You know the drill: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is only skin deep. It’s what’s on the inside that matters, not what’s on the outside.
Now isn’t that just what you’d expect a homely philosopher to say? Or, even worse, some anorexic supermodel type whose blatant hypocrisy about the thing that’s keeping her knee-deep in cocaine and designer duds makes you want to stick her head in the toilet and give her a swirlie for two hours? Come on. At some point we’ve all wanted to add something to the way we look, draw two on the hand we were dealt, and it’s not necessarily a bad or superficial thing. Our bodies might be temples, but some of us have had to settle for the fixer-uppers instead of the posh lakefront properties. A lick of paint here, a new deck there, and you can increase the resale value of almost anything—or at least make it look more like someplace you really want to live. You’ll be living in your body for the rest of your life, so why not do a little puttering?
Furthermore, you are always free to justify any personal reupholstering or daubs of proverbial spackle in artistic terms. In some cultures, flawless skin and perfect hair and teeth represent beauty, but in others they merely present a blank personal canvas to paint up, carve up, burnish, brand, stick full of bones and hoops and otherwise adorn for pleasure or to denote social status. It’s your thing—so do with it as you wish.
Body piercing dates back more than 5,000 years, when Egyptian pharaohs would ceremonially pierce their navels. While body piercing was historically done for religious or political reasons, today it is mostly a matter of fashion. Modern primitives have more options than a millipede has legs, and in some case are just as likely to elicit the comment “Eww, gross!” Nonetheless, below are some vital stats for the piercee-to-be.
Commitment: Body piercing takes a matter of seconds. Piercings are also essentially temporary, although they can leave scars if the needle gauge is large enough.
Price tag: $20–$30 above the belt, $50–$75 below the equator, plus the cost of jewelry, which can range from $5–$125.
Why buy more expensive jewelry: The cost of body jewelry tends to reflect the purity of metal used. Sterling silver and surgical stainless steel contain trace deposits of nickel and aluminum, which can cause skin irritation. Purer metals like gold and titanium are less apt to cause these problems.
Ouch index: Though some people describe a piercing as “two seconds of the world’s most excruciating torture,” others actually enjoy the sensation. We call these latter folks “masochists.” As a general rule, piercings that go through cartilage or erogenous zones are, obviously, more likely to make you claw the walls.
Health concerns: Montana has no regulations for body piercing. “You could get a piercing on the street corner with a dirty safety pin, and it would be legal,” says James Rasch, a body piercer at Painless Steel Tattoo and Body Piercing in Missoula. However, keeping the area clean and free of bacteria will prevent disease, as will being pierced by a professional in a sterile environment.
Social stigmas: While they have gained some level of acceptance in mainstream culture, many piercings are still considered taboo. Some employers have a dress code that prohibits visible piercings, and the United States military considers piercings to be “defacing of government property.” Motivation/inspiration: People adorn themselves to show status, membership to a group, or for a personal sense of beauty. Piercing is no different, but in the case of “below the belt” piercings, there is the added benefit of “improved sensation.” (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.)
Talk About a Solution That’s Worse Than the Problem: In Victorian England, one of the men’s fashions was to wear lightweight pants. This had the unfortunate side effect of creating an unsightly bulge. Prince Albert solved this problem by piercing the tip of his penis and hooking it off to the side, thus creating the piercing that now bears his name. And you thought the Victorians were uptight.
For many American Indian and Polynesian tribes, tattoos served as an all-purpose identification device. If you could decipher this language of pictures and symbols, the tattoos could tell you a person’s name, his or her status within the tribe, deeds in battle and lineage. In the modern day, tattoos serve a similar purpose, as a symbolic representation of something important to their wearer. Below are a few important tidbits about this form of bodily adornment.
Commitment: The length of time it takes to get a tattoo is dependent on three things: size, detail and body placement. The larger and more detailed a tattoo, the longer it takes. Additionally, if an area has a large amount of body fat, it needs to be stretched out, and more space needs to be covered to make a visible tattoo. More importantly, once you get a tattoo, you’re pretty much stuck with it unless you decide to have it removed through surgical means. This procedure can be performed at Dr. John Harland’s office at St. Patrick Hospital. The procedure typically costs $150 per session, and actual removal takes between three and eight sessions. In addition, the laser doesn’t work well on any colors besides blue and black, and can leave scars.
