Todays blog post is for the piercers, and it’s one that is a bit of an uncomfortable topic. I would say that the vast majority of piercers would agree that the most important element of our job is our clients. After all, when we are doing piercings we are taking some real risks with other peoples bodies. We spend so much time working on learning proper technique because we want to do piercings that are well done and heal well. We devote hours to learning about sterilization and to cleaning our studios because we want to do piercings that are clean and safe. We spend time with each client guiding them through the process and soothing their nerves because we want them to feel comfortable and supported getting a piercing.
No piercer wants to do bad piercings, piercings that cause clients irritation, discomfort, pain, scarring, or infection. No one wants to see another human in pain or potentially cause serious permanent injury to someone via our actions. That’s why when it comes down to it the most important element in piercing is and should be the client. We do what we do to make sure the client has a safe, clean, comfortable experience. So what is going on that recently I see an increasing number of piercers prioritizing themselves over the client? What happens when we choose ourselves over our clients?
As a professional piercer I occupy a number of piercing related spaces online. From social media platforms to educational forums to casual group chats with other piercers. I am almost always having some piercing based interaction at any given moment. And in these spaces I have been seeing a trend that has made me feel uncomfortable. Piercers putting themselves before their clients. Prioritizing their career or their income or their popularity online over the humans that sit in their chair every day, over the bodies they are trusted with. This looks like a lot of different things.
It looks like piercers coming online and admitting they work in an unsafe environment. They work in a studio where their coworkers do not have proper first aid and bloodbourne pathogens training. Where they cross contaminate regularly, sometimes as severe as directly getting one clients blood on another client. A studio where they are not properly cleaning things between clients, or properly cleaning tools between clients. And when they are encouraged to leave this situation if nothing is being done to keep people safe or report these unsafe practices to local health departments they refuse- “the owners are my friends. The artists mean well. I make good money here."
It looks like people knowingly getting bad apprenticeships. Working in studios where they know they are not properly trained and acknowledging they do piercings in unsafe ways. Admitting they have never been taught about proper anatomy, they don’t use quality jewelry, and they haven’t really been taught much about proper sterilization. Sometimes its people who had only a single week of training who are now offering piercings to a paying public. And when they are encouraged to leave and seek a proper apprenticeship and proper education, they refuse. “This could be my only shot of making it into the industry. Piercing is my dream. I can’t give this up.”
Sometimes it’s a very dire situation, like a piercer who reached out to me for advice when a client was bringing legal action to them. This client ended up with a massive infection that caused them to loose an entire breast implant. The client was obviously distraught and was planning to sue for the cost of the infection but also the cost of multiple surgeries to repair her breasts. The piercer pierced them too soon after surgery, incorrectly, with low quality jewelry. This piercer had been online before asking for help with nipple piercings, admitting they weren’t trained well at all and knew they weren’t doing things correctly. When they were encouraged to stop offering the service until they could do it safely they refused- it made them too much money. They couldn’t afford to stop offering such a popular service.
Sometimes it is a much less dire situation, and a seemingly great one, till you dig deeper. Like a piercer who reached out to me in excitement landing their first job at a quality, APP studio with good jewelry and good resources. This piercer had never had a proper apprenticeship and honestly needed a full reapprenticing to do piercings well. I congratulated them on this move but also encouraged them to make sure they were being trained again. Unfortunately, quality jewelry, safe practices, and APP membership don’t automatically make a studio a safe space- they weren’t actually given any real retraining. The same lacking skills just with better jewelry in a prettier space. They reached back out to me many times with questions about why piercings they did didn’t heal, why clients were having so many issues, why they were coming back in pain. When I continued to encourage them to find a studio where they could be trained properly and learn how to pierce well they refused- “Moving is too hard. I like it here, I’m getting popular online and I use pretty jewelry! I know I’ll figure it out on my own eventually.”
Regardless of the situation, I see a common thread happening all over. Piercers and apprentices and front of house who know they are in a bad situation, who know they are doing things wrong. But choose to stay in the situation because it’s what works best for them right now. Because it makes them money. Because it gets them followers on the internet. Because they like their bosses.
But none of these reasons mention the client. None of these responses consider the bodies of the people we work on every single day.
I want to make it clear that I don’t think it’s easy to be in any of these situations. It’s unbelievably hard, it makes you sick to your stomach. It’s an impossible choice. I know how this can weigh on people, the way it can keep you up at night and have you crying in the break room at work. I know this because I have been in this situation myself, on more than one occasion. I once was the apprentice who knew I had a bad apprenticeship but couldn’t bring myself to quit because this was my dream.
Until a client came back with an industrial I did that was entirely incorrect. It was digging into the flat of her ear and she was in so much pain. Pain that I caused. With my lack of education, with the low quality jewelry I was using at the time. I had chosen to stay at a studio where I knew I wasn’t properly trained and I knew the jewelry wasn’t good and honestly I knew we weren’t clean enough. But I convinced myself I would figure it all out on my own. I was reading books, reading threads online. Saving up for my first conference. I’d started spending time with folks like Luis Garcia and AJ Goldman- getting piercings by them and watching them pierce friends and people I knew. I could do this!
