Body piercing, alongside tattooing, has become more common over the last few decades, especially made popular by the hippy culture of 1970s America. Body piercing is related to other forms of body modification such as branding, cutting, binding, inserting implants, etc in an attempt to change the appearance of the individual’s body. More broadly, body piercing can be grouped along with appearance enhancing cosmetic surgeries and gender change operations. People give several reasons for undergoing such alterations to their body parts. Those who undergo form changes usually do it for improving their appearance or to bolster their identity. Psychologists and cultural commentators, on the other hand, tend to view body art as an expression of deeper emotional disturbance with respect to the person’s self-esteem and self-identity. This essay will explore and present different viewpoints on the subject, by way of citing appropriate evidence from scholarly sources.
Body piercing involves the injection of a needle into the body surface so as to make an opening in which jewelry made of various metal alloys may be worn. Apart from the earlobe, common piercing areas include “eyebrows, tongue, nose, tragus, nipple, navel, and the genitalia”. Body piercing is more commonly obtained from tattoo parlors and exclusive piercing studios, although some of these shops might employ unlicensed, unregulated practitioners. Further, some individuals even get pierced at their homes, which can potentially lead to serious complications (Aizenman & Jensen, 2002).
Adolescence is a phase in which the individual at times struggles for identity and control over her developing body. During this period, it is particularly appealing for the adolescent mind to pierce their bodies. In the United States of America, it is estimated that one in five adolescents either pierces her body or gets a tattoo. The phenomenon of body piercing is more prevalent among adolescent girls when compared to adolescent boys. Many research studies support this fact. According to a study conducted by the team of Aizenman and Jensen,
“The involvement in body piercing differed based on gender and race. Specifically, females and White students were significantly more likely than males and non-White students to report ever having a piercing. Such differences may be due to the impact that societal messages send to different gender and racial groups regarding body piercing. Although negative stereotypes and taboos against male piercing have loosened somewhat in recent years, it may still be considered a more acceptable practice for females than males. In fact, body adornment practices (i.e., makeup, jewelry, nail polish, etc.) are often considered to lie within the “feminine domain; and previous studies have similarly found females to be more involved in piercing than males” (Aizenman and Jensen, 2007).
Males and females also differ in the part of body they choose to get pierced. For instance, the navel is the most common area for a piercing for girls and young women. Females were found more likely than males to have their piercing located on an area that is easily visible for an onlooker like navel or nose, while males were more likely to have their piercing in a less obvious and more sexual location like tongue, nipple, or genitalia. Such differences go on to underline the gender-based differences in body piercing (King and Vidourek, 2007).
Debates go on about the underlying motivation for people who engage in these practices. The view of cultural commentators differ from the one forwarded by the individuals undergoing piercing themselves. For example, according to scholars Lynne Carroll, Roxanne Anderson, “these components fit into the postmodern world of fashion where anything goes and had obtained their piercing in late adolescence and were motivated to do so by the desire to improve appearance and because they perceived it as a viable art form” (Carroll and Anderson, 2002, p.629). In other words, the scholars are of the view that the value derived from a piercing is carries symbolic associations.
As to the reasons for piercing their bodies, the participants of the study gave a wide range of answers. Close to 30 percent of participants (who are university students) reported having a piercing recently. The locale in which they live is also found to be a significant factor. For example one in two of University students in New York were found to have piercing, whereas this number is lower in states in the Mid-West America.