When Jane Smith sees blood, she imagines it’s Kool-Aid.
Smith, 20, sees a good amount of blood in her line of work as a body piercer at Body Piercing Unlimited, 112 N. Turner St.
For the past several months Smith has worked as a piercing apprentice at the upstairs studio, which also performs tattoos. Examples of tattoo art, everything from tribal designs and cartoon characters to skulls and flames adorn the walls as loud hard rock music plays day and night, the heavy sounds of guitars and drums and throaty lyrics intertwined with the humming of tattoo needles. Behind a small glass case full of body jewelry, Smith serves her clientele.
She will be a full-fledged piercer by the end of the month. In that time she has pierced everything from ears to parts of the body almost always covered by clothing.
“Nothing seems weird anymore,” she said, though she noted that there are some things she doesn’t like to pierce first thing in the morning.
Smith herself sports a Mohawk and several piercings, including one on the back of her neck and two around her collarbone. Her interest in piercing took off a couple years ago when she had her ear lobes pierced.
“I hadn’t thought much about body modification up until that point,” she said. “But oh my God it feels so good.”
Some days Smith can do about two dozen piercings, other days she doesn’t even do one. All the piercing are done with sterilized needles, metal spikes that are a couple inches long. There’s no real pattern as to when people might come in, she said.
A lot of the appeal of the job for her are the feelings of trust and control.
“You get to know people on a more intimate level,” she said. “They’re trusting me to put a hole in them and make it good.”
One of the more difficult piercings she was asked to do recently involved a woman who wanted 8-gauge piercings, about three-sixteenths of an inch or so, on the outside of each ear. Still, she says the process only hurts as much as people make it hurt.
“It’s very fast,” she said. “It only hurts because of how nervous people can get.”
In her spare time Smith enjoys painting and photography, especially Polaroids because they “always look good.” Her favorite work is by fine-art photographer Nan Goldin.
“She takes really candid photographs,” Smith said. “It feels more natural, unlike a lot of other photography.”
Smith tried her hand at photojournalism for a while, but said the stress of the job eventually got to her.
“I like it better as a hobby,” she said. “It was taking something that was supposed to be fun for me and making it not fun because of deadlines.”
Before her apprenticeship, Smith worked as a receptionist and hated it. She says she wanted an interesting job while she worked her way through college. She also studies elementary education at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The two jobs might not be too dissimilar.
“It translates well to my other job,” she said. “My students will have to trust me and also my clients have to trust me.”
Many people don’t understand that there is more to her job than just putting holes in people. Smith has to build relationships with the people she serves, and ensure that the environment in which she works remains sterile.
“A lot more goes into it,” she said. “A lot of people get afraid and you have to let them know it’s fine.”
The reaction to Smith’s job from friends and family has been positive overall. Her friends let her practice piercing them, and her mom even let her pierce her ear. Zoe Rezek recently started working with Smith at Body Piercing Unlimited and wants Smith to pierce her with two “dermal anchors” on her chest.
“I have a reasonably high pain tolerance and I trust her to know what she’s doing,” Rezek said.
Rezek also said that working at such a place can be an unique experience.
“This is the only time I’ve had a job interview where the questions included, ‘How many piercings do you have,’” Rezek said.
Others haven’t been so positive about the job, however. Smith’s father stopped speaking to her. Still, Smith doesn’t see what the big deal is with her piercing job.
“It’s a real job,” she said. “Just because a job is fun doesn’t mean it’s not a job.”