A Needle through the Neck
Some people think that’s sexy. But often it can all go wrong.
That a daughter will come back from college with two metal balls sticking out of the back of her neck isn’t high on the list of most parents’ fears. But that’s probably because they don’t realize how popular such piercing styles are now.
“Surface piercing” is the latest body piercing craze. Picture sticking a pin through the top of a piece of cloth, and pushing it out the same side. Now think of doing that on your skin. Nape (back of the neck) piercings are popular, as are “madisons,” in the front of the neck, and cleavage piercings.
Kayla Prendergast, a student at Northeastern University in Boston who hopes to become a surgeon, is not the sort of person you’d expect to try it. But a few months ago, Prendergast visited her piercer and asked for “something different.” She walked out with two metal balls sticking out of her nape, connected by a small rod under the skin.
It’s more than just a bid for attention, one study found. Surface piercers are likely to have experienced stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one, abuse, a severe injury or death of a close relative or friend, according to a University of Florida study, which based its results on a survey of 280 undergraduates at the school.
Devotees often get simple designs pierced into their skin; diamond shapes and crosses are popular. It’s a rage performed in many piercing pagodas worldwide.
But some, including a world-famous piercer, thinks most people should avoid them.
Too many piercings have gone wrong, said Fakir Musafar, a former ad exec and ballroom dancing teacher turned body artist. Born on a South Dakota Indian reservation in 1930, Musafir has been called the “father of the modern primitive movement,” a title that refers to his mastery of all types of body piercing, and his development of modern techniques for the practice of ancient piercing rituals. He has been featured on NBC, CBS and National Geographic, and is a sought-after speaker and author.
“The body rejects it, because it doesn’t agree with the body, unlike the ear or the nipple, which the body doesn’t have a problem accepting physiologically,” he said.
A young woman from West Virginia emailed Musafar for help with a failing surface piercing. She complained that she “had around my belly button pierced 10 times in the shape of a star. When (the piercer) did the procedure it looked great, until about a month later when all of the balls on the bar bells started sinking into my skin. My skin was swelling and sucking them in.” She stated that, as a result of her predicament, the piercer had been fired.
Other piercers defend the practice.
“As long as the piercing is done by someone who knows what they’re doing, and the piercing is cared for by the person who got it, it has about a 90 percent success rate,” said piercer Pete Lozada, who works at the New York piercing studio Le Roi.
A study conducted by the Association of Professional Piercers, the piercing industry’s leading organization, also found the success rate very high. Nape piercings heal successfully over 90 percent of the time; and cleavage piercings about 80 percent of the time, according to the results of the three-year survey.
“In the past few years, surface piercing has really become as common as navel piercing and eyebrow rings,” Lozada said.
Dr. Donna Meltzer of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, who has also studied piercing’s effects, citied several reasons for their failure: the wrong gauge jewelry for the body site; constant friction of jewelry against skin; and the piercings on parts of the body that can’t comfortably accept them.
When piercings work, though, they can stay in the body for a very long time. Dominick Arduino has been working as a piercer since the mid 1990s at New Jersey’s renowned Starlight Tattoo.
“I have some surface piercings that I’ve done from seven or eight years ago that I still see on people that look as good as they did back then,” he said.
It’s not just a twentysomething thing. At middle age, Louis Rove, the adoptive father of former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, had 37 piercings, many on his genitals.
Some who get piercings admit to enjoying their shock value.
“I just love that people look at me, and would never expect me to have a piece of metal in my neck,” Prendergast said. “Also, as annoying as it is to hear ‘did that hurt?’ and ‘oh my God that’s crazy,’ by random people 24/7, I love the fact that it gets that reaction out of people, because it isn’t a common thing to see.”
Nape piercing is one of the latest crazes in body art. Photo courtesy of Kayla Prendergast
"I love the fact that it gets that reaction out of people, because it isn't a common thing to see,” says university student Kayla Prendergast, right, who had two metal balls sewn into the back of her neck. Photo courtesy of Kayla Prendergast.