Writing about body modification, Part V

Reasons for retiring a mod:

Your character just loses interest. Tastes tend to change throughout life, even in short timespans. Perhaps s/he starts liking different mods better, becomes more interested in tattoos, or just loses the former love of piercings.

Nipple piercings get in the way of breastfeeding. Constantly taking any mod in and out is very annoying, and leads to irritation. Many women decide to let it heal up until they’re in a position to wear jewelry in it at all times again.

Conservative workplaces and schools’ rules. It sucks, but many dress codes still forbid more than a certain number of mods, or certain types. Constantly switching between retainers to disguise the piercings and real jewelry also creates irritation, and people may decide to abandon a piercing till they’re in a position to have it properly.

Jewelry can fall out, esp. cheap jewelry. Some piercings, esp. new ones, heal up really fast, even in less than 24 hours. Even long-established piercings can quickly heal over if devoid of jewelry holding the fistula open.

Related to the above, having to remove jewelry for surgery or major medical procedures. I was lucky enough to get permission to keep my nostril piercing in during all six of my surgeries with anesthesia (out of seven surgeries total), provided I covered it with medical tape. Others aren’t so lucky. Some people go through the hassle of removing piercings only to have the surgery date changed or cancelled.

Some people feel they’re “supposed to” naturally “outgrow” piercings by a certain age or stage in life. That choice should be respected, as much as it pains me to see people giving credence to outdated stereotypes instead of providing a robust counter-image of proudly modified parents and people in their thirties and above. It’s the same way many people seem to be operating from a checklist like “Ooh, I’ve had kids, gotta buy an SUV and move to a housing development in suburbia!”

Rejection! My navel piercing was doing so well, and my very honest piercer said I had an anatomically perfect navel to pierce because it had the right kind of flesh “shelf” to hold it up. But then I began gaining a lot of weight rather quickly, and I noticed a red bump that wouldn’t go away.

For a long time, I was in denial, and finally, on Duran Duran Appreciation Day 2016, I let myself realize it was in an advanced stage of rejection, barely hanging on. Letting it continue to reject and break through the skin would’ve made it so much worse. Since I’m so superstitious about auspicious and inauspicious dates and numbers, I waited till the holiday was over, and removed the jewelry about 1 AM on 11 August.

Since I’ve lost almost 70 pounds and am back down to 150 pounds, my navel can be repierced as soon as I move back to an area with an APP piercer. Scar tissue from previous navel piercings is also said to serve as an anchor holding the new piercing in place better. Since navels are such long, slow healers, it’s recommended to get them done in autumn and winter, before swimming season.

Piercings can be ripped out of the body if they get caught on something, or in violent accidents or attacks.

People who work out a lot or play certain sports can lose certain piercings from physical stress on the body. E.g., a scuba mask constantly rubbing against an eyebrow piercing, movement on exercise and weight machines pulling against a navel or nipple piercing.

Potential issues, complications, and things to consider during the healing process or afterwards:

The gold standard for aftercare used to be warm, non-iodized sea salt soaks, but now many APP piercers sell and recommend saline spray. Salt soaks are one and the same as saline spray, only more time-consuming. A warm salt soak feels great for an irritated, angry piercing, but if everything’s normal, it’s better to spray the piercing or soak a cotton ball with saline and hold it against the piercing. When my rook and conch were healing, I used saline cotton balls overnight.

Infections can occur if piercings aren’t regularly, properly cleaned. When in doubt, your character should see a doctor. Removing an infected piercing causes the infection to be trapped inside the body, and can be life-threatening.

Improperly stretching ears creates blowouts and split lobes, which can only be repaired by a doctor or extreme mod artist.

Swimming should be avoided for 4-6 weeks after a piercing, unless one wears a waterproof bandage. I was in the pool soon after my rook piercing, but I rinsed it before and after, and felt it was fairly safe since it’s tucked away inside the top of the ear. I almost never got chlorine water on it.

Sex should obviously be avoided while genital piercings are healing!

Piercings can get bumped and caught a lot more than one might think. Even clothes can rub against them uncomfortably or pull them out. Ear piercings shouldn’t be slept on while they’re healing. Hair should be pinned or pulled out of the face to avoid wrapping around jewelry and giving a painful tug.

Writing about body modification, Part IV

Images courtesy of BodyCandy, used solely to illustrate the subject under Fair Use Doctrine.

