Most girls go to the mall to get their first piercing and set of earrings. Amee White went onstage in front of 200 people in south Florida for her own first piercing. "I got my nipples done," says White. "My friend got a steel rod put through her cheek."
That was seven years ago and White is still getting sharp objects plunged through her flesh -- and is doing it to others as well. White, 25, works at Sadu Body Modifications. It's the place to go if you're looking for that new tongue stud, belly ring, nose hoop or -- guys, brace yourselves -- a frenum ladder, in which several metal studs are inserted through the skin from the base to the top of the underside of the penis.
Body modification, long unknown in the US, has grown over the past few years and today, folks are taking it to whole new levels, just about anywhere on the body where there are few inches of skin.
"It's about self-adornment," says White, who in addition to working at Sadu also runs Plush Pincushions, and does piercing performances around Charlotte. During her latest show, she had six 3-foot rods pierced through her back, and the ends set on fire.
"I like boundary pushing," she says. "It helps me break mental barriers. The pain is a reminder that I'm still here and alive, and that I can meet and defeat whatever comes my way."
Corinna Arlington opened Sadu in 1998 with a little booth and display case in the back of Milestone Records. When Milestone closed, Arlington took over the space on Central Avenue and has been piercing folks ever since. The funky little store has about a half-dozen display cases with a treasure trove of body jewelry made from all kinds of materials including glass, wood, metal, and even fossilized walrus and mammoth tusks.
"We help free people's minds that may have been lying dormant for years," Arlington says. "It's a very tribal thing. You have to have trust. I look at it like I'm giving them a spiritual gift."
Arlington says she currently averages about 50 customers a week, including around five genital piercings. Her typical customer is a girl in her late teens or early 20s. Case in point: Dazy Lunny, 24, who has a piercing just above her lip called a "Monroe" (after Marilyn Monroe's beauty mark), a six-gauge stud through her ear, and a circular barbell through her septum, the cartilage between the nostrils.
Lunny, who studies journalism at CPCC, says, "I want to pierce my nipples next, but I'm still scared."
There are currently no body piercing regulations in North Carolina, which Arlington says allows untrained people to perform piercings at what she calls "grab and stab" studios. "They just want the customers' $20, then they push them out the door," says Arlington, who requires all customers under 18 to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
The day I visited Sadu, Brennan Mathis walked in experiencing the worst catastrophe of her young life. The 14-year-old girl had had her navel pierced by someone named Skittles a few weeks earlier, and it was now infected.
White kindly took her to the back and removed the offending hoop, then delivered the devastating news that she needed to wait at least a month to let the old piercing heal before she got another one. "But I'm going to the beach and I want some belly bling," Mathis pouted.
"Hey, instant gratification sucks," White said.
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