The good, the bad, and the unordinary: Motif talks to Jeselyn Online
For thousands of years human beings have stretched, pierced, branded, tattooed and lacerated their skin in the name of love, gods, war or artistic expression. Body modification is certainly nowhere near as controversial or taboo of a topic as it once was in America. We have moved beyond the stigmas of our previous generations regarding the moral fiber of those who engage in body modification. What was once forbidden is now mostly accepted and mainstream. However, there still exists a fringe of personalities who still push the various limits of what is commonplace in society.
Perhaps no such group has had as much pop culture attention, without real understanding, as the women who make up the body modification community. Jeselyn Online is such a woman. A heavily tattooed New England native, Jeselyn is an active and popular alternative model who also works as a full time body modification artist in lovely Wakefield. I sat down with Jeselyn for a chat in our first installment of 401 Counterculture.
Adam Schirling: How did you get into alternative modeling in RI?
Jeselyn Online: I started by doing a little research on the internet for local photographers and it all pointed me toward www.modelmayhem.com, a site for photographers, models, MUAs, etc. to connect and network. I was contacted by a few photographers and went with it … cautiously and nervously.
AS: Female body modification in America has come a long way from the carnival sideshows of the early 20th century and the grunge fringe movement of the 90s. As both a professional body modification artist and alt model, what is your opinion on the current acceptance of female body modification in contemporary society?
JO: I feel as though it is becoming widely accepted in our culture and I embrace it whole heartedly, of course. I feel as though women are no longer subjected to society’s abject horror if they so choose to “decorate” their body. It’s not only liberating, but exciting to see this change occur.
AS: As a heavily tattooed woman, do you ever encounter prejudice or stereotype labeling when going through your normal day? Any particular instances stand out in your memory?
JO: Absolutely. I once worked for a corporation and they accepted me for who I am. I am a hard worker and they were able to look past the tattoos and see me for my work ethic. Unfortunately, very few customers felt the same way. One instance stands out where a woman berated me as I stood behind the counter waiting to give her her photo order. She leaned over the counter and said straight to my face, “You have no idea how you just ruined your life.” This was also in front of management and customers… I was horrified. It was said with such a sting on the tip of her tongue. Mind you, she was mid 30s looking … a mom. Needless to say, my co-workers and customers proceeded to surround her and start in on her and ultimately kicked her out of the store. I had a team backing me up — people who know me as an employee and a good one at that. They defended me til the end. It was amazing.
AS: What makes Rhode Island unique in the body modification world?
JO: Rhode Island stands out due to the fact that we have some amazingly talented artists in this state. We also have over 100 shops to choose from. In such a small state. Yea. 100+.
AS: Did you ever, or do you still, have to deal with negative feedback from friends or family on your choice of becoming an alt model or female body mod artist?
JO: Not at all. Everyone supports me for what I am choosing to do with my life. My parents have been supportive 100 percent of the way, as well as the few friends who have stuck around to see it all.
AS: What’s the biggest obstacle for a woman wishing to enter the world of professional tattooing and/or piercing?
JO: Being a woman in the tattoo industry has become easier over time. It is still incredibly tough and you have to have thick skin. There are still customers, as well as artists, who think that it is not a woman’s job and will scoff at you when you tell them you are a tattoo artist, and ask for a man.
AS: Whats one piercing or tattoo spot you would never do and why?
JO: For piercing, my hands. Then I can’t work. For tattoo, the rest of my face. It’s just not for me.
AS: Last year you hosted the RI Tattoo Expo, to include performing throughout the event. Congratulations on being selected again for a second year of hosting. Can we expect more performances from you this year? Any big tattoos or piercings you hope to do at the expo?
JO: Thanks! I’m incredibly excited to be invited back again this year! I am planning on only doing maybe one performance this year. I have decided to work the convention doing tattoos and perhaps piercings at the Marco’s Tattoo booth. Last year I did not tattoo or pierce. I hadn’t released the fact that I am a tattoo artist/piercer to my fans at that point. I tried to keep the two separate for a while, but people tend to figure things out.
I do hope to pull in a few pieces that I am excited about. I love doing watercolor style tattoos and hope to be able to do a few there.
AS: Who would you consider your role model as both an alt model and body mod artist?
JO: No specific person for any of them. I want to be my own person and artist and gain knowledge from all. I don’t want to directly imitate anything.
AS: People who aren’t familiar with or accustomed to heavily tattooed females will have certain pre-conceptions about you or your personality. What’s one thing about yourself that would surprise such people?
JO: I’m actually pretty soft spoken 90 percent of the time. I hate confrontation and sometimes I wish to be the one you look past in the grocery store.
AS: Have you had any negative experiences as an alt model?
JO: Oh yes, many. From photographers being incredibly creepy, to other models talking about me behind my back. But I just keep my head up and plug along. I don’t let those experiences taint the rest of my opportunities that lie ahead.
AS: If there is one Rhode Islander you would love to pierce or tattoo, who would it be?
JO: HP Lovecraft. Yup, I’d just love to listen to him talk about his next idea while I work.
AS: What does the future hold for Jeselyn Online?
JO: I am planning to travel to Chicago and LA this year to make my presence known elsewhere. New England is great, but I am more than due to travel. I have quite a few people in both areas, and others, who are waiting patiently (well, not so patiently anymore) for me to make the trip west to shoot.
I am also thinking about picking up the camera again myself. I used to be a photographer. I think my hiatus needs to come to an end.