Types of jewelry:

Image result for external vs internal threaded jewelry

Internal threading is the gold standard. APP shops only stock internally threaded jewelry. Your character might buy cheap, externally threaded jewelry from Hot Topic or Claire’s, but if s/he went to an APP shop, the piercing would’ve been performed with internally threaded jewelry.

Externally threaded jewelry screws directly into the ball, whereas internally threaded jewelry has a smooth barbell or ring that clicks into a short connecting piece on the ball. APP piercers only use the latter because it’s much more comfortable and reduces the risk of microdermabrasions and trauma.

Think of it this way: Would you prefer to screw something with rough, sharp ridges directly through a wound, or would you prefer smooth objects?

Mass-produced jewelry retailers opt for external threading because it’s much cheaper, but health is nothing to fool around with. I was so grateful for internal threading when I sadly had to remove my navel barbell due to advanced rejection I’d been in denial about.

Image result for external vs internal threaded jewelry

Labret posts (again, the T is NOT silent!) are used in many ear piercings, labrets, philtrums, Madonnas and Monroes, and sometimes nostrils; i.e., single-point piercings with a fairly thin layer of flesh. If there are problems with swelling (as there were with my right third lobe), a longer bar can be substituted.

Barbells (curved or straight) are used in tongues, cheeks, certain ear piercings, nipples, tongue webs, surface piercings, eyebrows, navels, bridges, septums, and genitals. It’s best to use a curved barbell in surface piercings, to reduce pressure against the skin and thus the chance of rejection.

Some barbells (esp. for navels) have little charms dangling from them, but it’s not recommended to wear them longterm. Ideally, you only want to wear them for a brief, special occasion, like a day on the beach or Halloween. When I have my navel repierced and it’s hopefully healed this time, I can’t wait to wear all sorts of fun Halloween barbells in it.

Captive bead rings are used in ears, nostrils, septums, nipples, labrets, and genitals. They can be worn in navels, but it’s not generally recommended.

Circular/curved barbells are most familiar in septums, the so-called horseshoe that can be flipped up to hide it in conservative workplaces and schools. They can also be worn in ears, nipples, nostrils, genitals, and labrets.

Clickers are worn in septums, and have so many great designs. Body Vision Los Angeles has two awesome bat clickers I’d love to wear during October when I’m finally back in an area with an APP piercer and can get my septum pierced. Believe it or not, some of us liked that piercing long before the Woke™ crowd added it to their uniform’s checklist.

Industrial barbells are worn in ear industrial piercings, at the top of the ear. Not everyone has the anatomy to properly support a traditional industrial piercing.

Nostril screws are pretty self-explanatory! They’re also extremely difficult to remove and insert on one’s own, though that’s not a bad thing. For the longest time after my nostril emergency in early 2015, I was paranoid about my jewelry falling out again, and constantly checked my new screw was still in.

L-bars are much easier to remove and insert in the nose, though they don’t seem as secure as nostril screws. They can easily fall out.

Nostril studs are extremely cheap and liable to fall out. I knew better than to wear cheap, short nostril studs after finally removing the very long, light blue nostril screw I was pierced with, yet I did it anyway.

Plugs are worn in stretched ears. There are lots of pretty, original designs these days. Your characters aren’t limited to boring metal or wood if they’re contemporary. Plugs can also be worn (albeit not as large-gauge) in stretched labrets, philtrums, nostrils, cheeks, Madonnas, and Monroes.

Eyelets are also worn in stretched ears, though they’re hollow instead of solid. Many people mistakenly call them tunnels.

Dermal anchors are worn in single-point surface piercings. Since the skin grew over the back of my tragus piercing, it now functions as a dermal anchor. As soon as I’m back in an area with an APP piercer, I’m getting it fixed.

Surface bars are staple-shaped barbells worn in surface piercings.

Hanging weights are for stretched ears, either worn in smaller-gauge piercings or inside eyelets. Think thick, curved or curled designs in metal, wood, or glass.

Retainers are usually non-metal and meant to disguise piercings in conservative schools and workplaces. They may be plastic, silicone, acrylic, or nylon. Others may be metal that blends into one’s skin tone. It really sucks that some employers still forbid certain piercings, or more than a set amount, but wearing a retainer isn’t a serious hardship.

