Words of Wisdom

Youth is wasted on the young.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Ear Piercing or The Mutilation of Children

My beautiful unmutilated child with the ears she was born with.

At about the age of 10 the BA first enquired about having her ears pierced. I said no. Without hesitation. Without a second thought. No child of mine is having her ears pierced at 10.

"So when can I have them pierced?" she wanted to know.
"Later," was not a satisfactory answer.
At first I think I said 16 but somehow, and I'm not sure how this occurred, I was negotiated down to 14. However, even 14 made me squirm. What was it about having her ears pierced that so confronted me? Why do people pierce ears anyway? I decided to do some research. I quickly found this article:

"The ear-lobe was probably man's first attempt at body piercing due to the ease with which it can be pierced. The oldest mummified body in the world was found frozen in an Austrian Glacier in 1991, tests showed the body to be over 5,000 years old. The body had pierced ears and the holes had been enlarged to 7-11mm diameter.

Ears were probably first pierced for magical purposes, very many primitive tribes believe that demons can enter the body through the ear, because demons and spirits are supposed to be repelled by metal, ear-piercing prevents them entering the body. Sailors used to have an ear pierced to improve eyesight, and if the bodies washed up somewhere it would pay for a christian burial. In many societies ear piercing is done as a puberty ritual, in Borneo the Mother and Father each pierce one ear as a symbol of the child's dependance on their parents.

Ear piercing is an almost universal practice for men and women, it's only in western society that it's deemed effeminate. At various times in history men wore elaborate earrings; during the Elizabethan era many famous men such as Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake wore gold rings in their ears.

As the Roman Republic grew more effeminate with wealth and luxury, earrings were more popular among men than women; no less a he-man than Julius Caesar brought back to repute and fashion the use of rings in the ears of men."

"Jewels & Women; The Romance, Magic and Art of Feminine Adornment" Marianne Ostier, Horizon Press, New York, 1958

There was also this:

Did you know that there are several references to pierced ears and earrings in the Bible? In Genesis 24:22 the fashion is mentioned and in Exodus 32, Aaron melts ornate hoops to make the golden calf. History has recovered evidence that members of Ancient Mesoamericans had multiple body piercing, including some on the ear. Some tribes consider the ritual of piercing to be a rite of passage not a fashion statement. In Borneo, young ladies entering adult hood, have their ears pierced by their parents.


and, interestingly, this:

Body piercing disappeared from most western cultures where it was considered the practice of barbarian tribes until the Elizabethan era when sailors came into contact with tribes who believed that ear lobe piercings enhanced long distance vision. This was of obvious benefit to sailors who spent most of their time on the open ocean. Interestingly enough modern acupuncture techniques support this idea.

For me it is the idea of rites of passage that rings true. To me, ear piercing symbolises an entry to womanhood, like a deb ball, a coming out party or a quilting; it is a sign that you are 'on the market'. I think this is why the piercing of very young children's ears seems incongruous and I would be interested to hear, from those who either had their ears pierced at a young age or have had their own children's ears pierced, the rationale behind the custom. Perhaps it is a hark back to the idea of ear jewelery signifying status as it was for the Romans?

So at the time I had agreed to it, 14 seemed such a long way off. Perhaps she would forget about it? Predictably, as her 14th birthday approached, she reminded me of my 'promise'. For her 14th birthday she wanted to get her ears pierced. Being a mother of my word, I had to agree; but that didn't mean I was going to have to assist in the process!

Now, the question that is looming large here of course, is whether I have my ears pierced. The answer is yes; but as I explained to the BA, I was 19 when I had mine done. I was old enough to vote!

Putting all the angst aside, she had decided that she would spend any birthday money she received in getting her ears pierced. I informed her that she would need to do the research, make the appointment and get there herself as I was not going to facilitate the process. Happily for the BA, The Bestie decided that it would be a very good thing for them to do together as a birthday present. (Curses, foiled by my own Bestie)
Here they are off to do the deed.

And here is the result. See how my hand was shaking with emotion as I took the shot, or are they tears blurring the image? Of course many people have told me I am making too big of a deal about this and truthfully, now that it's done, it really isn't that big a deal! I just found my own emotional responses to the whole process quite interesting.

What do you think?


Amy Jo said...

My mother got my ears pierced when I was 18 months old, so I don't recall the reason. It was more of a tradition, I guess. I got them double pierced when I graduated from 5th grade, as all of my friends were doing so and I was a bit of a pester. B.A.'s look nice, and not too flashy!

Laine Moore said...

My mom got her ears pierced for her wedding, when she was 20, so that she could wear the pearl earrings her mom gave to her.

