Body Piercings and Tattoos: Tradition, Rebellion, and Self-Expression

Since the beginning of civilization, body piercings have been incorporated into the rich traditions that help form the identities of cultural groups across the globe. Whether used in Hindu rituals or dotted on the nose of prominent figures in the Christian bible, the significance of piercings crosses religious boundaries. The cultural importance has survived centuries of history and continues into today, as nose piercings are still used by certain African and Middle Eastern tribes as an indication of familial wealth. 

Unlike many other countries, the significance of piercings is not deeply embedded in American culture. And although they did not rise to popularity in the United States until recently, piercings are now an everyday part of American society. Whether you’re walking the streets of New York City, or just walking across campus, you’re almost guaranteed to pass by someone sporting a piercing or tattoo. Though some people’s piercings and tattoos are accompanied by a backstory or special meaning, others simply like to use their body as a canvas for art. And while most people today aren’t fazed by others’ tattoos and piercings, a mere 50 years ago, they were seen as scandalous and worthy of condemnation. 

Body piercing culture in America began in the 1960s, when piercing guns were invented. The adoption began slowly, first used solely to replace temporary clip-on earrings. It wasn’t until almost a decade later that people began to pierce more than just their ears. 

As punk fashion took root in New York City in the 1970s, body piercings and tattoos became staples of the era. Individuals of this newfound community wanted to gain attention, to make a statement, and to go against what was considered “conventional fashion.” Body art became a means to showcase personality at a time when “fitting in” was seen as boring. Girls began to pierce areas of their bodies that were seen as scandalous, including the septum, tongue, and nipples. Nose piercings in particular were a visible, and often deliberate, display of defiance. 

Many conservatives were abhorred and went so far as to fire or refuse work to individuals with body art. Thus, body piercings served as a political statement, especially for women who were still fighting to break free from their conventional roles in society. 

Since then, major strides have been made regarding the way that body piercings are perceived. In fact, body art has played a massive role in breaking centuries-old conventional stereotypes, especially for women and minorities. Body piercings are meant to showcase how every person is unique, and that no individual has to conform to what society considers “normal”. Once an act of defiance, body art is now an act of self-discovery. The way we view ourselves as individuals can be greatly enhanced by how we choose to dress or what we decide to put on our bodies. The human body is the perfect canvas upon which many have chosen to project their feelings, and transport what’s inside to the surface.

-Katalina de Leon