A Piercing Matter

by Intern Tessa

I’m not a body-piercing fanatic, but I did get my nose pierced just before graduating from college, where I met and admired many hippies. Some of them had their noses pierced, and it looked beautiful on them, so I wanted to hop on the bandwagon.


(An example of the aforementioned foxy hippies)

All this got me wondering how hippies latched on to nose piercing, and I started doing some heavy Googling. Apparently, nose piercing dates back to ancient Vedic scripts (from 1500 to 500 bc) which describe the practice as way to alleviate pain during menstruation and childbirth. That’s because Ayurvedic medicine associates nerve bundles in the left nostril with the female reproductive system.

In India, wearing a nose ring is also a way to pay homage to Parvati, a Hindu goddess who represents marriage. In ancient India, a bride would get her nose pierced before her wedding. The piercing was then fastened by a chain to her hair, and this was removed by her groom on their wedding night. If you’ve been to a Hindu wedding lately, you know that this custom has survived to the present day.

In certain nomadic tribes in Africa and the Middle East, husbands present nose rings to their wives. It’s like a more-invasive version of the western tradition of exchanging finger rings.

Nose piercing gained popularity in the West in the 1970s, when many hippies started traveling to India, specifically the Goa region on the country’s west coast. They brought the tradition back with them and made it a fashionable look among a certain crowd of hipsters. In the 80s, American punks adopted nose piercing, and in the 90s, it was de rigeur for goths and other “alt” teens to have that extra nostril hole. (Dennis Rodman counts on that list, right?)

It’s interesting to understand how, across generations and countries, the tradition of nose-piercing eventually got passed to me. But this is just one example of cultural appropriation that I, and countless others, have been a part of. I used to wear Buddhist prayer beads as a fashion statement, and yoga’s been embraced by those who only vaguely understand its history and intended purpose. In a more flagrant example, major retail chains have used “Native American”-inspired patterns to jazz up their t-shirts and underwear. What’s your opinion on this type of cultural “repurposing”?

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