I've had my ears pierced three times in total now. 2 sets of lobe piercings and 1 cartilage piercing. However, I had really bad issues with all 5 of the piercings and none of them took, so at 23, I'm one of the only people I know without pierced ears! My body basically rejected all of the piercings which for the first set, at around age 11, resulted in my mom ripping them out of my ears while I was asleep!

I won't horrify you too much, but let's just say I'm a FIRM FIRM believer that piercings should ONLY be done at a professional piercing parlor, not at Clairs, or the mall. They shouldn't be done with a "gun" as many lobes are because it can disturb the tissue too much and cause it to not heal properly, or at all as was my case.

I had my belly button pierced by a professional piercer at age 16, and that went perfectly. I let it close about 2 years later though because that ship had sailed! If I ever get them done again, but at my old age I really can't imagine it(!) it will be at a tattoo/piercing salon again.

Where did BA get hers done? Was it a needle or a gun? (Most people do fine with the gun though it's just not really advised by professional piercers.)

Elisa said...

I loved this post....we all have certain things that we are so resolute about and cannot always explain to other people. It's our mother's gut telling us that something should or shouldn't be done.

When my middle guy was born, he had these long wispy sideburn looking things and short hair everywhere else. I was so hesitant to cut his hair when he was really little because I guess that made my baby seem like a toddler too soon....who the heck knows. When I see the photos now I think, "What was I thinking?" He has one photo where he looks like a Hasidic Jewish Man.(spelling?)

And now, facebook is the issue. I have one - my teens do NOT! I hear all the arguments for and against and it is just something I am not ready for them to delve into!

Reminds me of your thoughts awhile ago on getting a cell phone! :)

I think some of this may be our last vestiges of control over these ever increasinly independent children we are raising. ???

Who knows? All I know is that your post made perfect sense to me! :)

HipMomma said...

I really have not seen the reason why it bothers people so much to keep their girls from piercing their ears. I know a few moms who have said, "I got mine done at 13 so my child will wait til then." I was told to either do it in infancy or to wait til they are about 7 or 8, assuming that that is the age they can take care of their own ears. I'm glad you gave in. It's sweet. Not there will be the constant fuss to adorn them. Natalya is constantly looking at earrings.

Arizaphale said...

Amy Jo: Have you ever asked your Mum why she had yours done? Do you have Mediterranean heritage? Will you have Lucy's done?

Laine: The BA got hers done at a hairdresser and I think it was with a gun. So far so good however. She had to take them off last weekend for netball :-( but we sterilised them well before she put them back in.

Elisa: Thanks! I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels like this.

Hipmomma:I think it's the adorning them that bothers me. It seems so grown up already....

Jill/Twipply Skwood said...

I'm probably not a good one to ask, since I took my goddaughter to get her tongue pierced when she was 14! :-0 But it was a Bestie kind of thing - her mom wanted to let her do it, but didn't want to be around when it happened.

And I got my gal's ears pierced when she was two. She let them grow shut when she was 11 or 12 though. In retrospect I think two was WAY too young. I thought about this later when I realized that if she had her ears pierced at two, who the heck knows WHAT she would have wanted pierced at 14 and 16 and 18.

But really in my mind the only options are belly button and ears. Tongue is sort of dangerous and nose and eyebrow is too noticeable when you might not want it to be.

Anyway, congrats about surviving the experience! She looks very cute in the picture on her way to go. I would guess the emotional part had as much to do with her having made the magic age as it did the actual holes in her ears.

Jill/Twipply Skwood said...

Oh yeah - I never had my ears pierced until I was 18, but then I did one pierce in one ear and three in the other ear. I only have one left in each ear though. And then I did the belly button at age 38.

SSG said...

I remember getting m ears pierced, think I was about 13/14 too, definitely a right of passage. I hate babies with pierced ears, but getting them as a teenager rocked.

carrie said...

I remember pleading with my parents and they finally gave in when I was 8. Now...I hardly ever wear earrings, except on "special" occasions, I guess. A lot of Em's friends are getting theirs done now (age 6 or so) but she hasn't even shown any desire or asked about it - and I'm NOT pushing it. I figure she has to be big enough to take care of the ears herself, but it does seem like such a rite of passage...into a Big, BIG girl. I'm kinda with you - not quite ready for it.

Agnes said...

I got mine done for my birthday when I was 13 - that was the rule in my family. I have 2 in each lobe, and I had one up the top as well, but I've just taken that one out as it didn't take properly. I have a stud in my nose too - that didn't hurt at all!

I also agree with Laine - only at a professional piercing place should these things be done. These people know what they're doing.

