Mixed Feelings about the term “Plainskin”

People sometimes lose respect for me when I use the word “plainskin” (I noticed has even made it Urbandictionary with the spelling ‘plain-skin‘ and ‘plain skin‘). Even though it can be used in a simply descriptive way without implying anything else — there are contexts where it could be completely innocent — it often does carry a derogatory tone and that’s its origin. Words run away from their creators of course, and just because I may have been the first to use it doesn’t mean I get to police its meaning… but if we can pretend for a minute, I want to say that to me, plainskin doesn’t just refer to people devoid of body art — it means a person who holds bigoted views about body art and body play.

This was brought to mind when one of the many Facebook blogs that mostly post scantily clad pictures of pretty girls with tattoos for people to ogle — as if people read these blogs for the tattoos any more than people buy the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue because they have an interest in bathing suit design — posted this picture of a play piercing session. They didn’t just repost the picture either. They downloaded it from popular Brazilian modification blog Frrkguys’s coverage of the 2010 King of Tattoo Convention in Japan, and cropped off the credit to Asami of EXTREME Body Piercing, replacing it with their own logo. So they’re perfectly happy to take the image and make money with it, but instead of posting it with a credit to the creator or even some information about play piercing, they posted it with nothing but the shallow observation, “Ouch.”

Of course this has always been a problem on the internet — a good percentage of the pictures that make up the blogs that post freak-out pictures of body mods and body play for people to ridicule as the blog-owners collect the advertising revenues were originally posted by BME members — but it’s of epidemic proportion today. And major social networks like Facebook and Tumblr do what they can to protect and encourage it because it’s a very easy way for them to build the traffic they need. But I mention it here not to talk about these politics, but to talk about the term “plainskin”. I want to give you a collection of the comments that were posted on the blog that posted this image from the first couple hours it was online:

Jesus fuck … — What the fuck? :O — :s too extreme — Why the f*#k would someone want to do that to themselves? — Why ? Get piercings fine get Tattoos fine :) This does not promote our trade or our love for body art :( — She needs a life. — she needs HELP — Someone needs some professional help :/ — Wow, human pin cushion, yuck! — i think she has issues — Did anyone notice the scarification she has? She gets off on the pain. *shudders* — That ain’t right… — SOME PEOPLE ARE REALY SICK !!! — Yucko… — ewe — Git the fuck outta here! — No, just no….. — stupid people.. :\ oh jesus… — Tattoos I can understand, pain is only temporary, however needles like that has got to hurt constantly, and is nuts — weirdo…

When I talk about “plainskins”, it’s people with these sorts of ignorant attitudes that I’m talking about. I guess in some ways it’s a poorly chosen word, because it really isn’t about their skin… Really, they’re “plainbrains” not “plainskins”. But the word came from being sick and tired of being hit, and trying to find something appropriate to hit back with… Something to make “us” the normal ones, and them the ones deserving of derision. Sometimes I think it’s funny — the word works great in a sentence — but more often I think that two wrongs don’t make a right. I mean, it’s not wrong to call a bigot a bigot. But you have to be careful you don’t choose terms that stereotype as badly as that which you’re experiencing.

It’s hard writing a memoir without doing a lot of second-guessing!


  1. Elizabeth wrote:


    Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink
  2. T. wrote:

    Thank you for mention Frrrk Guys here my friend Shannon.

    Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink
  3. Shannon wrote:

    Frrrk Guys is great, and gets better all the time!!! Makes me wish I was better at reading Portuguese.

    Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink
  4. dAN wrote:

    I like your definition.

    I ain’t no plainskin!

    But incidentally I don’t have any tattoos…

    Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink
  5. talby wrote:

    I just can’t stop myself…


    Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink
  6. aLobstersJohnson wrote:

    As a plainskin myself I think the term would be better suited to people who identify with body mod culture but are for whatever reason still un-modded.

    The definition you give would be better replaced by John Water’s term “neuter” or “neuters”.

    Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Permalink
  7. Ruth wrote:

    The comments that you posted are so frustrating. Every time I see or hear that sort of thing I wish I could make them understand; make them more open minded and less judgmental.

    Friday, October 5, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Permalink
  8. Argos wrote:

    I like your definition, but I can see why people would misinterpret it. And while calling a bigot a bigot isn’t right, man sometimes it’s just nice to do it.

    My last year at university I took a course called “Gender and Sexuality in the Arts,” and we had to do a performance piece as our final project. Our professor was a performance artist herself. It had to be a video uploaded to a social networking site, so I made a video of me play piercing and uploaded it to youtube. The comments were awful, and some of them really, really hurt. People saying I was sick, wanted attention, that I could hook you up with drugs and was probably a cutter. As you said, they really are “plainbrains.”

    Wednesday, October 17, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Permalink
Wow Shannon, that's really annoying! What is it, 1997 on Geocities? Retroweb is NOT cool!

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