More than just self-expression

art+by+Maddy+Mueller

art by Maddy Mueller

Grace Vance

A little girl peers over glass containers that encase sparkling necklaces and bracelets at Claire’s. They range in a spectrum of colors from red to blue, but all Jade Osborne, now a junior, sees are the studded earrings tucked away in the corners of the case. She always loved the earrings her mother wore and aspired to wear a pair just like them — ones that were long and dangled. This moment, long coveted and thought about for years is what Osborne had been dreaming about since she was little; she was six and was finally getting her ears pierced.
Slowly accumulating more and more piercings as the years went on, Osborne is now 16 and has a total of 11 piercings on her face and ears. Near the end of her eighth grade year, she went one step further than the standard ear piercings. Osborne got her tragus pierced, a cartilage that makes up the middle area of the ear, bringing her further into the world of piercings and creativity. She saw this as yet another way to express herself, and soon started looking at body art websites for inspiration, such as Cold Steel America Piercing and Tattoo and Imperial Organics.
“The best thing about [piercings] is that they’re just cool. You can change so much of how you look daily with just changing jewelry and it’s a really interesting way of finding yourself and your personality,” Osborne said. “You’re putting all the stuff on your skin on the outside to kind of give a little sneak peek of yourself.”
Osborne’s fascination for piercings is what drives her to get more. She said she loves how she can customize her piercings to reflect her personality by simply switching up which ones she wears.
A misconception of people with piercings, she said, is that they are extreme and a trend for young people, which she disagrees with. This form of body decoration has been around for centuries and has been practiced in a diverse range of cultures, according to an article from Consumer Reports. Since then, the Western world has grown apt to this custom of body art with 90 percent of women now wearing at least one piece of jewelry on their ears, according to an article from Consumer Reports.
“People tend to see body modification as a really new [and] rebellious young kid thing to do, but there [are] so many old cultures that have so much to do with jewelry and piercings,” Osborne said. “It’s really neat to learn about and I didn’t start learning about it until I got a bunch of them, but the history behind a lot of them is really cool.”
While older cultures like the Eskimo of Alaska used lip piercings as a way to define social class, according to an article from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Osborne gets some of her piercings in remembrance of big moments in her life.
She said her tragus piercing symbolized her entrance into high school. Since her family was constantly on the move, the piercing was her way of remembering times before she moved and after. She believes this is how she will carry those memories with her until her family moves again. Osborne got her conch, a piercing normally located in the outer ring of ear cartilage, a few months after she came back from Italy, and decided to get it to recognize her first time out of the country and “just as a really good time in my life.”
Similar to Osborne, sophomore Olivia Johnson wanted to get a piercing as a way to express herself and what she likes. She loved the idea of getting pierced and longed to get one through her septum, the thin wall of cartilage between the nostrils, but there was just one problem: her parents wouldn’t let her. They believed piercings were unnecessary.
Johnson still yearned to get a piercing, but she knew that if she was going to get one, it would have to be without her parents’ knowing. In eighth grade she decided to pierce her septum herself and attempted to let it heal without her parents’ consent. According to a survey from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, about a third of people with amateur pierced body art from the age of 16 to 24 ended up with complications, half of which needed medical attention.
She had her D.I.Y. septum piercing for about a week before it started showing signs of infection. This includes soreness to the touch, excessive redness around the jewelry, swelling around the piercing, as well as discharge of pus when moving the jewelry, according to an article from Pacific Body Jewellry and Piercing.
“It basically got infected because I had to keep flipping it up when I was around my parents to hide it,” Johnson said.
Although Johnson did know about the risks regarding piercing, like infections coming from bacteria getting into the puncture of the piercing wound, this didn’t stop her from proceeding to pierce herself.
“I did maintain [my piercing] well, I just thought it was [going to] heal no matter if I flipped it up or down but [now I know] you have to keep it in one position for it to heal,” Johnson said.
According to a survey conducted by Northwestern University, infected piercings can cause problems to arise in the rest of the body. The survey stated that there are cases where hepatitis has developed in people who didn’t have proper sanitation conditions when getting pierced.
Dr. Lindall Perry, a dermatologist at Central Missouri Dermatology and Mohs Skin Cancer Surgery, said a lack of cleanliness during the piercing process, such as getting pierced with non sterile equipment, can lead to infection.
Despite this, Perry does think it is safe for teenagers to get piercings, but to prevent infection and keep their piercing healthy, they must cleanse the area daily and apply antibiotic ointment twice every day when needed. If a piercing starts showing signs of infection, Perry said it is good to “see an M.D. urgently and get the proper prescription antibiotic.”
Piercings have been around for a long time, but have only become widely popular in mainstream culture in recent years, according to an article from Painful Pleasures. Perry believes the rise in piercing popularity for young people came from their need to fit in or conform to peer pressure.
“Young people lack the self confidence or self awareness to resist the temptation to do something which could potentially harm them,” Perry said.
The biggest problem Osborne has had with her piercings is a keloid, the growth of excess scar tissue from when skin heals after an injury. She has also pierced herself in the nose without professional assistance, which, in her case, she said was lucky because it healed without any problems. Even though it worked out fine for her, she said she doesn’t advise anyone does the same because it was “a terrible idea.”
Unlike Johnson’s parents, who found piercings unnecessary, Osborne’s parents believe if she is doing well as a person and simple tasks in life, then having piercings is acceptable.
“My parents [have] never really come down on me for getting pierced or dying my hair or doing whatever,” Osborne said. “They are more about if I’m getting good grades and hanging around the right type of people and generally being a good person, then it shouldn’t matter what I look like.”
By Grace Vance
 Infographic by Maddy Mueller