At a recent Summer Nights downtown, Stewart Mowery drew stares as he passed by.
The flesh on his ears has been stretched to fit 1-inch diameter adornments. He has tattoos up and down his arms and four piercings on his face.
Mowery, 21, got his first piercing at age 16, followed by a myriad of tattoos.
“It scares a lot of people,” Mowery said. “I’m into body modification.”
One local tattoo artist says he has seen a surge in piercing and tattooing of teens and 20-somethings in recent years.
“It has really picked up in the last three years,” said Loren Gooden, an artist at Thrash’s Tattoo in Rapid City.
He says the stigma of piercings and tattoos is fading.
“There’s still a long way to go, but it is becoming more accepted,” Gooden said.
Even if it’s becoming more acceptable, anyone under the age of 18 in South Dakota must have parental permission to get a piercing or tattoo.
But Thrash’s staff members want to make sure teens aren’t just getting pierced or tattooed on a whim.
“Instead of taking their money and giving them what they want, we try to educate them,” Gooden said.
He says they explain to teens that body modification is something they will carry for the rest of their lives. Sometimes teens believe they have found the love of their life and want to have the name of their significant other tattooed on their arm or neck.
Even if the teen has parental permission, Thrash’s staff members suggest the teen draw the name in pen in the area he or she desires and wear it for a week or two to understand the concept.
Gooden says Thrash’s covers all its bases when it comes to parental permission. Staff is directed to make sure the teen’s photo ID is a match. Also, the name of the parent giving permission must be the same or they must live at the same address for the permission to be valid.
Lexi Hartman, now 17, got her first piercing, a nose ring, at Thrash’s a year ago.
“My parents had to sign,” she said.
Hartman said she decided to get the nose ring because she likes how they look.
Although Hartman followed the established protocol for piercing, some teens do the piercings themselves, cutting out any need for parental permission.
Gena Flying, 16, of Rapid City, said she pierced her nose when she was 14 and her lip at age 15.
“You just push it through,” she said of the post.
Seventeen-year-old Chase Shull of Rapid City said he was bored one day, so he decided to get a lip ring as an April Fool’s joke. He says his parents weren’t amused.
“They freaked out,” he said.
Tori Ray, 15, has six piercings, four on her lip, one in her tongue and one in her belly button. She did her first self-piercing at age 12.
“It fits my personality,” she said.