Body Piercing Books And Periodicals
(The following is adapted from a presentation titled "Body Piercing Books & Periodicals," given by James Weber at the 2012 BMXnet conference in Essen, Germany.)
The history of modern body piercing predates the ubiquity of the internet by about twenty years. If you want to learn more about what we do and where we’ve been, you’ll need to dig deeper than just what is available online; you’ll need to start with the books and periodicals.
Links are provided to purchase individual titles on Amazon. (Just click on the photo.) Where available, links are provided for free downloads or purchasing titles directly from the author and/or publisher.
This is an important, but small and selective, history of books and periodicals published in the U.S. There are several notable British publications from the early 90s worth mentioning: Piercing World magazine and The Eye of the Needle (and Beyond the Eye of the Needle) from Pauline Clarke, and Body Art magazine. There are also publications that made a similar (or greater) impact on the popularity of piercing in non-English-speaking parts of the world. Several notable examples are Perforaciones Corporales: Ritos, Tradición, Moda y Dolor (2001) by Danny Yerna, one of the first comprehensive body piercing references in Spanish (from Mexico), and Piercing Bible: An Investigation of Contemporary Body Modification (1998) by Eizo Mamiya and published in Japan. Ryoichi Maeda’s work with BURST magazine was also hugely influential in popularizing body piercing (and other body modifications) in Japan.
The following publications are noteworthy in that they came from within the piercing and modification community, or showcased body piercing artists (and other body modification enthusiasts) in their own voice. These differ greatly from what came after, as body piercing became more ubiquitous and more mainstream publications started to try to figure us out.
Marks of Civilization, edited by Arnold Rubin (1988)
One of the first publications of its kind. This book is a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary collection of essays, photographs, and drawings that grew out of a symposium entitled "Art of the Body" held at the University of California, Los Angeles in the early 1980s. Contributors encompass the fields of anthropology, sociology, art history, archaeology, and folklore. Essential.
Re/Search #12: Modern Primitives, edited by V. Vale and Andrea Juno (1989)
Published in 1989, this book started a revolution. While it didn’t introduce piercing to the general public—that wouldn’t happen for a few more years—it did introduce piercing, body modification, and “Modern Primitivism” to a diverse subculture. Where body piercing was primarily in the domain of gay BDSM and the leather community (and a small group of West Coast devotees), this brought piercing to a much larger audience, like punks, art school students, and pro-sex lesbians. Its influence cannot be overstated.
Autographed copies of the 20th anniversary edition hardback can be purchased here.
The Piercing Bible, by Elayne Angel (2009)
Master Piercer (and frequent Infinite guest) Elayne Angel has written the definitive book on body piercing. She covers everything from piercing placement, terminology, tools, and techniques to information on jewelry, healing, and aftercare. The Piercing Bible is exhaustive, and gives you the most—and best—organized information in one place.
Signed copies of Elayne's book can be purchased directly from us.
If there were ever a “father” of modern body piercing, that person would be Jim Ward. This is the autobiography of the man who started the first body piercing studio, Gauntlet, in San Francisco in 1975, expanding over twenty years to studios in Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and Paris, along with a thriving retail business and magazine (PFIQ) before the business’ demise in 1998. It’s also a chronicle of the birth of the modern body piercing movement and its history, from the gay leather community of San Francisco to where it is today. Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how modern body piercing arrived at the place it currently occupies.
You can read a full review of the book in issue #55 of The Point: The Journal of the Association of Professional Piercers. Signed copies of the book can be purchased directly from Jim Ward.
Booklets and Periodicals:
The Art of Pierced Penises, by Doug Malloy (1975)
In the early 1970s, Doug Malloy had written a short autobiography of his piercing exploits entitled The Adventures of a Piercing Freak. He subsequently sold the article to House of Milan, a publisher of bondage and fetish films and magazines, who issued it in softcover format and under the title The Art of Pierced Penises and Decorative Tattoos (1975). This made Doug’s work the first publication devoted to showcase modern body piercing.
The booklet chronicles Doug’s adventures with body piercing and reads as a travelogue of the history of different piercings. While the stories are fascinating, they are not entirely true. Regardless, these myths have often been repeated and treated as fact. The book is definitely intended as a “one-handed read,” as the majority of the accompanying pictures are erotic photographs of men—with little to do with piercing.
This publication has been out of print since shortly after its publication, but you can download a scanned PDF from Infinite’s archives here. It’s an amazing piece of piercing history!