I totally disagree with babies and little kids having theirs done though - I reckon you should wait til you're old enough to make the decision yourself, and be able to look after them. As if a baby or a two year old chooses to have them - it's purely parental choice there, and I think it's silly. I think it's also a good thing to have to look forward to - something to do when you're more "grown up".

And now I will stop crapping on, and leave you all in peace!

formerly fun said...

Mine were pierced at six, with a gun,in the library(sound a bit Clue like no?)

I liked them and only had a few pairs. Neither of my girls are pierced, maybe around 10? I don't know. I don't want to be over concerned but I too don't like the idea that young girls spend too much thought on appearance and adornment.

A Free Man said...

I think it's just her ears. You see babies with their ears pierced these days. It's no biggie, Ariza. You can't stop her growing up, much as you try!

I tell you what, we'll make you an honorary Auntie for Zach - that way you'll have a wee'un around for years to come yet!


chaoticfamily said...

Got mine done when I was 11... It was a big pleading ordeal, visit to the Dr. before and a week of antibiotics - just because I'm super special. ;)

Then my bellybutton when I was 23 (disaster).

I don't like the idea of piercing as babies. Personal choice but it kind of freaks me out a bit. My girl has been asking for about 6 months (not sure why) and I was thinking for her 4th birthday maybe??? Not sure.

I agree with the tattoo parlour, however here in Canada they won't take anyone under the age of majority, which varies per province.

Andi said...

I guess most of your readers (and you) would disagree with me, but I had the daughter's done when she was an infant, mostly because I wanted her to look like a litte girl, I guess. She lost all of the lovely jet black hair that she was born with, and was as bald as an onion for almost two years! She was asleep when my mom and I took her in, and she never even woke up. She wiggled a little, but did not cry and remained perfectly sound asleep. The ladies at the salon did both ears at the same time. This was twenty years ago, so I am certain that it was not a professional piercing parlor. She never had any trouble with them, and I kept tiny little pearl studs in them for most of her toddler years. Later, we bought her some tasteful little girl hoops. I just never really thought of it at a big deal.
My mother had mine done at 5, and I kept snagging them on stuff- clothes, blankets, whatever, and I could not keep them healed. I guess that is why the infancy thing sounded ok to me- I took care of them for her, and she did not ever really even touch them as a baby. Waiting until later did not do much for me- I still ended up as a teen with six ear lobe piercings in one ear and three in the other (it was an 80's thing, I guess; now I just have one in each). My mother was very supportive of that, although her friends gave her a hard time. I allowed the daughter in her freshman year of school to get her nose pierced, and it made me cry. She, however, did not even blink. She was awake this time, but it did not hurt her at all.
I do understand you wanting to hold on to some things...girls in this day do grow up so much faster than they should. I was a young mother though, and I may have done things differently if I'd given it more thought...maybe.

You should be commended for getting through such an important milestone and indeed a right of passage! Well done :)

BA, they look lovely!

Arizaphale said...

Andi I think it is totally an individual choice although I am kind of relieved that the Daughter slept through the whole thing :-)The BA has plans for further piercings in her future. I am ok with it once she is over 18...but do not even mention tattoos to me!!!!!!!!!

M said...

Yes, it's nice, isn't it.

M said...


Like you suggest, don't be surprised if she wants double studs put it. Teens, moms - even grandmoms - do it. I think they look nice, too.

Nina said...

yur soo overactinq i had my 1rst holes when i was 3 months & im 12 now i have 2 bottom on my left qettinq a 3rd & on my riqht i have 3 bottom & a cartlidqe also & im qettinq a 4th bottom & my nose pierced when i 13 maybee

Arizaphale said...

If I was your mother I would only let you have another piercing when you learned how to use fullstops and capital letters. :-)
No seriously Nina, I am sure they look lovely and give you a great deal of pleasure. At least you can take them out later. Unlike tattoos. Do not get any tattoos.

Anonymous said...

Getting your ears peirced is not mutilation. Mutilation is stretching out your earlobes so big that you can let a baby sit in side of that lobe. I have 2 peircings in the lobe and 1 in the cartlige and im about to get my third lobe peircing soon. Im only in middle school too got my first peircing at 6 months old!

Jecilynne said...

She can get tatoos if she wants to yuh cant tell her what to do!

Leigha Cheyenne said...

Getting your ears peirced is not mutilation. Mutilation is stretching out your earlobes so big that you can let a baby sit in side of that lobe. I have 2 peircings in the lobe and 1 in the cartlige and im about to get my third lobe peircing soon. Im only in middle school too got my first peircing at 6 months old!

Donnalynne said...

Your Daughters ear peircings look good and guhh dont freak out ya weirdy