Body piercing is a deliberate display. Sometimes the display is inspired by standards of beauty, at times it signifies social status, it can occasionally shout rebellion, and in rarer cases it has religious significance. Some practices have gained popularity in recent years while others date back centuries.
By E.R.A. McCarthey
Body piercing (literally “puncture the body”) was used by ancient cultures for ritual or cultural purposes.
During the 16th century nose piercing became popular in India, brought there from the Middle East. Later hippies who visited India carried the idea back to the United States.
Historically lip piercing was reserved for men of higher castes, while in the modern world it’s one of the most common body piercings.
Ear piercing was once a method for warding off demons. Ancient tribes believed that demons can take over the body by entering it through the ear. The metal
of earrings was believed to repel the evil spirits.
Ancient Aztecs pierced their tongues to cleanse their minds and the shamans believed it helped them communicate better with the Gods. The “Kama Sutra” describes piercing of the male genitals as a display of sexual power. Gladiators of ancient Rome and athletes of ancient Greece pierced their scrotum and prepuce to protect their genitals during combat or sports. This practice was also used in ancient Rome, Greece, and in Southeast Asia (there a horizontal piercing called Palang), to protect slaves and prisoners from vile passions.
The Victorian era is well-known for individuals engaging in a lifestyle that favored repression in public but extreme sexual behavior in private. Pornography, fetishism, homosexuality and sadomasochism were engaged in often but were completely hidden behind closed doors. Body piercing was one of the hidden acts. Piercing the body can be a sexual act evoking pleasure in the masochist while drugging the sadist with power.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s British punk subculture used piercing in another way: to shock the social order – as if random body piercing wasn’t enough, they then turned to using safety pins.
Today very few people perceive body piercing as a ritual of faith because the fashion industry has been pushing it as a display of artistry or rebelliousness. People pierce their bodies for various reasons – they want to show their courage, creativity, strength, spirit, confidence, experience sexual pleasure, or oppose social norms.
It’s rare to meet someone who doesn’t have some form of body piercing – lip, ear, nose, tongue, eyebrow, navel and more exotic areas.
Funnily enough, ear piercing was once considered a rebellious act in the U.S. and now many of the people who find other body piercings unsavory have their ears pierced? “Looking normal” is not a fact; it’s just aesthetic norms a society agrees are desirable.
In contemporary society, lip piercing is a common body piercing, especially among young people. The ring may be anywhere around the mouth, but most commonly it’s placed in the center or on the far side of the lip. Having a lip ring on each side of the mouth is known as fangs or snake bites.
Nose piercing is very attractive and draws attention to the center of the face. There are many styles and sizes of nose rings; the best way is to choose one that matches face shape and size. A little face with a tiny nose doesn’t carry a large heavy ring as well as a large face with a strong nose. A tiny stud may not even be noticed on a long nose. Personal preference should always have more value than current trends when choosing body jewelry.
Many people think tongue piercings are attractive and interesting. Tongue piercing is done with a straight barbell. It can be a different size depending on the thickness of the tongue and what the person is comfortable with. Tongue piercing is a good choice for anyone in the professional world that wants to have a piercing others easily overlook.
Navel jewelry offers the widest variety in style – ring, pendant, attached to belly chains and more… It looks very beautiful but can get infected easily if it’s irritated by clothing during the healing process. Again it is a piercing easier to conceal when necessary. Ear piercing is one of the oldest and most common forms of body piercing. Pierced ear lobes and cartilage is common among most tribal cultures. Stretching the ear lobe is practiced by people from northern India, Burma, and Africa.
Eyebrow piercing is a more modern practice and most piercing is done on the surface of the brow. Eyebrow piercings are fairly common but not as accepted by mainstream culture as navel, tongue or nose piercings. Barbell, curved barbell and balls are the most common earrings for pierced brows.
Like all things, piercing should be done in moderation. Always consider the lifestyle you have, the social norms of the community you live in, what would look best on you, and your career before choosing a body piercing.