The Hidden History of Body Mod: on Pins and Needles

by Lorna
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the hidden history of mod

Tomorrow is a funky and offbeat holiday known simply as Pins and Needles Day.  Originally celebrated as the anniversary of the Pins and Needles musical that opened on Broadway in 1937, this awkward little observance has evolved significantly over the years.  To all of us in the modification world, we know exactly what to think of when we here the word “needles;” being pierced and tattooed of course!  So without further ado, let’s start the celebration!  Here’s a little something about what pins and needles mean to us:

Piercing is definitely something to celebrate, but for members of the modified generation, it can be easy to forget what’s led up to our golden era of mod.  Most of us are aware that the upswing of body piercing began during the counterculture movement of the 1960s.  By the end of the seventies, the first piercing parlors were open in both the UK and the US, and by the final days of the 1990s piercing had officially come into the mainstream.  What you might not be aware of though, is that the whole thing really started several decades before, amongst a chosen few who kept their body mod appetites mostly under wraps.

 70s 90s and today

In the beginning of the twentieth century, tattooing was on the rise amongst western sailors, many of whom had chosen to mark their accomplishments abroad in ink.  Tattoo art gradually became linked to life at sea, with superstitions concerning specific designs gaining new momentum.  As more artists ventured into the world of tattoo, inked sideshow attractions started popping up more regularly, and beautiful tattooed women made their living in circus and vaudeville troups.

 tattooed women as sideshow participants

In the UK during the 1930s, modification enthusiasts William and Ethel Granger were just a young married couple beginning to dip their feet into an already growing subculture.  Corsetry, ear piercing, and even permanent makeup tattooing were beginning to find a foothold in London, where underground newsletters and magazines on the subject could even be found.  Ethel would go on during the course of their marriage to allow her husband to pierce her ears, septum, and nipples, stretching many of the piercings as well.  She also became a pioneer in the world of tightlacing and corsetry, setting a record for the smallest human waist on earth (reportedly just 13 inches).

 a tribute to Ethel GrangerStella Tennant in a tribute to Ethel Granger, Vogue Italia 2011 (source: WGSN)

In the fifties, American born Roland Loomis was a young man beginning to experiment with body mods of various types behind closed doors.  He would later come out as a member of the mod community, change his name to Fakir Musafar, and become the father of the Modern Primitives movement.

 suspension as pioneered by Fakir Musafar

Today we use hollow piercing needles, catheters, pennington forceps, and motorized machines, but the innovations of the past are what have shaped the modifications of our present.  It’s amazing to think of what the future will bring, but until all of our modification dreams come true, we’ll be looking forward with enthusiasm and anticipation.  You might say we’ll be waiting on pins and needles.

by Lorna

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