In a corner if Vintage Faire Mall, manager Vanessa Aguilar oversees the piercing and tattoo shop Body Jewlz. On an average weekend day, the place is full of people browsing the body jewelry, filling out paperwork and nervously waiting to get a new piercing or tattoo.
In the past, body piercing wasn't quite as common or socially accepted as it is now, but things have changed in recent years.
"The most common reason people give for getting pierced is that they like the way it looks and their friends are doing it. It's really trendy now," Vanessa says, shrugging as she straightens a pile of papers in her hands. The piercing in her upper lip catches the lights from above as she speaks.
The shop does between 350 and 400 piercings and 25 and 30 tattoos in a week, a testament to the growing popularity of body piercing, especially among teens.
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"The average age of people coming in to get piercings is between 16 and 22 years old, and more girls than guys come in to get something pierced," Vanessa says. "The most common types of piercings here are lip, nose, ear and bellybutton piercings."
For the youngsters, parental permission is needed, and sometimes it's difficult to obtain. Alfredo Frazer, a junior of Ripon High, 16, had to beg his mom for a while to let him get his eyebrow pierced. "She told me I had to get good grades at first, so it was kind of like a reward, I guess," he said. "When I asked the second time, she reluctantly let me."
Kiana Ontai, a Ripon High School senior, started getting her piercings freshman year. She said, "My parents didn't let me get my lip at first, but I begged and waited and finally they gave in after I got annoying enough. After that, the rest of them just followed."
As for the black dragonfly tattoo on her calf, "They actually suggested it. They picked me up one day and asked if I wanted to get one since they were getting them."
On average, a piercing takes about 10 minutes, including setup and cleanup. Some piercings will take longer to heal than others, but most cannot be changed for about three weeks. After getting pierced or tattooed, there are specific instructions for cleaning, including not using makeup on the area and disinfecting it until it's healed.
Getting a piercing or tattoo is a decision to be taken lightly.
"Before people come in, they should educate themselves. Do your own research on the Internet, ask around for more information, and know what you're getting into before you do it," Vanessa warns. "And when you get to the store, if you know more than your piercer, don't do it."
Not every teen is on board with the trend, of course. Modesto Christian High sophomore Vincent Licata, 15, says, "I wouldn't ever consider getting anything pierced. Nobody has tattoos at MC, but a lot of girls have piercings, mostly ear piercings. Guys aren't allowed to have them."
Piercings and tattoos will cause others to judge and stereotype. Alfredo says he's been lucky: "People mostly think it's cool."
But Kiana has experienced the other side of the spectrum and the inconveniences of piercings and tattoos.
"After I got them, people thought I was hard-core and a jerk, but I'm really not," Kiana said. "You can't wear them while you're at work, either, so you have to take them out for interviews and work and everything. I took some of them out because they got annoying to keep up with. Sometimes they'd get infected and it's just a hassle after a while."
Rachel Crowley is a senior at Ripon High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom journalism program.