Amber Hlavaty has always tried to prove she’s more than she appears. She wants people to look beyond the 16 piercings that often draw attention to her body, and instead use that attention to drive awareness to various causes and charities.
The 22-year-old Harrisburg woman is part of the Pennsylvania Modified Dolls, a newly formed group of about 10 women that has invaded central Pennsylvania with its soft hearts encased in tough exteriors.
Each member, or “doll,” sports numerous piercings, tattoos or both, living up to their modified standard.
“But we’re more than the stigma people associate with tattoos and piercings,” said Hlavaty, head of public relations for the group.
The Dolls have been going out on monthly charity events not only to spread the news about their new club, but to get people to think differently about those with body modifications.
They hope people can see beyond the gauged earlobes and colorful tattoos as they serve the community, particularly the cuddliest of creatures.
The Dolls recently participated in a “Paws for a Cause” fundraiser to help provide a service dog for a handicapped man. They also plan to visit Woofstock at Riverfront Park in September to benefit the Central Pennsylvania Animal Alliance.
While the dolls love helping animals, they also reach out to other charities and causes, including hosting skateboard art shows, car rallies and concerts to raise money.
The president of the group—or head doll—Erin Naylor, 25, of Harrisburg, said she was drawn to the Dolls because she wanted to find like-minded women.
“I’ve always been involved in charitable events,” she said, “but there is absolutely power in numbers.”
And of those numbers, most agree that they’re animal lovers, said Naylor.
Naylor helps her sister run an animal shelter out of Tamaqua, and a few others help with the Humane Society of Harrisburg. One member even rescues chinchillas.
“It’s extremely important to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves,” she said.
Naylor finds comfort in her two cats, Monster and Zombie, who love her “whether or not I’ve fixed my hair, showered, have 400 tattoos or none,” she said. “I’ve made it a personal mission to help as many living things as I possibly can.”
The compassion that drives these women is surprising to some.
“We get a lot of different responses,” Hlavaty said. “They see us working these charity events, and sometimes it’s hard for people to understand because they expect us to be lazy or doing illegal things. We’re not like that at all.”
Naylor said she’s been asked numerous times why she’s pierced and tattooed herself.
“The only answer I can give is, ‘because it’s my body,’” she said.
Naylor has 13 tattoos that called for more than 20 hours of work, as well as two piercings.
But each one has a special meaning, whether it’s the shamrocks representing her Irish heritage, the dragonfly for the loss of her mother when Naylor was just 14, or the salt shaker that goes to the pepper shaker tattooed on her best friend.
“Modified women helping people is huge,” she said. “We need to get away from the stigma that tattooed and pierced individuals are troublemakers.”
Most of Hlavaty’s 16 piercings were gifts from her parents on a birthday.
She couldn’t get her septum, or space between her nostrils, pierced until she was 16, she said.
When she wanted her lip pierced, she was told to wait until she was 18.
Naylor hopes the people who see them at events are reminded it’s not OK to make hurtful comments toward the Dolls.
“The only thing that has changed about me since I’ve become tattooed and pierced is I don’t judge people without tattoos or piercings,” Naylor said. “Every single person is fighting battles you know nothing about. Be kind to everyone.”
The Dolls have grown the most through their relationships with each other.
“I absolutely couldn’t do it without them,” Naylor said. “These girls are my family.”
Because some of the women live outside of Harrisburg, they keep in touch through the group’s Facebook page, sharing encouraging messages or posting photos of their tattoos and piercings.
The more than 1,100 fans share stories of job discrimination, fashion trends and events.
They also connect with more than 30,000 Facebook followers on the national page, who work just as hard to spread the message abroad.
Despite normal jobs, educations and children of their own, the Modified Dolls are still seen as different, Hlavaty said.
“We’re not what you may think we are,” she said. “I’ve watched these girls do so much good in Harrisburg. And I think people should see that.”
Check out the latest on the Pennsylvania Modified Dolls at their Facebook page: PADolls.