Tapers are used to stretch piercings, and NOT intended to be worn as longterm jewelry!

Any of these can be anodized in the shop if they’re metal. E.g, you might like a captive bead ring to be bronze with purple beads, a rook barbell to be blue with one green ball and one yellow ball, or the ball on a nostril screw to be rainbow.

More details

Writing about body modification, Part III

This was originally begun on 8 March 2015 but indefinitely put into my drafts folder. I felt exhausted at the thought of writing up what felt like an endless list of piercings! New material  is in bold.

This is the third official installment of a series on writing about body modification. This installment covers healing times and historical developments. When it comes to non-earlobe piercings and tattoos on anyone outside of the military and underground subcultures, unless your characters are aboriginal, you’re pretty much limited to contemporary and contemporary historical. You can’t have a character in the 19th century sporting a stretched septum or an anti-eyebrow piercing!


Lobe: This is historically the most common body mod across cultures, though only in the last few decades has it become more socially acceptable for non-aboriginal men to sport earrings. Until about the 1970s, it was standard practice to get pierced by a needle at home, not by a gun in the mall. Around the same time, it became more socially acceptable for women to have multiple ear piercings.

In eras when hair, bonnets, and high collars covered the ears, earrings were unnecessary. When it was the fashion to wear the hair up, earrings became ubiquitous fashion accessories.

Earrings sharply fell from favour in the U.S. and U.K. in the late 19th century. They were associated with low-bred, vulgar women, though women from the highest reaches of society wore earrings. Clip-ons were invented in the 1920s, followed by screwbacks.

Pierced ears came back into fashion in the 1950s thanks to the new Queen Elizabeth II.

Healing time: 10 weeks

Helix: This is the next-most-common ear piercing. It probably became more popular around the same time as multiple ear piercings. The healing time is about 4 months.

Tragus: This piercing got popular during the Aughts of the 21st century. Healing time is 4 months.

Anti-tragus: This is another non-standard ear piercing of fairly recent origin, and takes at least 6 months to heal.

Rook: This piercing was first publicised in 1992, and named after famous piercer Erik Dakota, in a shortened version of his forename. Healing takes at least 6 months.

Snug: This piercing was named by Caitlin Theobald in the mid-Nineties, after the clothing company Snug Industries, which was owned by her then-boyfriend. Healing takes about 8 months.

Daith: This piercing was created in 1992, and taken from the Hebrew word da’at, “knowledge.” Da’at is also part of the Kabbalistic Tree of Knowledge, representing the union of understanding and wisdom. Healing time is 6 months.

Conch: Historically, the conch was pierced by the Hindu subgroup the Gorakhnathis and the Mangebetu tribe of Zaïre. Both the inner and outer conch take at least 4 months to heal.

Industrial: This piercing, like the daith and rook, was also publicised in 1992 and created by Erik Dakota. It’s similar to the orbital, which is connected by a ring instead of a bar. Both take about a year to heal.

Stretching: Historically, many diverse cultures have practised earlobe stretching, but it didn’t become common or popular in the West till the Nineties. When properly stretching, one shouldn’t skip sizes, and should take at least a month at each size. It’s a journey, not a frantic, rabid race. Once one gets to 00, there are no more tapers to stretch to the next size with, and one should begin wrapping a few layers of tape around a plug. One may also have the ears scalpeled to achieve a larger size more quickly, and then continue stretching normally until the desired final size.

Nostril: One of the most ancient piercings across many cultures, even mentioned in the Bible. In India, it’s traditional to pierce the left nostril, which is believed to have an ayurvedic link to pain relief in menstruation and childbirth. Indian brides wear a nath, a chain connecting their nostril ring to an earring.

Healing time is 6 months to a year. My car accident was only 7 weeks after my nostril piercing, and my body shifted all its energy into healing the most serious injuries. I felt zero pain when I was pierced, not even a prick.

Septum: Just as historic as the nostril and lobes, though unfortunately now part of the Woke™ uniform along with things like blue hair and pronoun checks. The septum cartilage itself isn’t pierced, but the sweet spot between the septum and bottom of the nose. So-called “horseshoe” rings can be flipped up and hidden in more conservative workplaces and schools.

Healing time is 6–8 weeks.

Bridge: The bridge of the nose was first pierced in 1989, on Erl Van Aken. This piercing is nicknamed the Erl after him. As this is a surface piercing, there’s a high risk of rejection, even with a curved barbell. Healing time is 8–10 weeks.