Price tag: If the parlor charges by the hour, the cost is between $85–$100, with a $40 minimum. Some parlors charge by the piece, meaning that they set an individual price for each potential tattoo that walks through the door.
Ouch index: Tattoos that are placed over bones, and tattoos on areas that are not usually exposed to the world, like the undersides of the arm, are more likely to smart.
Health concerns: Plenty. To be a tattoo artist in Montana, “You have to be clean enough to not give people diseases, but you don’t have to know what you’re doing enough to not give scars,” says Sarauna Torrez of Painless Steel Tattoo and Body Piercing. Torrez cautions potential tattooed people to ask about sterility, ask to see the autoclave, and ask to look through the artist’s portfolio. If the person giving you the tattoo can’t or won’t do these things—leave, says Torrez.
Social stigmas: The stigma of tattoos has undergone radical change in the last 20 years. As one bumper sticker proclaims, “They’re not just for bikers and whores anymore.” Still, facial tattoos and other tattoos that can’t be covered by shorts and a T-shirt still prevent some people from getting jobs they might otherwise land. By the same token, if you want a job at a place like Hot Topic or most bars, they could actually be helpful. Motivation/inspiration: People with tattoos will tell you that they are addictive, that once you have one you’ll want more. They’ll also tell you that they’re contagious, that when you see an interesting tattoo you’ll want to get one like it. Most compellingly: In Torrez’ words, “Tattoos are just cool.”
They might not grab the instant attention of say, a brand-new Mohawk fresh off the clippers, but your fingernails can be a very expressive component of the body artistic. You’ve also got 10 of them to work with and, as an added bonus, they eventually grow out so you can change colors and designs almost as often as you like. Depending on your preference and price range, a nail artist can imbed your new claws with rhinestones or other gems, airbrush and stencil preexisting designs on them, or custom paint the design of your choice—flowers, unicorns, skulls and crossbones, anything. Toes, too!
Commitment: “It can take awhile,” says Sorella’s Salon and Day Spa co-owner Beth Brodsky. “It’s kind of a complicated process in terms of sizing the tips, getting them on, filing them down, getting the product you’re going to use. And there are a lot of different things you can use—gel, acrylic, fiberglass.” Even after the initial work is done, of course, you’ll still want to keep your new acrylic nails looking their best by going back to the salon from time to time to get them filled in where they grow out of the cuticle.
Ouch index: Does it hurt? No, says Brodsky, unless your manicurist doesn’t know what she’s doing and clips into your cuticle. Or unless there’s a mishap with the Dremel tool the manicurist uses to grind and shape the synthetic nail material. But the Sorella’s staff knows what it’s doing, right, Beth? “Yes,” she says firmly.
Price tag: A manicure will set you back $20–$25, a pedicure $40–$50. A full set of new nails will cost you around $60, and the price of nail art can climb as high as you care to go. Depending on the design and the amount of time involved, the nail artist can charge either by the nail or by the hour.
Neat facts about nails: (1) Contrary to popular folklore, nails and hair do not continue to grow after death. The illusion of growth is caused by the skin receding. (2) The French talk about nails en deuil, literally “in mourning,” to mean that they have dirt trapped beneath them. (3) For farmers with hogs, a good rule of thumb for predicting new litters is to make a notch at the edge of the white “moon” in one’s thumbnail. When the notch grows out, the hog is ready to give birth.
In times past, kings in Ghana wore so much gold that they inspired the popular expression “Great men move slowly.” In other parts of the continent, the expression might have been “Great men move painfully, as with the rash of a poison vine,” for the practice of scarifying the body as an indication of status and beauty was widely practiced among the Chokwe and Lunda peoples of northern Zambia, southern Angola and parts of the Congo. Though scarification has yet to gain the widespread popularity of tattooing as a means of permanent body modification in the United States, there is every reason to believe it could someday. You kids today—you’ll try anything. Scarification, particularly branding with shaped and heated coat hangers, is a rite of passage commonly undergone by initiates to some black fraternities in the United States. It’s a mark of solidarity and acceptance, representatives say, though officially not condoned, as well as a tribute to the practice of branding slaves in the New World. Generally, people with darker skin form better keloids, the desired raised scars produced by the body in response to trauma, which might explain why lighter-skinned people have traditionally stuck with tattoos.
