Editor's Picks, Grooming

The heavy duty of body metals

The heavy duty of body metals

Sheathing oneself in adornments is a practice as old as time. But when sported by a new generation, the hard shell decoration of the flesh and bone creates new life and new meaning in the art of decorating the self.

There is a certain eye-catching appeal that comes from the glimmer of metal, flush against one’s flesh. A slight glint of a stranger’s earrings might draw a second glance, while the high shine of one’s smile, illuminated by inlaid gems and metals on the teeth, could create an illusion of a bright personality. Either way, the ornamentation of one’s face, body, or even bone, can be considered to be an attention-grabbing act of beautification. These days, it is not uncommon to see a friend, or a friend of a friend, or at the very least, a passer-by in town, engaged in the act of adorning the self. 

But the concept of dressing the self in heavy-duty accessories is not induction in the realm of beauty. When archaeologists unearthed the world’s oldest mummified remains, out came too, the oldest-dated piercing, tracing back to five millenniums prior. “Beauty is not skin deep” must have been a creed that Ötzi, the Iceman’s community prescribed to, as the oldest mummified body revealed an earring gauged to approximately 10mm in size. This deeper-than-surface art of decorating the self stands to be more than just pretty, shiny objects to gild the self; other cultures have documented its virtue too. Decorating the flesh could be important in denominating class, social standing or wealth. It has been a practice that continues, from South America and Africa’s ethnic tribes’ use of lip plates to hip-hop communities that ascribe value to grills — dental crowns fitted out of plush metals like gold or silver and are on occasion inlaid with precious stones. It is observable closer to home too: Tamil Hindu festival Thaipusam documents the act of tongue or cheek vel piercing, all in penance and praise to Lord Murugan. And in pop culture, Pharrell Williams recently re-envisioned dental jewellery for the Louis Vuitton Fall Winter 24 runway, each carved intricately to reflect the house insignia, and embedded with the season’s choice of thematic turquoise. 

But for locals who are turning to the trend, the compelling quality of body adornments comes with the autonomy of self-expression. Flesh and bone can be boiled down to canvases, while ornamental jewellery is the medium. But in a more-than-not conservative society where the norm has been regulated to single, double or at most triple lobe piercings, how can these displays of individuality persist, flashy as they may be? Men’s Folio looks at three individuals who are championing beauty beyond the surface, guarded by their new armour.


“People will judge you anyway based on what you wear, or how you choose to do your hair. Piercings are just one other thing for them to look at. But they are just a way of expressing how you want to look. For most people, their ears are a canvas, but I wanted my canvas to be bigger. And my piercings are to build symmetry on my face, because no one’s anatomy is symmetrical, but the highest form of beauty is symmetry. I got started when I was 17. There was someone I wanted to impress, I wanted to be as cool as her. So I asked her to bring me to get a tongue piercing. Now, I have a certain attachment to my metals — when my microdermals started rejecting, I cried a little bit. For now, I am quite happy with what I have on my face — it’s a collaborative process between my piercer, Rinku Shanti from Mantra Collective, and all my jewellery is 14K gold. If my body is a temple, I’d better decorate it nicely.”


“I love the idea of more interesting ways of incorporating silver here and there, beyond a necklace or a belt. I got my first set of tooth gems last summer, and I like it because it’s not too big of a commitment but it’s still fun. Anyone can do whatever they want to their body. As they please. It’s up to an individual to have their own perspective of what their body means to them. Personally, I don’t have problems with doing what I find fun, nice, or cool. I was always the kind of student who just wore whatever anyway. Some people can’t be themselves without certain things, and that’s what jewellery is to me. It helps me to establish myself as an individual and be comfortable with who I am. People think that people wear jewellery to seek attention, but that’s a misconception. It’s more about you feeling like yourself, instead of looking a certain way for someone else. Without my jewellery, it’s like the feeling of leaving the house without music, like I would feel like my day is ruined. My age is in the way now, but eventually, I’m aiming to get pierced on my arms or hands.”


“For any style or fashion genre, I think it looks better with some accessories. I just happen to have a lot of metal. My first time getting pierced, I got four or five at one go. That was more than ten years ago. I’ve had them for so long that by now, it’s a part of me. Without them, I’d feel weird. It’s sentimental, and it’s almost like they empower me. I hate the pain, but I love the end result. I may get a lot of looks, judgement, or disgusted stares, which is the worst. But I don’t really care, I feel like I got over it, over the years. Because it’s a form of expression, and I value the freedom to express myself any way I’d like to.”

Photography Jaya Khidir
Story Vanessa Grace Ng
Manfred Lu

Once you are done with this story, click here to catch up with our April 2024 issue.