My 16-year-old daughter pierced her nose today. After months of negotiation and debate, in which her family members tried a variety of methods to deter and discourage her (ranging from the rational, “Won’t it hurt when you sneeze?” to the more primal “Eeewwww!”), I finally made a deal with her. I said she can do it on the condition that she lets me blog about it. How’s that for 21st century parenting? I figure, if she gets freedom of expression, so do I….
Truth is, if I’m going to be honest with myself, that I kind of like it. Actually I would say that I think it’s beautiful. Women – and men – have been using gems and fine metals to adorn their faces and bodies for millennia. Here is an article about piercing customs through human history.
The Bible records our foremothers as being purchased with many a nezem, which in all likelihood is the nose ring.
And growing up, my sisters and I all had our ears pierced in our first years of life, as if it was a vital, generations-long rite of female passage.
Sometimes, when I see photos of African and Asian women with their un-Western and sometimes surprising bodily sites for jewelry, I feel like I’ve encountered daring new-ancient demonstrations of loveliness. Women’s facial jewelry is such a cross-cultural phenomenon that it’s hard to understand the fuss over the little nose ring.
Of course, when my daughter announced at one Shabbat lunch that this is what she intends to do with her face, most of the reactions were pretty harsh. But I can’t help but wonder why. Why do people – especially religious Jews – view a nose piercing as a symbol of mutiny, rebellion, or promiscuity? It’s just a stud, for heaven’s sake! My daughter is not getting drunk, or stoned, or pregnant, or failing out of school, or taking a road trip on a motorbike, or becoming an Aviv Gefen groupie. Yet, there is this incredible stigma, as in, ‘oh, nose ring, she’s clearly off the wall, or off the derech’ (meaning the path, or “OTD” as it is known in the Ortho-blogosphere). Here is a recent survey of rabbis’ opinions of the Jewish views on piercing and tattooing.
My friend Jackie, who lives in a religious town outside of Jerusalem, announced recently on Facebook that she really wants to get a nose ring, and the responses ranged from, “Go for it, it’s your rebellion” to “How will that go down in the neighborhood?”
Even 40-ish Orthodox women need creative ways to re-establish their own sense of beauty. Of course, when I suggested to my daughter that maybe I should get a nose ring, too, she was nonplussed. “It’s not for, you know, old people,” she said as gently as she could.
I reminded her that body piercings are generally for life and if she does it now, she’ll still have a hole when she becomes, you know, over thirty. It didn’t deter her (although I didn’t follow through with it myself - I have my own forms of rebellion).
The way I see it, my daughter is and will always be beautiful – with or without the nose ring. And all in all, I really do love watching her explore different ways to express her beauty. Nose ring and all.
Elana Maryles Sztokman is a writer, researcher, educator and activist originally from New York, currently living in Modi’in, Israel. She holds a doctorate in education from Hebrew University and blogs at blog.elanasztokman.com