Paige didn’t go to my school, but we rode on the same school bus and we shared a bus stop. Paige didn’t have a home-haircut. She went to a salon and smelled of hairspray. Paige didn’t wear t-shirts and jeans. She wore blouses and slacks. Paige didn’t have a pool that had to be deflated and dismantled at the end of the summer. She had an in-ground, indoor swimming spa.
But most of all, Paige had pierced ears.
I still remember the day I noticed the tiny sparkles embedded in her tiny earlobes. I was six years-old and bursting with excitement at the thought of asking my mother if I could have my ears “done,” just like Paige.
I was barely off the school bus when the question fell out of my mouth. Mom’s answer was swift and final, "Not until you’re older.”
For the next number of years, I walked around with clip-on earrings, some the size of small compact cars. Meanwhile, my parents used their subscription to National Geographic as a teaching tool as they pointed out images of Mursi women of Ethiopia who adorned themselves with clay lip plates, Padaung women of Thailand who elongated their necks with brass rings and Maasai men and women of Kenya who stretched their earlobes with beaded earrings.
The takeaway was this: Cultural traditions are fantastic, but body adornment is permanent. And, the decision to embellish is best left until adulthood, or age 13. Whichever comes first.
The week of my birthday, my mom set up an appointment with our family doctor. The timing was perfect. I was in grade nine and my friends and I had immersed ourselves in - what we perceived to be - punk and new wave fashion. I was going to rock the gold sleeper hoops I had picked out at the neighbourhood jewelry store.
I sat in Dr. Baxter’s office - wearing Doc Martens and my dad’s old suit jacket - the smell of rubbing alcohol stinging my nostrils. After a local anesthetic was injected into my earlobe, I felt the pressure of a cold, metal needle slowly twisting and tugging its way through my skin. My doctor pursed his lips and sucked in – as he so often did – asking me several times if I was feeling any pain. The answer was no, even as he dabbed the blood off my cheek.
I left the medical building with rings in my ears, gauze in my fists and a small piece of paper with the words hydrogen peroxide scribbled in black ink. I furiously rotated those earrings for weeks, for fear of the skin closing over them every night after I went to sleep.
When the time came, I replaced the sleepers with real honest-to-goodness earrings. Pink ones. Purple ones. Silver ones. Dangling ones. It was fabulous, until it wasn’t because it didn’t take long for me to discover that my ears rebelled against anything other than pure, expensive, unattainable, might-as-well-have-cost-a-million-dollars gold.
Back in went the sleepers.
It was the memory of the pain and skin discolouration caused by cheap department store ear studs that prevented me from accepting a piercing invitation from a friend of a friend’s brother. She had dyed jet-black hair and leather pants and was one of several kids I knew who would happily pop safety pins into waiting ears, free of charge. Her technique involved a wine cork, a lighter and a sampler bottle of men’s cologne stolen from the cosmetics section at Woolworths.
Mercifully, 15 year-old me resisted the urge to use aftershave as an antiseptic.
The same cannot be said for 16 year-old me.
While in a Texas/Mexico border town with my parents and my best friend Darla during spring break, I came across a sign on a shack that read: EAR STUDS $5 (INCLUDES PIERCING).
Darla and I were sold. Somehow it didn’t penetrate our teenaged brains that entering a building - inside of which was a dirt floor and a guy named Bug - was a bad idea.
Bug shot a hole in my left ear before I even had a chance to sit down. The pain was exquisite and my shrieks were enough to send Darla for the door in a literal cloud of dust. I paid the $5 owed and spent the next several months trying to shake the infection, with the help of antibiotic cream prescribed by Dr. Baxter who had no words from that day forward.
Today, I’m a mother of a six year-old. She doesn’t know any girls like Paige and – so far - hasn’t asked to have her ears done. But, she has inquired about the holes in my lobes. Mostly she’s curious to know if it hurts to have your ears pierced and my answer is always the same, “YES. Way worse than any skinned knee you’ve ever had.”
The thought of my kiddo’s tiny, pristine ears hanging heavy with metal, makes me shudder. I have friends and family members who have had their children’s ears pierced – some as young as babies. Fine, whatever. To each his (or her) own. But for me, I refused to make a decision about my daughter’s appearance that would stick with her for the rest of her life, before she could even speak.
Her body. Not mine.
If tomorrow she came and begged me for tiny diamond studs, I would repeat the words my mother spoke to me thirty-something years ago. I mean really, my kid loved Dora the Explorer and Calliou just a short time ago. Does she really have any clue at this stage about what she'll want when she’s a grown-up?
The answer is no. And that's why temporary tattoos exist.
Meanwhile, there are lots of fantastic ways little ones can experience the thrill of pierced ears, without actually piercing their ears. And they are way cooler (and less pinchy) than the clip-on earrings I wore as a child.
BinkDKids make water transfer decals that last for days and give the illusion of pierced ears.
And, slip-on earrings by Lisadora are cool alternatives that look like the real thing.
By the way, in case you’re wondering... the only earrings I wear today are small gold hoops in the two original holes surgically created by my doctor. Meanwhile, my Texas shotgun hole closed up long ago at the back of my ear, yet the front has remained open, sometimes prompting the question, “What is that goo coming out of that spot in your ear?”
Image Source: FreeImages.com/Lucy Bonakovska