This is my friend Vanessa. I went to high school with her. I got her permission to use this photo for this blog because it inspired me to talk about one the most controversial topics I know of in street fashion -- piercings. I happen to love piercings. I love them on the ears, the nose, the lips -- nearly anywhere. I have nine piercings myself, all worn rather conservatively for the number on my ears, but I have often itched to get something bolder, something weirder, something saturated in cultural baddassery. When I tell my friends this, most of them respond with an uneasy smile and a wary “Well, what kind of piercing are you thinking?”. I’ve had many answers, from the eyebrow to the medusa (upper lip piercing in the center), which have met with varying levels of approval, but lately I’ve been in love with the idea of getting a septum piercing like Vanessa’s. This notion, not surprisingly, was contested most of all. My roommates last semester insisted I not “ruin” my face. My mother seemed to think this was the symbol of my complete consumption into fanatic Berkeley hippy-dom (and therefore a sign of extremely shaky mental health.) When I mentioned the idea to my boyfriend, I think he nearly fainted from the effort required to express the strength of his disapproval.
Why? Why is the septum piercing so maligned? I find it rather elegant -- symmetrical unlike the infinitely more acceptable nose stud, curved into an incomplete ring and situated exactly in the center of the face. It’s unusual, but heard of. It looks painful, but not in the I-love-to-torture-myself way gauges do. “It makes you look like a farm animal,” some say. “It’s not feminine,” they warn. But what if we forget the associated image of the cow with the ring through its nose, and the feeling that proper ladies don’t participate in icky counter-culture? I think it just looks cool.
But then we can ask that question from the other side. Why? Why does it look cool? It must be because of associated images of people on motorcycles and flame dancing and the general alternative-ness and I-don’t-care-about-cultural-norms attitude that face piercings evoke. But isn’t that just another cultural norm, albeit a minority one? Piercings are weird. Piercings hurt. Yes, they provide additional opportunities to adorn yourself, but there are basically endless accessories to choose from and people still decide to punch holes through their features instead. I guess it comes from an impulse to disobey, a rebellious fantasy that, while maybe it cannot be performed on the grand scale of life choices and life paths, maybe a bit of satisfaction can be found in a hoop of silver your roommate thinks makes you look like a cow. Maybe we just want to be special...different. If everyone had a septum piercing, would it retain its appeal? I doubt it.
I suppose it must be admitted that piercings are appealing or unappealing for two kinds of reasons: 1) the pure aesthetics of them, and 2) the attitudes they symbolize. The second category, I suspect is changing somewhat. No longer are silver studded faces solely the purview of those people who shun the world, who feel angry and apart from mainstream culture. It's still alternative, yes, but these days I feel that many pierced persons are like Vanessa -- kind, funny, and earnest -- not the bitter, disillusioned punks we traditionally associate the jewelry with. So maybe in the end, it's that contrast, that odd couple that appeals to me. I like the idea of wearing a floral dress and smiling at a bake sale with some silver through my septum, or just being nice and likable with studs in my lip. I want to be alternative, but not by being a jerk. One can shock with pleasantness, if what you wear suggests the opposite.
What do you guys think? Do you like septum piercing? Do you think piercings are cool? Why? What if everyone had them? Do you think they retain their classic meaning, or have they come to symbolize something different? I'd love to hear your thoughts.