That industrial piercing (and a harsh but honest talking to from Luis) changed the trajectory of my career. Before that point I had willingly put blinders on. Willingly ignored the flaws in my work and very willingly pretended everything was fine. I hadn’t seen any clients back with major issues, and it was “just” piercing. It would be ok. I would figure it out.
Looking back I am ashamed of myself. I knew I was doing bad work and I knew bad work had consequences for clients, real, painful, difficult consequences. And I did everything I could to ignore those consequences or pretend they didn’t exist. But deep down I did know. I would do a piercing and know it wasn’t right. I would put in jewelry and feel this discomfort down my spine knowing it was wrong. I would tell a client they couldn’t get a piercing they wanted just because I didn’t know how to do it, and I went home feeling a quiet, gnawing sense of shame inside. It took that client coming in and seeing how bad that piercing had gotten. Being face to face with the harm I had caused. And it also took some tough honesty from people I admired. It is never easy to be told you are bad at something you are passionate about, and I will never forget Luis telling me plainly that my work was awful, that he had seen it in his studio and fixed it. That if I really, truly cared about my clients then I could not keep doing this. I needed to stop putting myself and my dreams in this industry in front of the very people who allowed this industry to exist- the clients.
Myself, and many others, come from backgrounds like this. We weren’t properly trained, we didn’t have good apprenticeships and we didn’t use good jewelry. And many of us are open about that, but only in the vaguest sense. After all, what piercer wants to come online and tell their peers in detail about bad piercings we did. But I think we are doing our community a disservice in holding onto our shame and hiding away these facts. When we hide the reality of our journeys of piercers we make it out to seem like we were bad, some time passed, and we magically became better through just hard work. This narrative serves to allow others to put on these blinders and ignore the harm they are causing to clients. Ignore the uncomfortable fact that in order to become better like this it means making mistakes on clients- lots and lots of mistakes. And ignoring the reality that these mistakes cause real harm to clients bodies, ranging from pain and discomfort to scarring and permanent damage to actual serious medical emergencies. I actually have an entire article here about this concept of the cost of improvement for piercers that goes along with this blog.
It shouldn’t have taken seeing that bad industrial for me to make the call to leave the studio I was in. I knew better, long before that client ever came back to me. I knew and I stayed because staying was easier then leaving. Because leaving was scary, it was expensive, it was difficult. Because I was only thinking about myself.
The truth is I didn’t magically become the piercer I am today through just some hard work. I became the piercer I am today because I did the difficult process of getting a proper, safe education. For me, that meant leaving the industry at a few different times and working jobs stocking shelves at Walmart and sams club. It meant giving up weekends or events with friends to drive 4 hours and shadow other piercers to learn new ways to do things or work safely. It meant going from being a lead full time piercer in a studio to working front of house part time just to be in a better studio and learning correctly. It’s meant 3 different cross country moves to continue getting the opportunity to work at better studios and along side better piercers to grow and learn more. And most importantly it’s meant constantly asking myself “does this choice benefit just me and my career? Or does benefit my clients?”
What made you want to become a piercer? What are your first memories with getting pierced? What have been your best experiences getting a piercing? And what have been your worst?
Something I like to do is remind myself what it was like to be a client. As a piercer and especially after over a decade of piercing sometimes one of the hardest things to do is remember what it is like to be the client. To be in the chair. The excitement of spending hours online looking for inspiration photos and planning what you want. The nerves leading up to the appointment. The pressure of picking jewelry and getting lost in all the pieces in the case. That feeling of adrenaline that happens when you are called into the piercing room. The nerves and the anticipation- wishing for it to be done already but simultaneously hoping you have minutes left before you have to get pierced. The amount of trust you put in your piercer. Struggling with the fear, trying to find bravery. And of course, the feeling of looking in the mirror. How incredible that new piercing felt. How cool I thought I was, for getting it, for braving the nerves and the pain. What it was like to look in the mirror and not think about technique, or angles, or the iodine still on my skin. What it felt like to just look at myself and be overwhelmed with the experience I had just had, the rush of getting a piercing I had been dreaming of for so long.
Somewhere between statim cycles and instagram posts we loose that feeling of wonder. We forget what it feels like to be a client. And we can never really fully go back. We will always be on the other side of the counter as a piercer. We have only our memories of our experiences as clients to truly help us remember what it was like.
And I think because we do loose this, it becomes easy to stop doing this job for clients and start doing it for ourselves, or for other piercers. Doing what we do because it looks cool on the internet or makes us more money or it’s easier this way. And when we do this, when we loose ourselves to this, we also stop putting clients first. We forget what really brought us to this industry and made us want to be here. We forget what it was to be a client, and it becomes so easy once we do to justify doing things we know hurt clients.
Clients bodies should always come before piercers egos.
It is my hope that this blog will encourage you to reconnect with what brought you to piercing, and help you remember what it is to be a client. It is also my hope that this blog can serve as inspiration to piercers who do find themselves in difficult situations who are struggling to navigate the best choice to move forward.
As always, my inbox is always open for anyone to reach out to me directly with questions or advice. And at the time of writing this there are quite literally dozens of amazing studios currently hiring piercers and front of house, who are willing to work with folks of all backgrounds to get them doing safe clean piercings. There is more out there, for you, and for your clients, if you can find the bravery to pursue it.