Kevin Jump, a body piercer at HTC Body Piercing and a self-described “maker of the (w)hole” says piercings are “a physical expression of the artful soul.”
“It’s like this,” Jump says. “You can have a beautiful painting on the wall of your home, but when you have [something beautiful] on you, you own it. It changes you and changes your perception of fear. ‘Oh, so this is what it makes me feel.’ Maybe something as simple as a nostril piercing changes your outlook.”
He turns to the nerve-racked girl lying on the piercing table. She looks quizzically at Jump and the instrument in his right hand that will soon puncture her right lobe.
“I mean how do you feel about your nose piercing? You’re like, ‘I think you’re full of sh-t Kev,” Jump says.
But Jump is on to something. With 17 years in the field, he is well-versed in the language of piercings and the reasons why people get them.
“People have always decorated their body throughout history,” Jump says. “It’s a way to deal with fear not in a masochistic way, but it’s like a release. There’s an urge for everyone to deal with [fear], this is just an avenue to pursue it.”
HTC in Tempe has become a place where ASU students can get a much-needed release from the anxiety and stresses of college life. The unique environment with its lived-in black leather couches, pictures of heavily pierced and punctured jungle warriors, and friendly employees helps clients feel at ease while getting pierced or even just visiting.
Journalism senior Charissa Heckard acts as moral support to her friends looking to get pierced at HTC. She is there for her friends when she is not getting pierced herself.
Heckard is not only a supporter, but a customer. She is also familiar with piercings — even the ones that were done on impulse as a stress reliever.
“I have my septum pierced, double zero gauges and my rook and conch on my ear,” Heckard says. “I’d been thinking about getting my nose done and I’d had a stressful day at work so I was just like, ‘You know what, I might as well,’ and blazed over [to HTC].”
With a hairstylist and client relationship, Heckard pops her head in just to say hi to Jump, whether shopping for a new piece of jewelry or talking about her relationship problems.
“I got my conch [located in the inner ear cartilage] after a long-term relationship ended,” Heckard says. “When I got it done, Kevin and I talked for a while and I just felt this release. I needed a change; I wanted to distance myself from what happened.”
Getting pierced is not always necessarily an avenue of escape for students. Jump believes it acts as a way for people — especially students — to reclaim their own body.
“There’s a huge movement of people regaining themselves and stepping away from how our parents thought we were supposed to look or act like,” Jump says.
Mathew Coerper, who worked at HTC for four years, says he agrees.
“Basically they’re outside of their parents reach, and the fact that they can put a gem anywhere is pretty cool,” Coerper says. “It’s just in our culture now as we’re moving towards tattoos and piercing and accepting them as mainstream.”
Social media websites like Pinterest and Tumblr have made it possible for the mainstream to hear about unique piercings such as the daith, which hugs the innermost cartilage folds, the tragus or the triple forward helix — a popular photo of a girl’s ear with three cascading gems made the latter a popular choice for college students.
Still, Jump says there aren’t any new piercings out there; certain ones are just gaining more popularity.
“Just like high-waist pants are back from the 80s, piercings go through a cycle too,” he says. “Nostrils are more socially accepted and now it’s okay to have them in the workplace. We do a lot of cartilage piercings because those are elegant but still subtle.”
Digital culture sophomore Robyn Sedell stopped by HTC piercing with Heckard to even out her left cartilage with a rook, one of the more painful piercings that goes through the inner ear near the temple.
“It’s not like I enjoy the pain, I just like the way it looks,” she says. “I’m not into getting typical piercings like a belly button, but I wouldn’t go super adventurous.”
Jump says he has become desensitized to adventurous piercings and odd demands over time.
As for the strangest piercing requests he’s ever had: “You just laugh it off like ‘Yeah, yeah, you’re so crazy.’ You get quirky people, people with a real kink in them,” he says.
Jump says piercings have found their root primarily in the gay sadomasochistic community. A subgroup of Bondage Discipline Sadomasochism (BDSM), S&M primarily revolves around inflicting pain and receiving pleasure from that pain. Piercings, then, became another way for gays in this specific subculture to express themselves physically and to experiment with their partner. Now, however, the majority of HTC’s clientele are college students.
“There’s certain stuff that’s practical and stuff that’s not, and I don’t pierce if it’s completely ridiculous,” Jump says. “I’m not into just taking people’s money. I’m into people asserting themselves as an individual. People losing themselves and then helping them find themselves again.”
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org