Types of scarification: There are several kinds of scarification, also known as cicatrization, among them cutting, chemical, abrasive, and branding. Cutting involves making incisions in the skin with a sharp blade. Chemical and abrasive scarification are just what you’d figure: using chemical agents and friction, respectively, to damage the skin and induce scarring. Branding, whether with shaped and heated metal or a soldering iron-type device, is another method of producing scar tissue, and there’s even a variant called “laser” branding. Not actually done with a laser, the process involves a device similar to an arc welder. The body is grounded, and a spark jumps between a cutting electrode and the skin, vaporizing tissue in its path.
Ouch factor: Think about it, dude. Sky high, though some claim it doesn’t hurt much more than a tattoo. Once the nerves are burned away, that is.
Commitment level: Sorry, but all sales are final. Price tag: With no business in western Montana publicly offering scarification services, unless you’ve got an in somewhere you’d either have to (1) go someplace else, (2) get a friend to do it, or (3) do it yourself. In the case of (2) or (3) it’s free, or very nearly so—and probably worth every penny.
Health concerns: Though the greatest risks are probably personal (do you really want to wear a Nike swoosh for the rest of your life?) and aesthetic (what if it just looks like a big, ugly blob when it heals?), there’s also the risk of infection. Which, with proper wound care or a visit to your local burn unit, can be minimized.
Social stigma: You can always tell a potential employer you burned yourself installing a new muffler.
While most body art is done for spectacle, there are those who assign a deeper spiritual meaning than what can be found leafing through the pages of a tattoo magazine. In larger metropolitan areas, consumers can pay body artists large sums of money to make their body, literally, into a work of art, if only for a single evening. However, many Native American tribes have been painting their bodies since long before anyone began charging money for it. Let’s focus on the Native American outlook on body painting as shared with the Independent by Johnny Arlee, a tribal member who directed last month’s Salish and Pend d’Oreille People Meet the Lewis and Clark Expedition Pageant.
Purpose: Putting on paint is considered an act of prayer. Components: Tribes generally do not use the paint that can be bought in stores. Instead, they make their own paint out of clay, charcoal and berries, with clay as the predominant ingredient.
Commitment: Paint can be worn for a brief while or for several days, depending upon the ceremony. The ceremony itself can be quite lengthy, as it is accompanied by numerous songs and prayers.
Symbolism: Each color has a specific meaning. Red paint is used to indicate those who have gained honor, often by drawing blood from an enemy. Yellow signifies a medicine man or woman. Black indicates an extremely successful, fearless warrior who may have entered enemy territory without weapons in order to gain honor and humiliate the enemy. White is used less frequently, but also symbolizes power.
Sectarian use: Occasionally, some tribes may use paint simply for show, but this is a rare occurrence.
History: When the Lewis and Clark expedition met the Salish tribe, the Salish thought that York, the black man who rode with the expedition, was the only successful warrior among the group, because of the color of his skin. In many rituals, tribes may paint their horses as well. Special considerations: Most tribes consider the act of painting their bodies a deeply personal, spiritual prayer. Therefore, outsiders are generally not permitted to witness the ceremony unless they are invited, unlike urban body painters, who seem to enjoy the attention that comes with their display.
A dark brown paisley stretches across a wrist. An inky filigree wraps around an ankle. Henna art is a sexy addition to the in-between parts of a body. And it’s “safely outrageous,” according to practitioner Helen Burnside, who works out of The Rainbow’s End in Missoula.
“Most of my customers are looking for something for fun for a week or two,” Burnside says. “And some people are doing a pre-trial for a tattoo.” But henna is more than just a party souvenir or a low-commitment tattoo. It has an ancient and exotic legacy all its own. As a natural cosmetic used by women primarily on their hands, feet and hair, henna dates back several millennia in a range of cultures extending from present-day Morocco to Malaysia.
