First it was miniskirts. Then came bikinis. And now the craze is all about tattoos and piercings. It is hard to find someone without one or the other or even both. Flaunting them is the key. Your daughter may come home one day with a tattoo of a butterfly and your best friend may soon run up to you to show off his new tongue piercings.

Whether you find them disgusting or attractive, there is no doubt that they fascinate. Research shows that they are not as modern as they seem and have actually been present throughout history. Otzi, an Ice Age man who lived 4,000 years ago, had tattoos, and the very first Egyptian mummies had pierced ears, lips and septums. But no matter how old or new, today they are still regarded as dirty and of a low social class. This is probably due to the negative myths and significance surrounding these body modifications. In 720 AD Japan, criminals were branded with visible tattoos as outcasts from their families and society. Seamen and labourers have been tattooing themselves since the 1700s and members of the upper classes specifically avoided being tattooed so as not to be mistaken for components of such low-class rankings. Legend has it that anyone with a tear tattooed on their cheek has committed a murder, and that the number of spiderweb linings on the elbows represents the number of times the person has been to jail. Yet even today, in a world where everything is possible and nothing hasnt already been invented, a tradition as old as tattoos and piercings is still viewed with disapproval.

In the last 30 years, body modifications have advanced in technique, cleanliness and precision. Yet society still struggles to accept them and the question does arise as to why. Why is it that Mike Kunkel, 19 years old from Tennessee, says: Ive had every type of reaction, up to attempts on my life, when someone twice tried to run me over. In the street people stare at me... and stare at me and then turn away, refusing to look at me. I often get looks of disgust and fear, just because of his 11 facial piercings?

Tattoo and piercing shops are believed to be filthy places where men with long greasy hair, leather jackets and beer bellies camp out to get another tattoo of a naked woman or of their motorcycle brand and where anyone who goes in or has proof of having been in is immediately branded as foul and troubled. But, in reality, that is not the case; the shops are said to closely resemble a doctors surgery and the artists should use sterilised gloves and equipment at all times.

Rome has never really been a city of piercings and tattoos. London and Berlin, for example, adapt more to this type of lifestyle and craze. But, observing the streets of Rome, you may have noticed a new wave of teenagers parading around with tattoos and piercings in the last few years. The most common ones range from cartilage, nostril and navel, and the more alternative groups dare eyebrow, lip or tongue. This phenomenon seems to be booming in all social groups, from grunge to posh, and among all ages and both genders. Designers are emphasising this lifestyle, choosing models with piercings and tattoos for their ads, and praising rebellious and alternative ensembles, and Romans are well-known for following the latest trend. Girls are now allowed the freedom of being bad girls and boys want to appear tough, so everyone is adorning their bodies, overlooking the resulting lack of originality.

However, body modifications still dont seem to be accepted by Romans. The common nostril and navel piercing gets away with a simple cute, but approval of the more daring piercings such as septums and stretched earlobes is rare. Nina, 21 years old, says: Here in Rome all you usually see are lip and nostril piercings done by piercing guns. Tattoos dont particularly shock anyone yet when you see something as banal as a septum piercing they get disgusted and say are you crazy?. There isnt a lot of acceptance of others choice of being different here. Matteo, 26, agrees and adds: People stare at me, think I dont see them and comment in hushed tones when I walk by. Sometimes, though, people do come up to me and ask me about my tattoos, whether they hurt or not, how much they cost and where I got them done, but no one really asks about why I chose to live and express myself this way.

Not that the reactions are always negative, but they outweigh the positive by a landslide. A wrist tattoo may be why a company refuses an employee, and an eyebrow piercing may lead to suspension, or in some cases expulsion, from a school. But are tattoos and piercings really so awful? How are they any different from toupees? They are all choices after all, and these choices should not base or fit anyone into a stereotype and make a difference in his or her life. Unfortunately, in some cases, it does tend to be that way but, on the positive side, the recent boom in fashion may result in greater acceptance. After all, is anyone shocked by miniskirts and bikinis anymore?

Wanted in Rome
Wanted in Rome
Wanted in Rome is a monthly magazine in English for expatriates in Rome established in 1985. The magazine covers Rome news stories that may be of interest to English and Italian speaking residents, and tourists as well. The publication also offers classifieds, photos, information on events, museums, churches, galleries, exhibits, fashion, food, and local travel.
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