The financial side of the industry is also opaque, says Elayne Angel, the APP's current president. The anecdotal evidence about the amount of money Americans spend on altering their bodies — such as the 1,500 professional piercers who subscribe to the group's mailing list and the 800 attendees at the most recent APP conference — suggests a booming market.

But as the practice has gone more and more mainstream, people originally drawn to tats and piercings as a way to set themselves apart from the crowd have had to look further and further to the fringes, says Jerry Koch, a Texas Tech professor who led a survey of 1,753 college students about piercings and tattoos.

His study revealed that people with four or more tats or seven or more piercings were substantially more likely to have a history of arrests — suggesting a link between hard-core adherents and troubled lifestyles.

Michael Alberta preaches a philosophy called "transhumanism."
Giulio Sciorio
Michael Alberta preaches a philosophy called "transhumanism."

Location Info


Hyatt Regency Miami

400 SE Second Ave.
Miami, FL 33131

Category: Hotels and Resorts

Region: Central Dade

Empire Ink Tattoo

710 Washington Ave., 4
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Category: Salons and Spas

Region: South Beach

Tattoos by Moses

18200 NW 27th Ave.
Miami Gardens, FL 33056

Category: Salons and Spas

Region: Miami Gardens


"With the increasing mainstream presence of tattoos and piercings among entertainers, athletes, and even in corporate boardrooms, we found that students who identified with the body modification subculture found it necessary to get more tattoos and piercings as well as engage in more deviant behavior to increase their social distance from mainstream society," Koch says. "To distinguish themselves, they feel that they need to get more body art."

States such as Florida do little to bring such people into the mainstream. Unlike California and Oregon — which allow certified piercers to perform edgy procedures — the Florida Board of Medicine considers branding, tongue splitting, subdermal implants, and scarification forms of medicine, and therefore legal only for licensed physicians to perform.

Joe Amato, one of a few nationally recognized body piercers based in South Florida, says the laws hinder artists from expressing themselves. Body piercers risk losing their licenses if they advertise or openly promote such procedures.

"It is definitely still an underground form of art because of the law," he says. "There is no way to legally practice extreme body modifications in Florida."

Coco Stabs walked into the Tattoos by Moses parlor in Carol City one sunny afternoon in 2000, not long after the latest tragedy to rock his life. The then-20-year-old was numb with depression. Six months earlier, Coco's best friend Alex had died in a motorcycle accident. "A guy cut him off, he lost control of his bike, and crashed into a wall," Coco remembers. "It was fucked up."

Coco had known Alex since middle school. Both boys grew up in the same Miami Lakes apartment complex, then called Fairway Ponds. Every day they would walk together to the bus stop. When they attended high school together, Coco and Alex could always count on each other even though they took different paths. Alex was a clean-cut bookworm. Coco was a truant who smoked weed and befriended gang bangers. "I got my nickname in late middle school. One of my friends called me 'Coco the Smoke-Out Monkey,'" he says. The first part stuck.

Though he had always wanted a tattoo, Coco feared his mom's wrath. When he was 17, he got his nose pierced with his younger sister, but his mom made him take it out. "Either he took it out or I was going to rip it out," she says.

The moment he walked into Tattoos by Moses, though, he spotted a flash card with a large grim reaper. "Alex was on my mind," Coco says. "I kept thinking how the grim reaper comes for all of us one day."

By the time he walked out of there that day with that image on his shoulder, he'd embarked on a path to his new lifestyle. Like a lot of other guys who cover their bodies with art and hang from ceilings, Coco had found emotional comfort in the pain of an artist's needle.

"By the end of the week, I had five tattoos," he says. "The needle on my skin was like therapy."

Born in Queens in 1980, Coco moved to Miami Lakes when he was 6 years old with his mother, a soft-spoken but stern Ecuadorian; his sister, Yamile, who is two years younger; and his father. When Coco was 8, his dad was murdered. The case remains unsolved. (Miami police were unable to find records related to the homicide.)

Until then, he'd had a normal childhood. His dad had coached him in football, baseball, and soccer. "Once his dad passed away, he became introverted," his mother says of Coco. "He also didn't like going to school."

He attended Miami Lakes Elementary, Miami Lakes Middle, and American Senior High. But he dropped out at the end of the 11th grade and soon began getting into trouble on the streets. In 1999, he was arrested for obstructing a police officer. A year later, he was collared for pot possession, and in 2001 for underage drinking.

His mom, now a 57-year-old office manager with dark-auburn hair and square-rimmed eyeglasses, did her best to keep him on a straight path, but the pair clashed constantly about his increasing collection of tattoos and piercings. "In my day, tattoos and piercings were for pirates or prostitutes," she says.

So the first chance Coco got, when he turned 21, he moved out and took a job as a manager for a printing company in Opa-locka. After he clocked out at 5 p.m., he would head to Tattoos by Moses, where he had an apprenticing gig.

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Zach Pasdoe
Zach Pasdoe

These people are going to look EXTREMELY silly once they surpass the age of 50.


Doesn't JliciousB have some kind of ring through her lip ? Gross, it makes me think of AIDS !!!

Ross Godinez
Ross Godinez

"modifiers brave social stigma" pleaseeee, is this what we've come to in America? Sorry, your lifestyle is the fringe of society and deviant behavior. MLK Jr was brave in pushing societal boundaries, not these attention seekers.


Last days of Rome.


body-mutilation seems a better description than body-modification


Michael Anthony Alberta isn't pro-transhumanism. Whoever wrote this article obviously didnt interview him correctly- or worse. If you want to stick him with any ism he should be tied to shamanism.


You guys should have talked more about Mike Albertas work rather than his passed. I've listened to him speak on the air and he's not the villian being portrayed in this article.


You guys should have done a whole article on Alberta, that dude is a legend on the beach.


Proud and happy to see any one do some thing they enjoy ....big ups COCO!

Ed Ochoa
Ed Ochoa

Noelle at New Age Body Percings started this long time ago before any of these guys were even thinking about body modifications

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