Navel: Disputed historicity. Some believe the Ancient Egyptians pierced their navels, while others have found no evidence it’s anything but contemporary. The piercing took off in 1993. Mine sadly rejected due to extreme weight gain, in spite of my very honest piercer explaining I have an anatomically perfect navel to pierce. Healing time is at least 6 months, often over a year.

Eyebrow: Appeared in the 1970s as part of the punk scene. As a surface piercing, it carries a high risk of rejection, though some people have had eyebrow piercings for over 10 years. The anti-eyebrow piercing is on top of or next to the eyebrow. Healing time is 6-8 weeks.

Tongue: Documented in Aztec art, though there’s no evidence this was a permanent piercing. Westerners were exposed to it in early 20th century sideshows. As a body piercing, it appeared in the 1980s. Contrary to the oft-repeated misnomer, the jewelry is a barbell, NOT a ring! Healing time is 4 weeks. Oral piercings tend to heal very quickly.

Labret: Practiced by many indigenous tribes around the world. Most people are familiar with the stretched lip plates worn by certain African tribes. It became popular in the West in the 1990s. Many people pronounce it like a French word, but it’s Latin, “little lip.” Healing time is 6–8 weeks.

Monroe/Madonna: Respectively on the upper left and right side of the top lip, after their famous namesakes with such beauty marks. It appeared in the mid-1990s. There are lots of slang terms for piercings around the mouth, which professional piercers cringe at, like snakebites, angel bites, dolphin bites, dog bites. Just tell them where you want your piercings, don’t use silly slang terms not everyone understands! Healing time is 3–12 weeks.

Philtrum: The indentation in the middle above the upper lip. According to Jewish legend, an angel teaches us all the world’s wisdom in utero and taps on the philtrum just before birth so we forget everything and won’t tell anyone these secrets. From birth, we long to relearn this knowledge.

This also is a 1990s creation, and nicknamed the Medusa. Healing time is 6–8 weeks.

Cheeks: Practised historically by indigenous cultures, though mostly for ritual purposes. They appeared in the West in the 1990s, and even many seasoned piercers caution against them or refuse to do them due to the risk of hitting vital nerves. They produce permanent dimples.

Healing time is 6 months to a year.

Surface piercings: Hips, sternum, nape of neck, hand web, wrist, lower back, third eye. Piercings done with a single exit and entry point (transdermals) are somewhat more stable than ones done with curved barbells, but they still need to be removed by a piercer. If done properly, they can last indefinitely, though others eventually reject.

Rejection occurs when the body detects a foreign substance and helpfully tries to push it out. When there are separate exit and entry points, a fistula may not always form around it.

These are obviously from the 1990s too, apart from indigenous rituals. A dermal anchor heals in 2–6 months; two-point surface piercings take a year or more (if they’re successful).

Nipple: Historically common among many indigenous tribes, first documented in the West in the 14th century by Queen Isabeau of Bavaria. They supposedly became trendy among upper-class women in the 1890s, but other historians believe this is more myth than fact, based off a few letters in society magazines which read more like erotic fantasies than reality.

They appeared in the West again in the 1970s as part of punk subculture, and gradually became more mainstream. Tandem piercing is recommended, so that intense pain is gotten over with at once instead of one at a time. Healing time is 6 months to a year.

Personal piercings: Long practised in Southeast Asia, from India to Borneo. They supposedly became a short-lived trend among upper-class Westerners in the late 19th century.

Depending on the piercing, they can take as little as 4 weeks or over a year to heal.

Writing about body modification, Part II

This was originally written on 8 March 2015 but indefinitely shelved when I never got around to finishing Part III or writing any other installments.

This is the second official installment of a series on all the things to consider when writing about body modification. Part II will cover important baseline considerations.

It cannot be stressed enough that piercing guns are a bad, bad, BAD idea! Unless your intent is to show your characters going to a really sketchy piercing shop with a lot of other red flags, and the subsequent consequences of getting gunned, just don’t do it! I only had my first two sets of lobe piercings done with a gun because I was young and didn’t know any better. Guns can’t be sterilised and thus can pass along diseases and infections. It’s also blunt force trauma vs. the quick, clean jab of a needle. Just imagine trying to cut an apple with a spoon, and you get the idea.

