Ear Piercings & Cultural Significance

baby-Nithyashree
Young Indian Girl With Ear Piercing

If you go back through the old photo albums of my sister and I, you may or may not notice the ever-present gleaming crystal studs in our ears. My 1st birthday, the day my sister was born, starting middle school you name it – if there was photographic evidence, it was more likely than not that I was wearing earrings.

I never really thought much of my earrings. They were just there. It wasn’t until I had friends in grade 1 and 2 excitedly exclaim that they couldn’t wait to get their ears pierced, that I realized that not everyone gets their ears pierced as a baby. I could never relate to those specific episodes of Lizzie Maguire, Proud Family, iCarly, Life with Boys (really any tv show with a pre-teen girl protagonist) where the case of getting their ears pierced inevitably came up. To me, it seemed like these parents just picked arbitrary ages of 10, 13, 16 as the “right” time for ear piercings. This juxtaposed my perception of piercings – where nearly every baby girl I met had earrings.

So now we delve into the cultural aspect. Traditionally, Indian girls (and sometimes boys, depending on where you’re from) get their ears pierced while still babies. This tradition also occurs in many other South Asian, South American, African and Middle Eastern cultures. In the Hindu religion, this process of ear lobe piercing is called Karnvedh Sanskar. More than just an aesthetic, it is thought to help ward off evil and supposedly may involve acupuncture points for proper health. It is in no way mandatory but in most families, it becomes somewhat of a tradition. My parents are 4th and 3rd generation “Non-Resident Indians” who grew up in England, the Middle East, the States and Canada. As such, we don’t have a super “traditional” approach to many aspects of Indian culture and custom – yet this was one that was adopted quite easily. On the other hand, one of my cousins didn’t get her ears pierced until she was 9 – simply because her parents felt they missed doing it when she was a baby, so they might as well wait/just get around to it whenever.

Last summer, a petition started in the UK that touted child ear piercing as a form of child cruelty, and demanded the banning of child ear piercing. To this, there was much backlash – especially from people who viewed ear piercing as a part of their culture, and as something that didn’t actually cause any harm to the child (apart from the 5 minutes taken to pierce both ears).

Yes, I remember seeing my sister cry as she got her ears pierced – but do I remember my own? Not at all. Many people support ear piercings at a young age with the idea that the ear lobe is still quite malleable and the child won’t remember the pain. Furthermore, since it is still the parents cleaning/taking care of the baby, it’s a lot easier to prevent infection/keep the piercings sanitary. I remember one of my best friends in elementary school said her mom didn’t want her to get piercings until she was old enough to take care of them. With early piercing, by the time you’re playing in parks and running around, your earrings have already been there/the hole has been formed for 4-5 years and chance of infection because of improper care is low.

While ear piercings are rich in cultural history, they are now also just a part of fashion. I got my second piercings right before starting high school, and my third (which my mom wants me to let close as I apply for jobs) later that year. All in all, that’s 6 ear piercings. Now, nearly all my female friends, regardless of cultural background, have ear piercings. So what are your thoughts? When did you pierce your ears/why so “early” or “late”? Would you pierce your child’s ears and if so, at what age?

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