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How Ear (Body) Piercing Relates to Culture and Tradition

Choosing to have your baby’s ears pierced can be a very controversial topic. What age is appropriate? Where should I take my baby: the pediatricians office or to a local piercing spot? Will I be judged for piercing my baby’s ears without her consent? For most of parent’s it is a simple choice, however, for other’s it is much more complicated.

The cultural influences in ear piercing is stronger and more prevalent than it seems. Being a first generation American of Southeast Asian descent, having my ears pierced before the age of 1 was the norm. I can vividly imagine the pictures from my first birthday with bright gold earrings dangling from my ears. Now as my friends start to have children, ear piercing has become a much more heated debate. What if my baby does not want to wear earrings? Is piercing my baby’s ear considered mutilation? Should I wait until my baby can give her consent? 

A Little Bit of History…

Ear and body piercing is anything but new. It has a history that dates back thousands of years and has touched every continent on the planet. The definition of piercing is “the insertion of jewelry into various parts of one’s body.” Historically, in may societies piercing has been considered a symbol of royalty and elitism or even virility and courage; some even believe that pierced ears can ward off the evil eye. The oldest documented mummified remains were wearing earrings which has led historians to believe that ear piercing tradition started more than 5,000 years ago. Historians document the piercing of the nostril to be dated back to 1500 BC. The history does not stop there. Egyptian pharaohs pierced their navels in rites of passages and Roman centurions pierced their nipples to show virility and manhood. Tongues were pierced in Mayan cultures as religious rituals.

Clearly, the history of ear piercing dates back to ancient times and has been carried out to this day. To this day, in many Latin American, Indian, African, and Middle Eastern cultures, ear piercing is not a choice, it is a given. In various Native American cultures in the United States, piercing is a long-standing tradition and an important element in religious ceremonies to inspire powerful visions. In numerous South Indian and Nepalese religious ceremonies, it is mandatory for all female members to be pierced as a sign of prosperity and innocence.

Why Ear (Body) Piercing?

In addition to its rich traditional history, ear piercing and other forms of body piercings is a form of self-expression; to give one a sense of individuality. We encourage our children to be strong, independent beings and piercings give can give them a sense of responsibility and an outlet for creativity. It can also commemorate milestones, like birthdays to honoring traditional spiritual and cultural beliefs. Some acupuncturists even believe the ear lobes are acupuncture points and may hold some therapeutic value.

Modern Day

In pop culture and media today, piercings can be portrayed as risky behavior. A ritual practice that should only be done for a consenting individual, who is capable of taking care of the new piercing. With the advent of modern medicine and the use of skilled professionals, the risks related to piercings are negligible. Using a touchless piercing cartridge and hypoallergenic, medical grade earrings the care of new piercings is so simple!

Infections after ear piercing only occur in approximately 24% of the population, the risk is even lower in infants. Why? Infections are introduced to the piercing site by dirty instrumentation or dirty hands! Infants touch their ears less compared to curious toddler or young teenager. Also, as any parent would attest too, babies are kept in cleaner areas compared to a toddler running around at a park or a young child in grade school.

I know that in hindsight, I am so appreciative to my parents for having my ear pierced when I was a baby. Firstly, I do not remember the actual scenario (although, my older sister claims she remembers my ear-

piercing day very vividly!) but also, I love wearing earrings and always loved waking up in the morning and choosing an earring to coordinate with my outfit.

It is important to realize that when it comes to deciding whether to or when to pierce of baby’s ears—there is no right or wrong answer (and that it does not need to be a permanent choice)! What is worth considering is that as a society, we do not judge other parents for the choices they feel is right for their children.

Contributing author and Rowan piercer,
Aniqa Anwar, MD FAAP

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