New York-based piercer Janeese Brooks was, like many people, inspired by her mother — specifically, the dread her mother felt around anything involving needles. That fear drove Brooks to develop a piercing technique to reduce the completely normal uneasiness many clients experience ahead of and during an appointment, whether it's their first, second, or 10th time getting pierced. "Do everything you can to make people feel strong for how far they got [by making an appointment]," Brooks told herself. "Even coming in the door a lot of times, is an ordeal, especially for people and piercings."
At Live by the Sword Tattoo in Brooklyn, New York, Brooks offers a "gentle" piercing method, as she calls it. It's not a separate add-on service; compassionate treatment is central to everything she does. It's built into all of her appointments, which keeps her clientele coming back for more.
Affirmations are shared throughout the piercing process to help console her clients as they experience pain and apprehension. You can even often hear Brooks telling them, "I love you" or "You are strong," as she punctures their skin. If they're used to the quick in-and-out environments of a tattoo shop or booth at the mall, some may find this unexpected and awkward. But Brooks's priority is ensuring her clients' comfort and emphasizing that she doesn't intend to cause them pain. "I tell people [these affirmations] when they wince, cringe, or [show] other small [signs] of pain," she says. "I like to reinforce the fact that I don't like hurting anyone. I'm not here to hurt you, in fact, if I could do it all without any pain whatsoever I would."
By sharing positive statements, Brooks also hopes to help those who have had negative and traumatic piercing experiences in the past heal — which is she says accounts for "so many" of her clients. By way of example, she mentions clients of color who were told their noses are too thick or big for a piercing or folks who dealt with inappropriate touching from a piercer while getting their nipples or belly button done. There are also clients whose apprehension simply stems from a technical piercing error, like the gun getting stuck. Hearing these stories in the past made her think, "How do we build a space where people are safe, all the way around?" Now, Brooks does her best to validate their experiences and build trust with them.
Creating a comfortable and calm environment is central to Brooks' appointments. Even if a client prefers a more silent session, which she says doesn't happen often, she will create a relaxing atmosphere in other ways. For instance, she will offer one of her apprentices to hold the client's hand, play calming music, or even sing to them to ensure they feel some form of reassurance.
In addition to the usual consultation process to determine piercing placements and jewelry, Brooks says she observes her clients during the appointment to ensure the piercing will fit their lifestyle. For instance, if Brooks notices you touch your ear or fiddle with your hair a lot during your initial conversation, she'll suggest leaning away from a cartilage piercing because they take longer to heal.
Brooks didn't start going by the Gentle Piercer until about two years ago. Her clients called her that enough times throughout her career that she finally accepted the title, she says. Before becoming the Gentle Piercer — and a piercer, in general, six years ago — Brooks observed others in the industry. During her junior year of college in 2015, she would often find herself wandering into local shops to watch the piercers out of fascination. The summer of that year, she landed an apprenticeship at a shop in Oneonta, New York, officially starting her piercing career. "I like to tell people it's the only thing that I followed through with by accident," she jokes.
Simplifying the aftercare process is crucial, too, because sometimes all the recommendations can be overwhelming and, at times, unnecessary. Brooks' instructions are straightforward: Pretend the piercing didn't happen and just leave it alone. Let your body heal on its own. "The less you touch it, the better," she adds.
Though Brooks makes her sessions as supportive and serene as possible, she acknowledges that, ultimately, it's still a person sticking a needle through a part of another person's body. "You're still going to be anxious, no matter how many times you've [gotten a piercing], but I don't need to make it worse," she shares. "It should not just be a safe environment but also comfortable. You should feel like you're allowed to be whatever version of yourself you are while you're getting pierced and have somebody that appreciates both versions — the nervous version that came in and the version that's leaving."