When I was in first year, I did the most rebellious thing of my short life. I got my tongue pierced. This was a decision that resulted from my thinking they were stylish and, in hindsight, fulfilling the requisite first-year identity crisis. My friend and I took the bus down to Blackstar piercing, a small studio in Kingston where the owner stuck a needle through my tongue. Afterwards, we went to Giant Tiger to stock up on popsicles and ice cream to numb the pain. During the healing process, I could barely eat solid food. On one occasion, it took me half an hour to make it through some scrambled eggs in the morning. When I could finally move on to more substantial meals without feeling searing pain, I had to be extra careful not to bite on my new jewelry. It was during one of my 8:30 am West Campus classes that I drafted a PowerPoint titled “Why it’s chill that I got a tongue piercing” for my parents, which thankfully I did not have to use. My dentist confided in me that he, too, took the plunge his first year of dental school but had taken the piercing out after being worn down by a professor. This professor had left print-out studies of the piercing’s negative dental effects on his desk until he folded. For all this pain, potential future dental issues, and probable professional judgement do I regret this decision? Not in the slightest.
Piercings are not new in the realm of teenage rebellion, but they have a much longer and more complicated history than a quick trip to Claire’s. More extreme, “trashy” piercings are included in this history, not just the product of pop stars and punks. Science has revealed piercing as one of the most ancient body modifications, with a 5,300-year-old preserved man named “Otzi” toting pierced ears. Ancient civilizations were piercing ears, noses, nipples, and more for various purposes. These purposes ranged from curing medical ailments to displaying military success. While not a widespread trend, women in the 19th century were known to pierce their nipples – an image that seems incongruous with the modest, virtuous sensibilities of the time. The eccentric singer Polaire brought nose piercings to American society in 1910 while touring, bearing a large septum ring she chose as part of her image as the “ugliest woman alive.” Tongue piercings themselves were carried out as a religious practice rather than an aesthetic one in ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures. These practices carried over into modern times, revealing the seemingly universal appeal of permanently wearing jewelry anywhere and everywhere.
To me, piercings today serve much the same purpose as those of the previous centuries. They still indicate social status, being utilized by youth to signify a break from their parents’ generation. But aside from serving as a claim to some counterculture or age bracket, I would argue that now piercings are more frequently a stylistic choice – one of the most extreme and permanent accessories next to tattoos. Celebrities have a lot do with the popularization of piercings – beyond ears – as an aesthetic choice. When Christy Turlington sported a bellybutton piercing at a 1993 London fashion show, she broke its previous taboo. It became a fad when Madonna and Naomi Campbell followed in her footsteps.
Popstars played a role as well. Beyonce rocked a bellybutton piercing during her time in Destiny’s Child. In her iconic 2001 “I’m a Slave 4 U” MTV performance, Britney Spears flaunted a bellybutton piercing in addition to a Burmese python. Mel B of Spice Girls fame got her tongue pierced in the 90s. Before Mel B, tongue piercings experienced a resurgence in the 1980s through the promotion of Elayne Angel, who opened the first professional piercing shop in the US.
While many extreme piercings are thought of as a trend confined to the 90s or 2000s, they seem to be making a comeback. The fashion of these eras has already made a major comeback, so it is not surprising that piercings may follow. Celebrities like Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid are boasting nipple piercings, while artists such as FKA Twigs and Rihanna sport septum piercings. In the realm of runway fashion, the aesthetics of piercings have already been taken to the extreme. In the fall 2015 show, Givenchy models sported glued-on facial jewels and multiple nose rings. Designer Alexander McQueen showcased models with safety pins through their cheeks in 2016. While beyond what the average 20-year-old is going for when they enter the piercing shop, these moments in high fashion display our cultural fascination with piercings as a form of artistic expression.
Even if they don’t take over the mainstream as they once did, the commonality of such piercings has not died down. There has been an enduring trend amongst young people, particularly women, to get pierced. In 2010, it was found that 23% of 18- to 29-year-olds had piercings other than an earlobe. Thus, this trend isn’t exclusive to the lobe piercings that seem to be a rite of passage, instead encompassing other body parts. The decision to go under the needle ranges from an identity crisis, sexual appeal, angering a parent, or simply doing it for the bling – but it is personal to everyone.
My tongue piercing wasn’t so much about rebellion as it was about the visual appeal. I had always been into fashion and expressing myself through how I looked, so a tongue piercing seemed like a natural extension of that interest. It honestly boosted my self-esteem, as it was a major decision not endorsed by others that I ended up loving anyway. There will always be some who are going to think of pierced parts other than the earlobes as unprofessional, trashy, or just plain ugly, but that shouldn’t deter you. I have not yet run into any negative reactions, thanks to my very accepting parents and like-minded friends. One such friend got her bellybutton pierced in high school, and some others have nipple piercings. None of them have talked about regretting these arguably more extreme body modifications, and from my personal experience, they just become a part of you. Who knows, maybe I will take my piercing out in a couple of years, but until that time I will treasure it as something big I did for myself – something that as a bonus looks pretty freaking cool.
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