Self-piercing is NOT a wise idea unless the character absolutely knows what s/he’s doing and is using sterile equipment in a clean area! This has the potential to go so wrong, so quickly. My character Portia is furious to be refused a navel piercing at twelve years old, even after she throws the Hitchcock family money around, and finally does it herself with a diaper pin.

Predictably, not long afterwards, it becomes horribly infected and lands her in hospital on Christmas, after her much-older doctor brother Cadmar succeeds in removing the jewelry which had started to become adhered to her skin. Over the next few years, the navel infection recurs, until she finally gets it done professionally on her sixteenth birthday.

Extreme body modifications are just that, extreme. Just because your character already has a lot of tattoos and piercings doesn’t mean s/he automatically needs to get elf ears, a subdermal implant, microdermals, magnetic implants, transdermals, or hugely-stretched piercings beyond the earlobes. Extreme mods are never done spur of the moment or to be cool, nor are masses of people running out to get them. Only do it if it makes sense to the character.

It’s called stretching, NOT gauging! A gauge is a unit of measurement, and the number goes down as the size goes up. Past 00, it’s measured in tenths of an inch, or millimetres. One stretches one’s earlobes (and sometimes other piercings). One doesn’t “gauge” them. The jewelry to fill the earlobes are called tunnels and plugs, not “gauges.”

At one point, I had my second lobes slightly stretched (no more than 14, if I had to guess), and that really healed the damaged tissue from my traumatic gun piercing. They’ve long since grown back, but if I’d stretched them to a bigger size, they might not’ve regained their usual size. The point of no return varies, but most people feel it’s 2, 0, or 00.

Writing about body modification, Part I

I originally wrote this on 8 March 2015 but never got around to completing my planned series. Let’s move these posts out already!

This is the first proper installment of a series on writing about body modification. The series will cover really important considerations, the names and placements of most major piercings (not including personal piercings), healing times, historical developments, types of jewelry, reasons for retiring a mod, and potential issues, complications, and things to consider during the healing process or afterwards.

First things first, a few diagrams. You don’t want to give your character a piercing you don’t know the proper name or location of. (All images are courtesy of BodyCandy.)


A typical earlobe can accommodate four or five piercings, presuming they’re normal-sized and not stretched. The helix also has enough room for multiple piercings.


The Medusa is also called a Philtrum; the T in Labret is pronounced (it’s not French!); a Monroe is on the left side, a Madonna on the right side (after the natural beauty mark placements of their respective namesakes); and Dahlias, not included in this diagram, are right on the sides of the mouth.


A Nasallang goes through both nostrils and the septum with a single bar; a Septril goes in a nostril and out the septum; and a Rhino goes through the front of the nose, above the septum. Piercings not included on these diagrams include tongue, tongue web, most surface piercings, transdermals, microdermals, nipple, navel (on either side), and smiley (frenulum of upper lip). As abovementioned, I won’t be discussing personal piercings, unless there’s enough interest for a future post intended only for readers over the age of eighteen. I want to keep this series appropriate for all ages.


Just as a good piercer, tattooist, or modification artist always puts the client over the mod, a good writer should also always put the character over the mod. In other words, don’t give your characters the same mods you have, avoid giving them mods you personally don’t like or want, or use stereotypes. Good characters are never ciphers or stereotypes.


A character with soft, immature, round facial features may not be flattered by certain facial piercings, no matter how much you might like them.

Someone with a small mouth and throat has a strong gag reflex (speaking from personal experience), and probably won’t be a good candidate for a tongue or tongue web piercing.

Not everyone in a certain subgroup looks, acts, and thinks the same way. A popular 16-year-old girl with a slim body doesn’t automatically have to have a navel piercing, just as someone into a Gothic or alternative style isn’t required to have a lot of tattoos, piercings, or stretched earlobes.

Think about your character’s career or dream profession. Though great strides have been made since body modification started becoming more mainstream and socially acceptable, there are still certain careers which typically don’t allow any visible mods beyond ears or perhaps a discreet nostril piercing.

A conservative businessman who wears a suit and tie would have to have hidden mods; an aspiring elementary school teacher (outside of someone planning to work exclusively in alternative schools) should either indefinitely defer modification plans or hide them at work; someone who’s dreamt of being a doctor since age five may have to wait until retirement or a second career to get that longed-for eyebrow piercing.