No, this post is not about circumcision though that certainly falls under this category. What I want to talk about is actually ear piercing; more specifically ear piercing and infants/children. This topic was brought to my attention recently while at a local mall and I noticed a store offering to pierce children’s ears, including babies. In the store at the time was a woman who was getting her infant’s ears pierced and the baby was hysterically crying throughout the procedure and my heart broke into a million pieces. I then began to question whether I would ever put my future daughter through the same experience for the sake of beauty. This is my reasoning for my inevitable decision against it.
Being a tattoo and piercing enthusiast, I am definitely able to understand the attraction to body modifications for the sake of beauty. I take much pleasure in altering my own body to suit my fashion sense and appeal to my vanity, however it is a decision I came to myself which is my first qualm with infant piercing. Being an advocate for personal choice and bodily integrity, any cosmetic procedure done without the consent of the individual feels like a violation of that person’s right to choose what is done to their body. Though ear piercing seems relatively harmless when compared to genital mutilation like circumcision, it is still a cosmetic alteration that has its risks. When a person consciously chooses to have something done to their body for whatever reason, they are exercising their power over their appearance and that is their right. When someone else makes that decision for them, especially with the absence of medical need, it suddenly becomes questionable.
The real question is then: why is it so important that our daughters have their ears pierced so young? I think that apart from simply being adorable with cute little earrings (our own personal appeal to vanity), this may stem from wanting to give them the option of forgetting the pain that is involved in the process. This is often cited the most when women are asked why they prefer having had their ears pierced as infants. This apparent fear of pain is prevalent in our culture; just take a look at our maternity care system that is foremost concerned about avoiding experiencing pain in childbirth, despite its important part in the process (or the risks and consequences involved in using medical pain relief). So why are women so afraid of experiencing pain? This goes beyond the scope of this post but it does demands further exploration.
I personally feel that body piercings (or tattoos!) are a rite of passage. The glory is in withstanding the pain for the fabulous outcome. When you take away the process from girls, you take away the chance for them to feel empowered from going through with it and the responsibility of taking care of their piercing afterwards. When I was young I was terrified of needles, to the point that I would almost have panic attacks even entering a Doctor’s office but I overcame my fear by choosing to have my ears and nose pierced as a young teen. I was scared at first of the pain, but afterwards the feeling of exhilaration from having done it was amazing. Since choosing to go through with that, I have overcome my fear of needles and of pain respectively; seeing it as being temporary and with purpose. This lesson helped me immensely with coping with the 36 hours of intense back labour with my son. I also learned to appreciate my piercings because of the responsibility of taking care of them through the healing process. I learned about avoiding infections through personal hygiene, and taking care of my earrings to prevent bacterial growth as well. It was more of a learning experience than simply growing up with having my ears pierced already. I don’t want to cheat my daughters of that opportunity either.
The idea of overcoming pain is something that can only be empowering for someone who is cognitively capable of coping with it however. Infants have yet to develop the ability to rationalize their experiences which excludes them from this group completely. From their understanding, the person that they trusted to keep them safe and comfortable is allowing them to be injured for a reason they are not yet able to comprehend. On a side note, this is why we have personally chosen to delay vaccinations because the psychological effects of being given shots before they are capable of grasping the reason why it is done does not balance with the supposed benefits of vaccinating, but that’s just my personal opinion. Despite not remembering the pain consciously, more and more studies are finding a correlation between early experiences and subconscious behaviours as well as adverse physiological manifestations. This makes me question the supposed belief that they ‘forget’ the entire experience.
Another possible source for the push for early piercing is perhaps due to the fear of them possibly feeling excluded from their peers later. I can recall feeling somewhat wistful for not being able to wear those tacky plastic earrings like my friends growing up, however it was able to use clip-ons instead which have the same effect essentially. Clip-ons also have the added bonus of being easy to make with the proper supplies, a great idea for a creative craft to do with children. This idea appeals to me more than indulging in consumerism and buying cheap jewellery at a store. It also builds confidence inchildren’s abilities and offers them the chance to take charge of their appearance by creating ornaments based on their interests. Being somewhat artsy-fartsy, the idea of crafting my own jewellery actually excites me more than finding a cute pair of earrings at the mall whose price is inflated way beyond its actual worth anyways.
All this being said though, I don’t begrudge the mothers who choose to pierce their children’s earrings very young either. Though I personally believe in respecting a person’s choice about making decisions about their body (like with circumcising), not everyone feels this strongly about this like I do and that is their choice and the lot for their children to deal with. In the end ear piercing at any age looks awesome but I personally feel that it should be up to the individual to choose to go through with it.
How do you feel about infant ear piercing?