When I first discovered that there are people who think nothing of circumcising their infant sons for social reasons (i.e. “so that he looks like everyone else”) but who clutch their pearls with clammy fingers if they spot a baby with pierced ears, I had no idea what to think. I’ve come to understand that there are cultural reasons behind what’s considered acceptable to do to a baby’s body.
Most white Americans consider piercings to be edgy in a way that people of other backgrounds may not. For example, many people who are assigned female at birth and hail from Desi backgrounds like mine had their ears pierced as infants. I am no exception. Since I’ve been rocking lobe jewelry since I was three months old, for me to consider ear piercings to be “daring” in any way seemed utterly ludicrous.
My conception of bodily autonomy affirms that people should have a say in any modifications made to body parts as significant as their genitalia to as seemingly-insignificant as their earlobes. At the same time, though, I cannot help but notice that those from a more mainstream cultural American background tend to become quite upset over piercings in a way I can’t understand.
Setting aside the obviously judgmental, subjective statements that dub piercings and/or pierced people as “not classy,” “gross,” “unprofessional,” and so on, there are some notions regarding piercings that masquerade as objective in some way that simply are not. The same goes for tattoos. Finger-waggers will often make claims akin to the three below.
Piercing [insert body part here] in [insert place on said part here] can cause paralysis.
I’ve heard this notion used to dissuade people from piercings in as mundane of a place as ear cartilage. There is no evidence that piercing some part of your body is a surefire way to induce paralysis of any kind. There is a rare paralysis-causing condition that was known to be have been triggered via an ear piercing in one case, but anything from a vaccine to the flu can trigger it, too.
If you pierce your nose or tongue and it gets infected, the infection could spread to your brain.
Tongue piercings have been named as the culprit in a few severe cases of infection that led to harm and death, but in both cases, there was an infection involved. Merely getting the piercing doesn’t cause the brain to become infected; furthermore, other causes can lead to the same sort of infection. There doesn’t seem to be any recorded case where a nose piercing caused a brain infection. I’d imagine that an infected nose or tongue piercing could cause sepsis if left untreated for too long, just like any other infection.
Piercings and tattoos cause unsightly scarring.
It is true that for people with certain skin types and scarring predispositions, both piercings and tattoos can develop into a highly-visible and sometimes disfiguring scar. So can any other injury to the skin, however, especially if you are predisposed to such marking.
What the naysaying really boils down to is this: any kind of injury to the body can develop into further problems like infections and scarring that are potentially harmful. Piercings are no different, but aren’t as dangerous or as risky as many hand-wringers would have you believe. Practicing care, sense, and caution, as well as accepting the level of risk inherently involved in body modifications, is key.
Personally (and yes, anecdotally, in 25 years of life, I’ve gotten 14 different piercings as well as one tattoo. Not one of my body modifications, not even the one ear piercing that I allowed to heal or the tattoo that took over 5 hours to complete, left me scarred. The tissue around my nose stud did become darkened post-piercing, but that’s because it was made by a gun wielded by some beautician rather than by a sterile needle in the hands of a professional piercer (I didn’t know any better at 17).
It’s not that I’m resistant to scarring, either. I have many, many hypertrophic and keloid scars from surgeries as well as from the various little scrapes and injuries I’ve acquired over the course of my life (not to mention the stretch marks courtesy of puberty and weight fluctuations). I am happy to take the risk every time I get a mod because my body is already riddled with unwanted marks; the ones I’ve placed there of my own volition please me aesthetically and psychologically.
If you are not aesthetically pleased by body modifications, by all means refrain from getting any. I don’t believe that anyone should have any piercings or tattoos that they didn’t consent to getting. Playing up the risks of tattoos and piercings as way to disguise the fact that you don’t approve of them for subjective reasons, however, strikes me as rather petty.