More Than a Piercing
November 9, 2017
“We did it!” Andrea Costantino yells as the interview ended, her two fists pumping up in celebration, capturing her quirky, but charming nature. Her profession reads body piercer, but she does much more than that: she is given the opportunity to connect with people, it be through giving them piercings or chatting them up at Nomad Body Piercing in San Rafael. Body piercing opened Costantino’s eyes up to a new artistic profession that can give one the ability to bond with and help others define a piece of their identities. Costantino says, “I’ve always been a jewelry fanatic,” alluding to when she was younger and dreamed of owning her own jewelry business; “It’s on its way”, she assures me. Costantino was asked by a friend if she wanted to learn about body piercing at age 17 and was immediately hooked.
She grew up in San Rafael and had her first apprenticeship at a former piercing shop in Fairfax called Area 51. “Very 90’s,” she says, describing the place. Nowadays, she also works part-time at a parlor in Berkeley and loves traveling to different piercing shops all over the country for work. Coy, a piercing shop in Salt Lake City is one of many shops she’s visited.“It’s busy! Mormons love getting pierced!” she says, and both of us start to laugh in shock. She likes the change of scenery every now and then and believes that piercing parlors are miniature snapshots of the diversity of people in a given area. The stigma of body piercing differs with environment, she says, “I go to certain cities and I might get really stared at in very conservative airports. In bigger cities, it’s a lot more prevalent and not as shunned, not as taboo.” Costantino — sporting two piercings aligning each side of her nose and tattoos on her arm and chest — can certainly surprise many with her look.
Through communication with clients, Nomad strives to break down the taboo surrounding body piercings. Costantino was initially drawn to Nomad’s value of providing clear and accurate health information to its clients unlike places like Claire’s. Describing her time getting her ears pierced at Claire’s, she says, “that’s what you did then” alluding to the fact that Claire’s was pegged as the only place suitable for children’s piercings when she was younger. Even though societally, Claire’s may appear less daunting than a piercing parlor, it doesn’t send the clearest message to its clients. “It’s usually really young people using not really primitive instruments that aren’t very clean,” she says. Costantino’s feeling at Claire’s was one of fear and obligation to “get it over with;” whereas, at Nomad, this fear is addressed.“I feel like it’s a really great way for young girls to start getting piercings. We can really take our time, make them feel comfortable, it’s a little less scary if someone can really talk to them. I didn’t really have that.” Therapeutic and medical training is all intertwined into Costantino’s job. For example, she always makes sure that her clients, especially the young girls, know that it is okay to change their minds even once they are sitting in the piercing room.
From my own experience, I knew that my ear was in good hands at Nomad. Combine that with the attitude and openness of their workers, Costantino particularly, and customers feel calm and assured. The shop gives piercing parlors a new face as it is beautiful like a museum: glass cabinets full of jewelry, clean lines, mystical paintings, an eccentric mural of women playing poker covering the wall that leads one back to the piercing room. Shying away from the typical tattoo/piercing place, Costantino raves about Nomad’s differing image. “This piercing room is like dynamite; it’s amazing,” she says. Feeling in control and safe enables her customers to open themselves up to a new form of self-exploration through piercings. Costantino treats body piercing as personalized work whose results transcends beyond pieces of jewelry attached to people’s bodies.
People’s purposes for getting pierced differ from each customer to the next.“It could be about self-esteem, you know, it makes people feel really good about themselves. It’s a change that they can do, that they can control,” she continues, “I’ve had people do it cause they just got through with chemo and they wanted to do something for themselves. Capturing the empowered attitude of certain clients, “This is how I feel, this is what I want to look like and I am able to facilitate that for myself and not let anybody else tell me otherwise,” she says. To Costantino, piercing can bring people a strength and sense of self-pride: “It’s like an outward but inward kind of journey that people do,” she describes, giving a whole new meaning to a piercing.
Costantino always knew that she wanted to work with people, and piercing became her gratifying seque into meeting all kinds of people: “you know, angry people, cool people, short people, transgender people, little tiny ones, big tall ones, and all across, unpleasant people and smelly people, gross people. -her face scrunching to accentuate smelly-, and sometimes all of that in one day!” No matter how busy and demanding work is, she loves it and is grateful. She has grown to be a lot more sociable because of her constant exposure to different personalities; while sitting on the squishy, black leather couch, this became clear to me as Costantino’s easy-going attitude made it feel like we were having a casual conversation rather than an interview. Costantino has even formed long-standing relationships with clients.
She tells her experience with a particular woman whom she has grown close with, “she is just very sweet, professional, business, single mom, real sweet…she just likes to adorn herself; she does a lot of piercings under the clothes. We’ve done some genital work for her and she did her nipples. She’s just very fun. We chit-chat about life and her daughter and things like that and yeah, you just feel like, oh you’re friends after a while.” No matter how society stereotypes this woman, Costantino assists her in her journey towards true self-expression, a highly vulnerable journey for many, creating a special bond between the two of them. Costantino’s favorite part of her job is working with her clients as through them, she has been able to grow and see the stigma surrounding body piercing evolve first hand, she shares, “a guy today, I pierced his nostril. He works at Marin Catholic, he was covered in tattoos, he was actually a teacher there and I was like, what headway!”
Andrea Costantino’s work is expanding people’s perceptions of themselves, and providing people with new insight into how society is slowly becoming a more welcoming place to all shapes and forms of us.