mean the hole will close up and return to the way it was before.
It may, but could leave a telltale scar.
If it—s simply a new look you—re striving for, perhaps you should
first try a new hairstyle or way of dressing. Sometimes you
can say just as much in those ways without putting yourself
at risk or ending up with something permanent you don—t want.
You should also ask yourself why you want to achieve a new look.
Is it something inside you that you—re trying to change by altering
your outward appearance? Maybe you should work on the inside
then before you start marking up your body. You can change your
attitude without changing the way you look. As a matter of fact,
changing your outward appearance may have the opposite effect
that you want it to have.
In the end, the decision of whether or not to get a tattoo or
have your body pierced is not yours alone if you—re under 18.
It involves your parents or legal guardians. Given the long-term
implications and permanence of your decision, it is not a decision
to be taken lightly, even if your parents agree to it.
Before you make any decision, do some research. Check with your
local health department to see what requirements, if any, there
are for getting a tattoo or body piercing in your state. Tattooing
is illegal in some U.S. states. If it is legal, there are regulations
for this industry in your area. You need to know those
Talk to some people, both older and younger, who have already
been through the process and lived with the results for a while
to see what they think. Would they recommend doing it? Do they
have any regrets? If so, what are they? What are the health
Check out some places where they perform these procedures. Most
places will be more than happy to talk to you without pressuring
you to make a decision.
Your body deserves respect and the best of care.
Reckless, rebellious or thoughtless choices do not express that
The question you ultimately must ask yourself when considering
a tattoo or body piercing is: Are they marks worth making?