Piercing Fans International Quarterly, published from 1977 to 1997
Piercing Fans International Quarterly (PFIQ for short) was started by Jim Ward and Gauntlet, the first commercial piercing studio in the United States. Over twenty years and fifty issues, PFIQ grew from a small-print-run “newsletter” to a fully-formed professional magazine. Through articles and photos (many by Fakir Musafar), PFIQ helped to define the aesthetic of an entire industry. Its “Pierce with a Pro” articles taught a generation of piercers the basics, and its “Pin Pals” personals connected piercing fans from all over the world.
For a full history of this publication, check out Jim Ward’s autobiography, Running the Gauntlet. Long out of print, you can occasionally find old copies of PFIQ for sale on eBay.
Body Play and Modern Primitives Quarterly, published from 1992 to 1999
While not strictly a body piercing publication per se, Body Play was a vehicle for Fakir and his inner circle to explore some of the more ritualized types of body modification. When Fakir split with Gauntlet, Jim Ward, and PFIQ in 1993 (the last PFIQ he was involved with was #37), he devoted himself to Body Play, publishing articles and pictorials on topics that, while sometimes included tangentially in PFIQ, were now the central focus of Body Play: ritualized piercing, branding, scarification, corsetry, suspension, contortionism and foot-binding, cupping, tribalism, etc. Body Play was published from 1992 to 1999 and, unfortunately, lasted for only nineteen issues.
While no longer in print, you can still purchase several of the back issues from Fakir.
I Am Not My Body, by Erica Skadsen (1995 & 1997)
I Am Not My Body was more a fanzine than magazine, and was edited and produced by Erica Skadsen (owner and operator of Organic, llc). Small and obviously made more for love than profit, the two issues of I Am Not My Body were a sort of print version of an odditorium, containing bits of ephemera of modern body art practices mixed with those performed by indigenous cultures. The first issue included articles on organic vs. refined materials for jewelry, scars, stretching techniques, and earlobe cutting. The second included “trephination, implants, extremes, interviews, tongue splitting, medical museums, tooth modification, and hand deformations.”
Long out of print, you can occasionally find used copies for sale at Alibis or Abe Books.
Starting Point: A Primer of Modern Body Piercing, by Megg Mass (2001)
Infinite Body Piercing published this booklet, written by then co-owner Megg Mass, as a comprehensive primer on body piercing. It includes extensive information on body piercing, divided by piercing type, recommendations for jewelry, healing times, numerous photos, and answers to many frequently-asked questions. (For years, dog-eared copies of this book could be found in piercing studios all across the U.S.) While still pertinent, much of the information is very much of the time—and as such this is more of an historical artifact than the comprehensive guide it once was.
You can order copies from us here, while they last.
ModCon: The Secret World of Extreme Body Modification, Shannon Larratt, with photos by Philip Barbosa (2002, reprinted 2008)
Covering the extreme end of the body modification scene at the time, ModCon chronicles the three events, hosted by Shannon Larratt, founder of BME, in 1999, 2000, and 2001. Around the turn of the millennium, as organization like the APP fought to help piercing smoothly enter the mainstream, a separate group, loosely organized—or agitated, depending on your point of view—under Shannon and BME fought for more libertarian ends. Shannon wrote in 2008: “Some of the book is dated at this point, and I fought the urge to update it, but I feel it stands as an important marker of a wonderful time in this subculture’s history.” This book is not for the faint-of-heart; you have been warned.
The print version of the book is no longer available—and with Shannon’s passing in 2013 it’s doubtful it will be reprinted—but you can still download a full digital copy.
Starting at the founding of the Association of Professional Piercers, The Point was originally a small, xeroxed newsletter sent out intermittently to APP members and subscribers, containing APP announcements, legislation updates, and other content of interest to piercers. Elayne Angel took over editing duties for The Point from 2001 to 2005 and brought a more consistent publishing schedule to the newsletter while expanding the scope of the publication to one broader than just a simple APP members’ update. In 2005, Infinite’s James Weber took over as editor and slowly turned the newsletter into an industry journal, moving it from a small-print-run, black-and-white publication to a full-color print journal over seven years and twenty-seven issues. After his tenure, Infinite’s Kimberly Zapata took over, editing issues #61 to #69. Today, The Point continues as an online-only magazine.
Many print issues are still available from the APP and can be requested here.