The henna plant, a small shrub, grows in the hot, dry climates of Africa and Asia. Arabic designs feature large, floral patterns. In India, where henna is known as mehndi, the patterns are more fine and lace-like. In greater Africa, the patterns are traditionally bold and geometric.
Burnside applies henna, which looks like a paste of oregano or basil before it dries, with a small squeeze bottle. The paste must be left undisturbed for six hours to fully stain the skin. A good application lasts one to three weeks depending on several factors. People with porous, dry skin find the design lasts longer than those with oilier skin. But a frequent swimmer, for example, may find that chlorine strips off the design faster.
Burnside has worked on only one man, and he was accompanied by his wife. They commissioned matching mehndi symbols of “love and magic.” Otherwise, Burnside has no sociological profile for her customers; they span all ages and occupations. Her youngest was a 6-year-old girl.
“She had to come back two times because she smeared it,” Burside says. “And two weeks ago I had a woman who may have been in her late 60s.”
Commitment: What takes 10 to 20 minutes to apply and several hours to set will last from one to three weeks.
Price tag: $7 to $20.
Ouch index: None, except in the rare instances when a rash occurs.
Health concerns: Henna itself can cause an allergic reaction, but only rarely. However, other ingredients in the paste can cause problems and Burnside warns her clients that the product she uses—which contains leaves of the henna plant crushed together with lemon and tea—should be avoided by those who are allergic to eucalyptus oil and citric acid.
Social stigmas: As mysterious as a salt caravan across the Sahara Desert, as beautiful as the reflecting pools at the Taj Mahal.
Machelle Nelson is no Tammy Fae Baker, but she admits having gone through a bathtub of eyeliner during her adolescence.
“The thing is, well… I never don’t wear eyeliner,” she says.
Nelson’s words aren’t hyperbole. After years of applying the black paint every morning, she invested in a permanent solution. Through the miracle of micro-pigment implementation (the technical name for permanent makeup), she’s had the edge of her eyelids, between her lashes, darkened. Voila! No more sleepy sessions of applying the goop.
More paint-by-numbers art than abstract-expressionist art, there’s a lot of skill involved but not much creativity. The true art is making the tattooed eyeliner—or lip liner, lip coloring and even Madonnaesque beauty marks—look “natural.”
In Nelson’s case, it’s been a success. As our Indy photographer zoomed in on her lids, Nelson explained to a friend that she was going to be in the paper because of her permanent eyeliner.
“You have permanent eyeliner?” replied the friend.
Reader, be advised: People may try to convince you that permanent makeup is not a tattoo. Don’t let them. While the end result isn’t a gecko on the lower back or the visage of Jimi Hendrix on your forearm, anything that involves perforating the skin with very tiny needles to embed permanent ink is a tattoo.
Commitment: Application takes anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours depending upon how much color and thickness you want. The stuff’s half-life is about five years.
Cost: In the $250 to $1,000 range (but it may eventually pay for itself in what you save on eyeliner).
Ouch index: “It’s not like getting a tattoo,” insists Nelson. After the topical anesthetic kicks in, most people describe the procedure as a mild plucking sensation.
Health concerns: Early on infection is possible and dryness is probable (globs of Vaseline, especially in the shower, help to moisturize). In a couple of weeks, you’re better than new.
Social stigma: None. If done correctly, everybody thinks you’re just wearing makeup.
Why in the world would you want to tattoo your eyelid?: “Just to save time,” says Nelson.
Toupees and hairpieces “Dude, I don’t think toupee is the preferred nomenclature.”
The term now is “hair system,” as in, “Sir, is that your hair system clogging the Waikiki Hilton’s filtration system?”
While the fuzzy things fly in the face of the credo that bald is beautiful, not to mention that they disregard the clout of the world’s sexiest man, Patrick Stewart (I’m looking in your direction, People magazine) they make a lot hairless men feel good. They give a balding man confidence, strength and virility. But only if you can keep them from bobbing across the deep end.
Until recently, toupees were attached to the noggin using wire loops surgically stitched into the scalp or via tunnel grafting, a procedure in which pieces of skin are surgically cut out from behind the ear lobe and then implanted into the scalp to form living loops of skin that can accept plastic fasteners. While the hairpieces rarely fell off, serious infection, scarring and nasty odors were ugly drawbacks.
