Femininity and…piercings. (repost)

August 12, 2014

I didn’t really think I was going to write one of these about piercings, but this morning happened. Of the physical changes I’ve made recently I felt like the lip piercing was a relatively minor one yet the reactions from my family unit have been…interesting. For the most part not necessarily negative, but also not particularly positive.

The best part of finding out that my mom is really super weirded out by the fact that I let a guy stab me in the face with a needle and that she’s mildly uncomfortable with it is that, wonderfully, I don’t mind in the least. I can confidently say I don’t care what people think of my lip piercing because it makes me feel good about me, which I’ll get to in a moment. Besides feeling so comfortable with other people not necessarily liking it and finding that it really affects my own feelings about it in absolutely no way, most of the people who haven’t been overly fond have been relatively respectful about it. They just don’t say anything about it or, if they do, they focus almost exclusively on the pain involved in having a piece of metal shoved through your lip rather than disparaging my choice to do exactly that.

This is apparently not true when it comes to Grandma’s Boyfriend, who was exceptionally unkind about it at breakfast this morning. The dialogue looked something like this:

Grandma’s Boyfriend: Take it out.

Me: No. I sold my writing desk to get this.

Grandma’s Boyfriend: No one likes it.

Me: That’s not what I’ve heard. [aside: the vast majority of my friends have told me they are quite fond of the piercing and some of the people most important to me have partaken to some extent in their own body modifications]

Grandma’s Boyfriend: They’re just not telling you they don’t like it so they don’t hurt your feelings.

Me: You don’t seem to realize that piercings are not that big of a deal anymore.

Grandma’s Boyfriend: How is anyone supposed to kiss you with that thing in your lip? [as though making sure I’m as kissable as possible is or should be the top priority in my life]

Me: Kissing isn’t exactly a thing I’m worried about right now. [I’m moving to Sweden in two weeks and besides, haven’t actually been in a relationship for several years now. What is my top priority in reality? School. School and writing]

Grandma’s Boyfriend: That’s good, since no one’s going to want to kiss you with that thing in your lip.

At this point Grandma returned from the bathroom and we were interrupted by the waitress, so the conversation was derailed. What I would have liked to say: “If someone is going to judge me so harshly based on the modifications I have chosen to make to my own body, they’re really not worth my time. They know where the door is. They can let themselves out.”

His opinion didn’t get under my skin. As we’ve already established, his harsh opinion means pretty much nothing to me, especially considering that he was using shitty scare tactics to try to undermine my sense of self and security in myself: imagine someone telling a little girl no one would want to be with her because she wasn’t dressed right – maybe she was wearing boys clothes, for example. It’s the same kind of manipulation, with the same design and the same goal in mind: control. Convince someone (very often or perhaps most obviously but not exclusively women – men have to deal with it all the time, too, only in different forms) that if they’re appearance doesn’t conform with previously established “norms” then they will be facing a desolate future of loneliness where their only friends are shitty rom-coms and the bucket of ice cream they’re crying into. It’s classic body policing. We see girls and women of all ages and backgrounds being targeted in this way to control their expression and action, and it’s super fucked. Everyone should be able to express through their body what they want to and how they want to without someone trying to scare them out of doing so or shitting on their decisions to do so.

While his opinion means nothing in the big picture, it was outstandingly annoying that it was a conversation that happened at all. It was also a little surreal considering that, to be completely honest, I don’t encounter that kind of body policing on a regular basis. I live in something of a bubble – those friends I previously mentioned? I cultivate them carefully. If someone isn’t respectful of my decisions and concerned about my wellbeing as a human person they love and who loves them in return, they don’t get to be a part of my life. Life is pretty damn short and I’m not about to waste what time I do have on people who push me to conform to their ideas of who or what I should be rather than supporting me in developing into the person I want to be. So even though I wasn’t anticipating Grandma or her boyfriend to like my lip piercing, the lack of surprise didn’t make it any less annoying that I had to sit through that conversation for the sake of – wait for it – politeness (it’s arguable whether I was entirely polite during the conversation or not, but I didn’t flip him the bird or tell him to mind his own damn business or walk out, so I feel like I did a’ight).

The reason his opinion didn’t get to me, though, is because the piercing makes me feel good. There is an association in my brain with things which require a certain amount of pain to obtain, things like piercings and tattoos: the willingness to undergo pain to achieve a certain outcome correlates in my mind to a certain kind of bad-assery that I’ve always wished I had within myself. This past year has been tough. I’ve lost a lot of my sense of self and have been relegated to a relatively timid and shy creature who keeps to herself and deals with social anxiety on a somewhat regular basis (although it’s not super intense, mostly just wildly uncomfortable). So, as I’m making my recovery from the year, I wanted to do something for myself that would give me some of my confidence back.

There’s a certain amount of magic that happens when you alter your appearance. If you look at yourself in the mirror and see you’ve achieved a certain effect, that aspect of yourself might be boosted or reinforced. If you think you look beautiful, you feel beautiful, and maybe from there the confidence you gain from that allows you to project beautiful, and, so the theory goes, other people pick up on that confidence and may be more likely to see you in a similar light. That’s kind of what the lip piercing is: I accepted the pain to achieve a specific outcome (my brain’s translation: bad-assery, even if minor bad-assery) in addition to which piercings and tattoos tend to be somewhat more associated with certain groups or sub-cultures, such as punk, which are then associated with certain tougher attitude (though, as previously mentioned, this correlation is decreasing as piercings and tattoos become more mainstream).

Those things combined makes me look at my lip piercing and think “Hey, look at that. A tiny reminder that I have a little bit of a bad-ass in me.” And with that reminder in place, I feel a little tougher where I used to feel weak; I feel a little more confident where I used to feel timid. And I act accordingly – more boldly, with greater flare, if you will. Maybe the effect will wear off as I get used to the piercing, but hopefully by then the boldness will have re-ingratiated itself to the rest of my personality and stick around for good.

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