So I want to get a nose piercing….big deal, right? Its the quintessential “woman activist” thing to do – stage a revolution, get a nose piercing (not necessarily in that order). Its like any other piercing, or a tattoo, or a streak of pink in my hair —so why can’t I stop thinking about it?
What is it about nose piercings? Originally, nose piercings were practiced in the Middle East amongst nomadic tribes who matched the size of the nose ring to the wealth of the family. The practice was brought to India by the moguls in the 1600’s, the context I associate nose piercings with the most. Fast-forwarding to the 1960s, nose piercings became all the rage in the Western world thanks to hippies who would travel to India on their “spiritual journeys” and come back with a stud in their nostrils. By the 1970’s, the history of nose piercings, particularly its association with a Western orientalist fascination with “spiritual” India, was lost, and it became a general sign of rebellion against conservative values, especially amongst people involved in the Punk movement. Gradually, the nose piercing’s association with the white liberals and leftists was diluted as celebrities and fashionably socially-conscious college women everywhere began donning them en masse.
I can’t ignore this history, as I think about poking a hole in my own nostril. Right now, it may seem like every 20-something year old female at a liberal arts school is opting for a nose piercing as a small statement of rebellion that is still fashionable, just the right amount of “noticeable”, and isn’t as much of a commitment as, say, a back tattoo. It may seem like today’s nose piercing is so far removed from that history of white hippies strolling in and out of India with unchecked privilege, bringing back with them a fashion statement, rather than any type of social awareness. Or is it? Personally, nose piercings don’t make me first think of picket signs and peace signs; rather my mind goes back to my own mother’s wedding pictures, and the delicate gold ring circling her nose.
I have a cultural tie to nose piercings that complicates my own ideas about getting one for myself. After all, as with any type of cultural appropriation practice, who’s wearing what matters. A nose piercing on a white woman looks very different from a nose piercing on a South Asian woman. That little stud in a white woman’s nostril may make people read her as “progressive” and “cool”, while the same stud on my nose brings up stereotypes of foreignness, backwardness, and exoticness. So when people say to me “Oh, a nose piercing would look really good on you!” I have to wonder to myself, why are you saying that about me in particular?
This is in no way a rant against anyone with a nose piercing – it probably looks great on you. In fact, I will probably end up getting one anyway. I guess this piece was meant to assuage my own guilt, about partaking in something with a questionable history, a history that implicates my identity. I know there is a lot to be said about marginalized people reclaiming language and practices that have historically oppressed them—maybe that’s possible with my nose piercing. For that to happen, I think I might have to stage the revolution first.