“That’s just not done anymore,” says A Cut Above proprietor Phyllis Wade. “We use adhesive and tape.”
Wade’s hair system studio is located in the basement of her salon. Here she performs the art of metamorphosis. A cartographer of the scalp, Wade uses plastic wrap, foam and plaster of Paris to map the affected area, then sends the blueprints off to China with a lock of her client’s hair. Weeks later a patch of perfectly sculpted, perfectly dyed human hair arrives in the mail. Then she simply glues the thing on.
“It’s definitely an art,” Wade says. “You have to know how to cut them or they’re just not going to look real. You know, you’ve seen what I’m talking about.”
And we all have, haven’t we—that just-not-right shag sitting slightly askew on an uncle, a professor or a CPA’s head. Wade makes sure to cut the natural hair every six weeks or so, carefully blending the lengths. The result: “I had a guy who’d lost almost all his hair and when he saw [the results], well, you’ve never seen a smile like this.”
Commitment: Every six weeks you need to be refitted, re-cut and re-glued.
Cost: Close to $1,000! But hey, it’s worth it for all those winks from across the bar.
Ouch index: Mild discomfort, if any, but hey, it’s worth it for all those invitations to come in for a nightcap.
Health Concerns: None, but hey, it’s…well, you get the point. Social stigma: If you get busted, the effects on your sex life may be a bit troublesome, so even though they say it’s all right, you might think twice about swimming laps on your first date.
Body building is not about strength or health. It won’t turn a 98-pound weakling into a 200-pound specimen of manliness. And it’s no substitute for vigorous aerobic exercise and eating five pieces of fruits and vegetables a day.
But body building, even recreationally, can give Joe and Jane Average something to be proud of. Joe, the shy wussy, may turn into the 150-pound envy of his middle-aged friends during a weekend at the lake. And Jane, the wilting wallflower, may start flexing in front of the mirror at home, her biceps as attractive as rough-cut jewels.
Like all art forms, the fundamental motivations for body building are not pragmatic and the results not necessarily valuable. Sculpting muscle takes a lot of time and few will get rich for having a six-pack abdomen. Body building is about aesthetics, plain and simple. Actually, some might see it as 90 percent vanity and 10 percent aesthetic, or maybe vanity is just an ego-enforced aesthetic.
Anyway, vanity is at the root of what brings clients to personal trainer John Humble, a 250-pound national and world champion of various competitions muscular, from Olympic lifting to body building to power lifting to oddball strength contests like bench-pressing.
“They want to get hard, get the fat off, and look good,” says Humble about his clients.
With a 52-inch chest and 18-inch arms, Humble is no exception to the vanity clause. In a soft, shy voice that suits his name, Humble explains that this winter he plans to cut his weight down to 220 pounds, a more reasonable amount for his five-foot, eight-inch frame. But it’s more than vanity that keeps people pumping iron. Eventually, he says, they get addicted to the endorphins released when working out and the feeling of self-control that comes with changing the way they look. Hardcore body builders consume a boring low-fat, high-protein diet of chicken and egg whites, and consume very small amounts of it, about 1,500 to 2,000 calories a day. Unlike their power-lifting cousins who move maximum weight with only a few repetitions, body builders complete multiple sets of eight to 10 repetitions for each muscle group. And that’s after spending the morning jogging or pedaling a stationary bicycle. Price tag: From $35 a month for a typical health club membership to $50 per session with a personal trainer. A refrigerator full of chicken and eggs not included.
Ouch index: No pain, no gain may be a cliché—but it’s true. Commitment: Unlike permanent modifications such as tattoos, the results of body building begin to go soft after 72 hours. With this art form, you are only as buff as your last workout.
Health considerations: Huge amounts of protein can overwhelm your kidneys. And taking a detour into power lifting can strain your tendons. Pop a hamstring doing squats and you’ll have to rewrite the ouch index discussed above.
Social stigma: You may lose the respect of poets, punks, and priests. However, you can hide bulging deltoids under a sweater, visit an empty gym before sunrise, and pass off your carnal obsession with muscles as a healthy, family-oriented hobby.