Explaining your body mods to shocked family members

tattoos inked art


If family members find out the hard way about your tattoos or piercings and disapprove, can you smooth things over with some timely damage limitation?

It’s often easy to forget about how one appears to others, especially regarding body modifications. Such ornamentations are often quite literally a part of one’s physicality, inherent in the way you lie down and scratch and how you relate to your own physical form.

For example, one might spend a little extra time when brushing one’s teeth to briefly scrub their oral piercing to prevent plaque build-up. Or it might become habit to periodically check that the balls on all your jewellery are still tight. I often spin my (healed) industrial bar while I am otherwise unoccupied; to me it’s the equivalent of idly tapping a foot. I am not even aware of doing so.

A body mod becomes so integral to the body that hiding it can be a bit of an adventure, and even a trial. Not many people noticed my piercings until I cut my hair, which exposed my ornamented cartilage along with my hitherto hidden ears. At first I found the attention gently amusing. When people asked when I’d had whichever mod done I was able to reply nonchalantly, “Oh, about a year ago…”

Once those in my immediate circle of friends became used to the jewellery I once again ‘forgot’ about my mods, unless I was caught unawares by a comment from the occasional shop-assistant. Luckily most of my piercings are fairly discreet. I never had any negative reactions, and most of the time the mods could be hidden when the circumstances required it.

I was therefore completely wrongfooted when my parents got word of my newest mod: my septum.

My family live abroad, and I’d prepared myself for their most recent trip. I could flip my hair over to hide the now-growing-out shaved part, then clip and pin it with cutesy bows to a) look adorable, as the perfect progeny should be, and b) stop it from blowing about and revealing my little metal ear-nests. I could flip the septum up into my nostrils and keep it there in the presence of my family.

This idea seemed foolproof until my parents somehow found out about it. My father had apparently been livid. My mother was more accepting, but still unhappy about it.

I needed to go on a DIY crash course in damage limitation, and here’s what helped me:

  • Say that you did not own up to having the mod because you did not want that person to perceive you negatively; you really respect them and their disdain would have upset you greatly. This way you sound sincere (hopefully you are sincere!) and seem less of a lying antagonistic delinquent.
  • If your body modification isn’t permanent, you may choose to use┬áthe magical phrase “I’m sure it’s just a phase I’m going through.” If this is what the family member covertly wishes in their own secret heart, they will be more inclined to believe it. They will be eased at the idea of sharing common ground with you. Naturally it is impossible to determine exactly how long a ‘phase’ will last. If you keep the mods for decades to come, perhaps they’ll eventually just see you as a late developer?
  • Do your best to show respect to your family by being discreet about your mods. If you have tattoos which are disapproved of, try to wear covering clothing whenever possible. Try to replace any ‘ostentatious’ body jewellery with something a little more low-key.
  • Never bring up the topic again. If they want to talk about it, fine. Do not go out of your way to rouse the sleeping dog.

Hopefully you will never be surprised with a similar situation to mine. Having said that, I hope this advice will help you prepare a Plan B if required.

Incidentally, if both you and your parent(s) read this article, it’s never going to work. It would probably be better if you discussed your mods with them beforehand…