Like most other things, people in India have a love-hate relationship with body piercings. There are rather specific, and strange, guidelines to it, especially for women. A piercing on both earlobes or on the nose is desirable, necessary even. But women with certain piercings are seen as rule-breakers – scandalous and “bad” company. In fact piercings on eyebrows, tongue, navel, septum – are often sexualised. A woman with a naval piercing is seen by many as “bold” for instance.
Frankly, these labels are quite arbitrary in the first place. Two “innocent” ear piercings put you into the good girl box. But a piercing on the belly apparently will make you a bad girl. What!? It’s hardly logical, so you shouldn’t be paying much heed to people’s judgment on this matter of, if you ask me.
Why does society have these double standards when it comes to body piercings? Why are two ear piercings, or a nose pin, deemed graceful or a mark of femininity, while other piercings are not? Shouldn’t women have complete rights over where they want to get pierced and where they don’t? Why does society use piercings to label women as sanskaari or rebellious?
During a small survey I conducted among women between the ages of 21 and 34, all of whom at least had their ears pierced, they told me the places on their body they wanted to be pierced next – answers ranged from tongues to bellies. And then they went on to tell me the reasons their parents and relatives had discouraged them to have certain piercings.
These were some responses I received: “It would be extremely slutty!” “Don’t get a nose piercing done because it looks cheap.” “The piercing will make you look older than you are.”
If you’re afraid of people judging you for your piercings, tell them that these ornaments have been part of Indian cultures and traditions for a long time. The Khond tribe of Odisha requires women to have many face piercings and tattoos, while women from the Apatani tribe in Arunachal Pradesh are famous for their nose plugs.
In fact, another survey respondent recalled, “My brother and I got our ears pierced according to Hindu tradition when we were six years old, during our kaan chedan ceremony. I didn’t mind it much because I liked the piercing.” It’s a different thing that when she got older and got her navel pierced, she had to hide it from her parents for almost a month!
So when certain piercings, such as those on ears and noses, are encouraged because of their cultural license, what right does society have to look down upon piercings in other places?
Women should have the agency to decide at what age they want which piercing and where they want it, without society or family casting aspersions on them. If a woman believes that a piercing on her eyebrow will enhance her look, then what problem do the rest of us have with it? Don’t we use other methods – like makeup, bindis, bangles, lockets – to enhance our appearances? Piercings serve that purpose too.
Women are often denied jobs at interviews and discriminated at workplaces, such as this woman from Canada who raised her voice against unethical office dress code norms after she faced resistance for her piercings. Will having a piercing affect the quality of work or disrupt the workplace discipline? Why then are women with piercings discriminated against?
Piercings are harmless decorations on the body, and they should be seen as such. They are not symbols of a woman’s character or her morality, and neither are they an invitation for men to approach a woman for sex because she “looks easy.” And as far as family is concerned: So what if at a gathering your piercing shows and a random chaachi calls you a “slut” behind your back? Let her. You endured a lot of pain to get your piercing, not to mention the bomb you spent on it. Flaunt it every chance you get.
Views expressed are the author’s own.
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