Young People Ask . . .
What About Body Piercing?
‘When I first saw people with lips and other parts of their body pierced, I thought “Wow! That’s special.”’—Lisa.
LISA is not alone. Increasing numbers of young people are wearing rings and studs through various body parts, even their eyebrows, tongue, lips, and navel. It’s a practice called body piercing.a
A 16-year-old named Heather is eager to jump on the bandwagon. She is convinced that a ring in her navel will look “absolutely awesome.” Nineteen-year-old Joe, however, already sports a gold barbell through his tongue. And another young girl chose to have her eyebrow pierced because she wanted something “highly visible” that would “freak people out.”
The idea of attaching jewelry to the body is hardly new. Back in Bible times, a godly woman named Rebekah wore a nose ring. (Genesis 24:22, 47) When coming out of Egypt, the Israelites wore earrings. (Exodus 32:2) It is not known, though, whether such jewelry was attached by means of ear and nose piercing. Faithful slaves did have their ears pierced, however, as a symbol of their loyalty to their masters. (Exodus 21:6) Piercing has been prominent in other ancient cultures too. Aztecs and Maya pierced their tongues for spiritual reasons. Lip perforation is still widespread in Africa and among South American Indians. Insertion of decorative objects through the nose is common among Melanesians and inhabitants of India and Pakistan.
Until just a few years ago, piercing in the Western world was generally limited to women’s earlobes. But now teenagers and young adults of both sexes are wearing jewelry on just about every part of the body to which it can be attached.
Why They Get Pierced
Many get pierced because they feel that it is fashionable—the in thing to do. Others feel that it will enhance their appearance. Certainly, the fad has been fueled by the use of body jewelry by top models, sports stars, and popular musicians. And for some youths, piercing also seems to serve as an expression of independence, a quest for individuality, a way for them to say that they are not like everybody else. Observes columnist John Leo: “The yearning to irritate parents and shock the middle class seems to rank high as a motive for getting punctured repeatedly.” Dissatisfaction, nonconformity, defiance, and rebellion seem to drive this need for self-expression.
There are even those who get pierced to meet deep psychological or emotional needs. For example, some youths feel that it will boost their self-respect. Some victims of child abuse have seen it as a means of claiming control of their bodies.
But is all such body piercing safe? Many medical practitioners say that some of it is not. Certainly, do-it-yourself piercing is hazardous. And going to a so-called professional piercer may have its risks. Many lack extensive training, having learned their craft from friends, magazines, or videos. As a result, they may not use sanitary techniques or even understand the risks of piercing. Also, many piercers lack an understanding of anatomy. This is no small problem, since making a hole in the wrong place can cause excessive bleeding. Hitting a nerve can cause permanent damage.
Another serious risk is infection. Unsterile equipment can transmit such lethal diseases as hepatitis, AIDS, tuberculosis, and tetanus. Even when sterile techniques are used, care after the procedure is still essential. A navel piercing, for example, is subject to irritation because it is constantly rubbed by clothing. It can thus take up to nine months to heal.
Doctors say that piercing the cartilage of one’s nose or ears is more dangerous than piercing an earlobe. A newsletter from the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery explains: “Multiple earring holes placed around the top of the ear are a particular cause for concern—serious infections can cause the loss of the entire top curve of the ear. Nose studs also are risky—an infection in this area may involve nearby blood vessels and spread to the brain.” Concludes the newsletter: “Ideally, [piercing] should be limited to the earlobe area.”
Other hazards are ugly scarring and allergic reactions to piercing jewelry. If rings in very sensitive areas, such as the breast, get caught or pulled by clothing, the piercings can easily tear. Scar tissue formed in the breast of a young girl can block milk ducts, and if she does not seek treatment, she may find it difficult or impossible to nurse a baby in the future.
The American Dental Association recently dubbed oral piercing a public health hazard. Additional risks of piercing the mouth area include choking after swallowing jewelry, numbness and loss of taste in the tongue, prolonged bleeding, chipped or fractured teeth, increased salivary flow, uncontrolled drooling, gum injury, speech impediment, and difficulties in breathing, chewing, and swallowing. When a young woman named Kendra had her tongue pierced, it “swelled up like a balloon.” To make matters worse, the piercer used a stud designed for the chin, and it cut into Kendra’s tongue and ripped through tissue underneath. She almost lost the ability to speak.
God taught his people the Israelites to respect their bodies and to avoid self-mutilation. (Leviticus 19:28; 21:5; Deuteronomy 14:1) And while Christians today are not under the Mosaic Law, they are still encouraged to treat their bodies with respect. (Romans 12:1) Does it not make good sense, then, to avoid unnecessary health risks? Nevertheless, there are other factors you should consider besides health.
What Message Does It Transmit?
The Bible gives no specific command about body piercing. But it does encourage us to adorn ourselves with “modesty and soundness of mind.” (1 Timothy 2:9) While something might be considered modest in one part of the world, the real issue is how it is viewed where you live. For example, pierced earlobes on women in one part of the world may be considered acceptable. But in another country or culture, some may take offense at them.
Despite their popularity among celebrities, body piercings and earrings for men have thus far failed to gain general acceptance in the West. One reason may be that these have long been the hallmark of prison inmates, motorcycle gangs, punk rockers, and members of the homosexual sadomasochistic subculture. For many, body piercing has the connotation of deviance and rebellion. A number view it as shocking, repugnant. Says a Christian girl named Ashley: “This boy in my class just got his nose pierced. He thinks it’s cool. I think it’s disgusting!”
Little wonder, then, that one well-known American store has a rule that employees having direct contact with customers are restricted to one earring per ear and that all other visible piercings are banned. “You can’t predict how people might react,” explains a company spokeswoman. Career counselors similarly advise male college students applying for a job to wear “no earrings or other body piercing jewelry; women should wear . . . no nose rings.”
Young Christians in particular should be concerned that they give the right impression to others, including when they engage in the evangelizing work. They do not want to be ‘giving any cause for stumbling, that their ministry might not be found fault with.’ (2 Corinthians 6:3, 4) Whatever personal opinion you might have about piercing, your appearance inescapably makes a statement about your attitudes and life-style. What statement do you want to make?
Ultimately, you—and, of course, your parents—must decide what you will do in this regard. “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould,” is the Bible’s sound advice. (Romans 12:2, Phillips) After all, you are the one who will have to live with the results.
a By this, we are not referring to the modest piercing that is common and culturally acceptable in many lands. Rather, we refer to the extreme practices that are popular today.—See The Watchtower of May 15, 1974, pages 318-19.
[Pictures on page 12]
Body piercing is enormously popular among youths