'Your body, your choice.' A piercing artist teaches the notion of consent

Vicki Geraci stands over a 10-year-old, first-time piercing client and talks about consent.

It’s not unusual these days — since the #MeToo movement brought to light numerous sexual abuse and harassment issues in schools, religious organizations, sports teams, Hollywood, and the government — to hear about the importance of consent. And now we know how crucial it is to teach it at an early age.

Geraci, a piercer in Cincinnati, is making that happen at Hybrid Imaging Fine Jewelry and Piercing on Madison Avenue in O’Bryonville.

On any given day, she pierces underage kids brought in by their parents, but she wants to make sure that they know it’s their body, their choice.

“If you want me to stop at any time, I will,” she tells the 10-year-old girl getting her first earrings for her birthday. “It’s your body, and we can stop even if we’ve already done one piercing.”

This comes after Geraci walks the client — at any age — through the process of picking out earrings, sterilizing them, and creating marks for the piercing. The client is involved in every step of the process and invited to weigh in on it as well.

It’s far from our 1980s experience of piercing at the mall or, worse, at slumber parties.

Hybrid isn’t just a piercing studio: They do tattoos as well. But Geraci is only trained in piercings, and she trained with the best. 
Reputable tattoo parlors have an extensive sanitizing process.
She has been interested in body art since she moved to Ohio in the 7th grade and saw people with piercings. According to Geraci, she started getting her own work done around the age of 14, with her mom taking her to shops that use guns and not needles.

“I was always very enthralled with it but I never thought that I would find a spot that I would be worthy of, basically,” she says. “I just kind of wanted to do it as a kid and I thought, ‘Oh, this would be cool but I’m not cool enough to do this job.’”

“It’s funny now because when I look back, I’m still not cool at all,” she says, laughing.

She had her daughter at a young age and planned to be a stay-at-home-mom, which lasted about two months until she went to get a new piercing at Body Jewel in the Tri-County Mall. Geraci saw that they were hiring, submitted an application, and worked at the counter for about a year, which taught her to identify proper jewelry for different piercings, sizing, and overall terminology before starting an apprenticeship.

She stayed there until 2016 after doing her own piercings for about two years. After that, she was hired at Hybrid’s Clifton location, and then she moved between the two when the O’Bryonville studio opened in 2017.

“The piercing industry is traditionally nomadic,” she says, explaining her next move to Chicago, which she commuted to part-time while waiting for her daughter to finish out the school year.

But then the pandemic hit.

Chicago, Geraci explains, didn’t reopen businesses as quickly as Cincinnati did, mainly because of its large population. So to supplement her income, she spent a month working at Beelistic Tattoo on Vine before deciding to stay in Cincinnati. After about a year, her former boss from Hybrid asked if she would return to the O’Bryonville location.

Geraci splits her time between Hybrid and Immortal Canvas in Hamilton, places that aren’t close to each other but allow her to do what she loves — walking people through their perfect piercing.

It’s more than just art — it’s your body and your choice

Piercing at a tattoo parlor isn’t cheap, but the experience is what drives people to their local shops instead of mall stores and kiosks.

The process involves proving that the kid is yours — no more walking into the mall with an older sibling or grandparent. Hybrid requires a birth certificate, photographic proof (like a passport or a picture in a yearbook), and a driver’s license from the parent.

The trend of using needles took off a few years ago after mom groups started posting about the dangers of piercing guns.
Ear Curation
“Cincinnati has a plethora of talented piercers and it’s cool because we will also recommend each other,” she says. “It’s not necessarily competition … It’s cool because it is a community.”

“There’s already so much nastiness in this world, there’s absolutely no reason to make that any worse,” she continues. “If we enjoy what we do, and we can all establish our limitations and things we might not be the best at and refer other people. Because at the end of the day, everyone deserves the best experience.”

At Hybrid, Geraci walks her clients through the entire process — from picking and sanitizing jewelry and equipment to the most important part, comfort and consent.

This is especially necessary with children.

“[Consent] is extremely important because I’ve pierced kids’ ears and if they said ‘No, I don’t want to do this’ or ‘I don’t want the second one,’ and the parent got upset, I felt almost uncomfortable,” she says. “I’m not going to pierce them if they don’t want me to, but also, parents sometimes are scary — I can say that as a parent, too — and I realized that I really needed to set that tone from the jump. So I say that before I even touch a kids’ ear, that consent is super important and that I would love them to consent to the entire practice.”

When the aforementioned 10-year-old came because her piercings had closed up, Geraci gently pressed a gauge to her ears to see if they were partially or completely healed.

The client grabbed her hand, pushed her away, and said, “I’m sorry. That was just my body’s natural reaction.”

Geraci told her that she doesn’t have to apologize and reiterated that everything done in the studio that day was up to her.

“I would never do anything to hurt you,” Geraci says.

After working some guest spots at a few shops, she noticed a trend: Many of her piercers she looks up to also spoke to children — not the parents — about it being their body, their choice.

Geraci starts by telling clients what she’s getting ready to do and touching their ears before marking them to gauge their comfort level. After gently dotting the ears with gentian violet ink and making any adjustments necessary, she has her clients check out the placement and weigh in.

From there, she begins the process of piercing with a needle, placing the backing in first (a flat-backed closure that is more comfortable than traditional earrings) and follows with the front, which is pushed into place.

The entire time, she offers to slow down or stop if a client is uncomfortable. This has caused problems with about 50% of parents, but, she says, it’s gotten better in recent years since the #MeToo movement brought the importance of consent to the public.

Geraci says that she’s seeing more parents open to her philosophies but she still gets some resistance.

“[Consent] is something that’s so important to teach kids, which I think most parents stray from because it makes them uncomfortable, she says, “but that’s a conversation that needs to be had in every household when they’re young, in my opinion.”

At the end of the day, though, she loves what she does: Her career isn’t just about piercing; it’s connecting with other piercers and clients and lifting them up however she can.

One of her favorite things is first piercings, whether the client is 6 or 60, but she particularly loves working with kids because it sets them up for anything they might want to do with their bodies, from dyeing their hair to getting tattoos.

Another aspect she enjoys is the popularity of clients creating their own piercing designs.

Ear curations are so popular, which are so much fun. People come in and say, “I want to style my ear. What do you suggest?’” she says. “So you have to have good taste and style and really connect with your client so, at the end of the day, you understand what their goal is, and to observe their look and try to take that into consideration more than anything.”

“Anyone can poke a hole [in ears] but it’s everything that comes with that that makes us professionals at what we do,” she continues.

Uplifting her clients and fellow piercers — including people she met through Body Jewel nearly a decade ago — is her passion, which elevates the experience, whether it’s someone’s first time or a regular adding to an original design.

“It takes absolutely next to nothing but being kind,” she says. “It’s so much more effortless than being nasty.”