“Oh, I just noticed that you have your lip pierced,” says the guy who I’ve been talking to for a couple of hours now.
“Yeah, I’ve got I few piercings,” I say back. Eleven, to be exact, but I’m not particularly in the mood to count them just then.
“And…what do they all mean?”
What do they all mean? My piercings are something that I’ve been collecting for a while now, things that I switch out and redo at random, but it’s never really been something that I think all that much about. I’m fiercely protective of them, sure, refusing to take them out by anyone’s will but my own, but I’ve never really wondered why until then. What do my eleven piercings mean to me?
Well, I don’t know about now, but I remember what the first one meant to me. I remember being the only girl in the fifth grade to show up to school with a nose ring. I remember being so proud to show it off, thinking that it made me cooler somehow, that the tiny hole that I wore in one nostril somehow entered me into a secret society of badasses that my classmates just couldn’t understand.
I remember being so shocked and delighted when I asked my mom if I could get my nose pierced, and she actually said yes! “As long as it’s okay with your dad,” she told me, and it was okay with him so long as the jewelry wasn’t too big. I was so thrilled.
But you see, the problem is that I broke the jewelery-can’t-be-too-big rule, and my dad was never quite so accepting about piercings after that. I spent the eight years following my first piercing just struggling to get more. Every once in a while, he’d consent, and I’d walk victorious into the tattoo shop, throwing down my money to get stabbed with another needle. Sometimes he’d be particularly difficult, and the only thing that would keep me from taking out one of my sewing needles and doing it myself was a book that I had read once where a girl tried to pierce her own eyebrow and damaged the nerve endings in her face, paralyzing half of it. No, it was best to leave it to the professionals, I knew that well, so I tried to be good and patient, even when I wanted nothing more than to take the stupid option.
And then my 18th birthday granted me the gift of my body, and so I filled it full of metal and called it my own. When a nose ring was no longer weird or shocking, I got a surface piercing, and then a septum ring. I’d take them out and put them in according to how I saw fit. I decorated my form the way that I—not anyone else—wanted.
I suppose control has always been a big thing for me, and that’s definitely a factor when it comes to piercings. It’s the control of pain. The control over your own definition of pleasure. The control over your own body to a very deep, personal level—the sort of control that no one can ever fully take away from you. In order to be comfortable in my body as a woman, I definitely think I needed something like that. Some little piece of metal in my skin to remind me that I could do with myself as I pleased and nobody could take that away from me.
My 11 piercings mean that I am free. They mean that nobody can tell me what to do, not anymore, and I will go forth into the world with that knowledge. I will go forth with control over my mind, over my actions, and most importantly, over myself. And if ever I start to forget that lesson, if I ever let someone come into my life and start to tell me what to do with it, all I need is to look in the mirror, at my face filled with metal, and remember.
There are a lot of people out there who would attribute different meanings to my piercings. They would say that I’m looking for attention (aren’t we all?), or rebelling against something (not so much “rebelling” as taking control of my life), or that I’m somehow incapable of performing a job because of them (as though the tiny, sparkly diamond in my lip has ever made it difficult for me to smile and be polite).
They would ask me why I mark up my pretty face like that and call it a waste of good beauty. But, really, it’s none of that. It’s me. We’re all born looking the same, all roughly human-shaped and typical. But I’m not the same, so why should my earthly shell be? Why can’t I show on my skin my search for freedom, my struggle for control? Why can’t I make my outside match my inside?
So in answer to the question, Guy-who-I’ve-been-talking-to-for-a-couple-of-hours-now, my piercings mean absolutely nothing. They say nothing about my personality, about my abilities, about my morals or place in life. But they do say a little bit about my story. They’re personal to me—a part of me. They’re as much an extension of my body now as my fingernails and toes, and to part with them would be a loss to me. And if you think that they look ugly or unprofessional, then I’m forced to respectfully disagree. I think they’re beautiful, but at the same time, I don’t think that they’re necessarily meant to reflect or improve upon my physical beauty, as much as a woman’s physical beauty is all she is judged upon.
No, instead, they’re meant to reflect me.
Author: Ciara Hall
Image: Flickr/Chanel Beck
Editor: Travis May