Imposter Syndrome and the Body Piercer
Today marks my 11 year piercerversary, the anniversary of when I started in this industry. To think that it has been 11 years that I have been working in studios, piercing clients, and creating connections in this industry feels a little unreal. Next year I turn 30, and I will have spent almost half my life at that point as a body piercer. For my anniversary, I usually try to write a more personal, special piece. Something that reflects on this industry, my relationship with piercing, etc. You can find my previous pieces here and here.
This year, I want to talk openly about something I think we all experience in this industry- Imposter Syndrome.
Imposter Syndrome is loosely defined as doubting your abilities, feeling like a fraud, and feeling fake. And it often effects high achieving people who find it difficult to accept achievements and milestones. In body piercing, I think imposter syndrome can be especially difficult to face given the intimate nature of our work. We work on peoples bodies, and when we make a mistake or an error, the effects and consequences are far more severe. As piercers we are always concerned with giving our clients the best, safest services, and it’s always so frustrating when mistakes or errors do happen (and they do.) Piercers are only human, and that means we will make mistakes. Doctors make mistakes, scientists make mistakes, hair stylists make mistakes. It’s part of human nature.
Despite knowing this, and understanding the human nature of making mistakes, I always end up so much harder on myself when these things happen. I very recently redid a forward helix piercing that I simply wasn’t happy with. I pierced it, the angle wasn’t what I wanted, and I explained this to the client and was fortunate they trusted me to correct it. But I spent some time afterward feeling like a failure. Telling myself that I was a fraud, a disappointment. I, like many of us, deeply struggle with a sense of personality responsibility to my clients. I want every single thing I do to always be perfect. And when mistakes do happen I take it deeply personally. Somehow, in my mind, one mistake manages to erase the last 11 years of growth, training, skills and knowledge I’ve gotten.
And the piercing community is not exactly kind or forgiving to those who make mistakes. The industry has struggled with issues of abuse, and toxic online spaces. Many of us have worked in studios where bosses and coworkers will physically or emotionally abuse us for making the slightest mistake or misstep- I’ve been screamed at for answering the phone wrong. And almost all of us have gone online to educational forums and watched critique turn vicious.
This combines with a level of idolization of great or experienced piercers- this idea that those we admire online, at conference, and in our local communities are somehow perfect. That there is a level of skill, or time, or knowledge we can achieve where mistakes simply don’t happen. Where we never question an angle, struggle with a bead, and never need to redo something. As piercers we love to isolate ourselves when we make mistakes, and this leads to a sense that other piercers never struggle with these same things, and these same feelings. We convince ourselves that we are somehow less than.
I have been doing this for 11 years now, and when piercers message me that my content has helped them, or inspired them, I genuinely do not know how to respond. I try my best to be polite, to thank them for the kindness, to tell them how happy that makes me to hear it. But there is always, always a small voice in the back of my mind going “Me? My work helped you? But I am…not that good. I’m still learning so much…..theres so many better piercers to look to” Despite 11 years in the industry, in my mind and heart I often still feel like an apprentice or a baby piercer. I feel like I am always learning new things, educating myself on new things, refining techniques, improving my skills. Imposter syndrome coupled with experiences of abuse in the industry leave me doubting myself at every turn. It didn’t matter how many people had kind words to share with me- I didn’t believe those things about myself. So I certainly didn’t believe them from others. We all, I think, can relate to this feeling.
But more than that, I struggle with a fear of Ego. I have seen piercers who believed themselves to truly be the best of the best. Who stopped learning, stopped growing, stopped caring to be better. Who went around talking down to everyone else, acting like they were perfect. Who would never in a million years admit to making a mistake, let alone fixing one for a client. I have never wanted to become that type of person. But in my fear of doing so, imposter syndrome became my safe space. I couldn’t be egotistical or narcissistic- I doubted everything I did and hyper focused on every mistake I made. Never mind that I did 53 awesome piercings this weekend, made connections with clients, helped people feel safe, and had wonderful experiences full of joy and light in my piecing room. I had to correct that one forward helix- and that was all that mattered from the weekend. My mistakes were each weighed like a ton of bricks, while every successful piercing was a single feather.
At over a decade in the industry, I don’t have the answer to imposter syndrome. I still struggle with it. But in recent years I have started working hard to find a middle ground. When I make a mistake, I try to treat myself the way I treat my coworkers and colleagues. I correct it, I take time to ask myself how and why it happened, and how I can learn from it going forward. And when I feel I have learned from it, I let it go. It does not serve me to dwell on it. I also try to weigh my mistakes and off moments more equally to my successes. If in an entire month I do 200 piercings and only once or twice do I need to correct an angle, or resterilize a piece of jewelry I drop…well. Those aren’t terrible odds.
I also like to remind myself that I am not the only person who struggles with this and has these feelings. Many years ago, when I was a client not a piercer, I saw a piercer I have always admired and looked up to in the industry. He was who did virtually all the piercings on my right ear. And when we did my rook….that bead came to fight that day. He spent a good ten minutes struggling to get it to thread down. As a client, I honestly didn’t really care. He was gentle while he did it. I was just excited to be getting the piercing! Now, years later as a piercer, every time I feel like an 1/8 16g bead on a 3/8 circular is about to defeat me (which is often), I remind myself of that. I remind myself that we are all only human. I got a beautiful rook piercing that I still wear and love to this day. But he also gave me a more important lesson in humanity, and a reminder that you can be a fantastic piercer, educator, person, and friend. And fighting with one bead doesn’t change any of that. If this piercer that I admire so much has these moments sometimes, then it’s ok when I do to.
That’s also why I wanted to write this blog. I think as piercers we have created a bit of a culture of shame and secrecy around making mistakes. And this greatly contributes to our struggles with imposter syndrome and the ways in which we doubt ourselves. After 11 years in the industry, I want to say “I make mistakes. I’m imperfect. And I’m still a good piercer, and still proud of my work.” I hope my own journey with these struggles and vulnerability in talking about them can help others feel seen and acknowledged in their similar struggles. We are all just doing the best we can, every day.