Welcome to the freak show
Step right up to view the pierced woman, the tattooed man and the ones holding the needles
Wearing a simple summer dress, Nikki Martinez looks like a typical, attractive Chico woman. Both her ears are pierced. Not so unusual.
In fact, dressed in this way, no one would know she also has her belly button and nipples pierced, or that on her back she has a tattoo of an embellished zodiac sign. But the two blinging rhinestone gems pierced into her chest definitely catch the eye.
“People think they are fake; they try to scrape them off or think they are glitter,” she said.
About three months ago, Martinez, a 23-year-old Chico State student, decided to try dermal anchors, a new method of piercing. At first, she said, people seemed to dislike the piercings, or questioned her motives since they were swollen and red. Now she receives compliments and said she plans to get at least two more tattoos, and then accentuate her designs with the new style of piercing.
A dermal anchor is a single-point piercing in which the jewelry is inserted into the skin “like a button,” said Jodi Lyford, the lead piercer at downtown Chico’s Gearhead Barbershop & Tattoo. Lyford, also 23, said the method is a revolution in piercing, because “piercing has always been about going in one way [with a needle or jewelry] and coming out the other,” she said.
Just like any modification—piercing, tattoos, plastic surgery, different hairstyles or even the process of suspension where the body is suspended with hooks through the skin—dermal anchors are a form of reflection, Lyford said.
“I think people view themselves in a certain way and they are just materializing that; showing people how they see themselves,” Lyford said.
Even though they are semi-permanent and require a small incision to remove, she said they are actually less invasive. (Basically, a needle is inserted directly into the skin, tiny pockets are edged out on each side of the incision and the anchor is inserted and sits on top of the skin.)
Of course, Gearhead still does a lot of “average” piercings: navel, nose, eyebrows, lip, cartilage, nipples and even genitals.
It depends on whom you ask, but many say body art is not as taboo as it used to be. And new techniques, such as dermal anchors, are just a new modification to shock people.
Tracie Spence has noticed more people with tattoos in recent years, and said she thinks that they are more widely accepted.
“The quality is better,” she said. “It’s looked at more as art; more of a mainstream art rather than a back-alley art like it once was.”
Spence, 29, has three of her own: a colored Pittsburgh Steelers diamond logo on her right foot, an almond blossom on the back of her neck and a Japanese-style flower with her son’s name along her hip and stomach. Yet she finds herself doing double takes when she sees someone like a bank teller with a tattooed wrist.
For those who are a little more extreme, the attention is often amplified.
“Everybody looks. Some look because they want to see the art, some look because it’s eye-catching … whether they like it or not,” said Antonio Nava, who has multiple images on his arms and legs.
Nava, who co-owns Chico’s First Love Tattoo, is surprised he has been asked only twice if he has been to prison, because people see a tattooed sleeve and immediately think of prison life. In reality, there are an array of reasons people get tattoos: when a loved one dies, or a child is born, or for love, he said.
It may just be a form of expression or a display of artwork, he added.
When he was just 14, Nava’s friends had a homemade tattoo machine and asked him to attempt three letters in Old English. He had always been an artist, so that same night he tattooed a scorpion on his right thigh.
After discovering a love for the art, Nava continued to practice and eventually began apprenticing at a shop in Redding. He went on to spend time in Washington state and San Francisco, getting tattooed by some of the famed experts (Lyle Tuttle, Don Ed Hardy and Marcus Pacheco) so that he could learn from the best. He and his brother, Juan, have been operating First Love Tattoo for two years.
Nava, 29, is nearly one entire canvass. He has a giant image of Christ covering his back; his last name is on his stomach; an octopus wrapped around a woman is on his hip and he has some tribal designs on his right leg, along with an unfinished alien woman. Blue roses decorating his left leg are for his sons, he said. His left arm is covered in an abstract bio-mechanical style with 3-D depths. The right arm is more traditional with an oriental flair.
These days, Nava said, even the people who don’t like tattoos appreciate them as art. They’re everywhere, even on television. Still, he stressed the importance of thinking before getting a tattoo and researching artists. And in Chico, where there are at least half a dozen tattoo shops, there are plenty to choose from
“It’s like having a certain haircut or certain clothing,” he said, “except it’s permanent.”