Body art, whether permanent or temporary, has been an undeniably taboo topic for generations, especially in Western culture. Though body art has been practiced for centuries throughout the world, dating back to Roman times and even found on uncovered mummified remains, within the western world, a growth in monotheistic, moral-based religions such as Christianity, which prohibits “body mutilation” (Leviticus 19:28 states, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.”) has ultimately prompted the taboo that body piercings are “trashy”, “unprofessional”, and “disgusting”, just to name a few.
Even though body piercings have always remained a taboo topic, they have likewise always been around, whether they were a symbol of teenage rebellion, a religious emblem, or simply a decorative piece of jewelry. Even more so now than ever, body piercings are almost common phenomena, with approximately 36% of people ages 18 to 25 reporting having a body piercing of some kind, according to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center. With one-third of the millennial generation reporting having a body piercing, not to mention those that report having other forms of body art, it has become apparent that we have earned the nickname of the “Tattooed Generation”, a generation that appreciates body art in all its forms.
I decided to get my septum pierced a few weeks after moving to Asheville, North Carolina to begin college. I suppose one could say it was my newfound freedom that pushed me to take the plunge, or perhaps the fact that I moved to one of the most notoriously pierced/tattooed/dyed cities in the nation, but in actuality, it was something I did purely for my own pleasure. Having grown up in Richmond, Virginia, the nation’s third most tattooed city, I was no stranger to body art in its many forms, but I myself had never worked up the courage to make any sort of changes to my appearance, at least in that way. Moving to Asheville and beginning my new life there was the perfect opportunity to do so.
Growing up, my nose was actually one of my least favorite features. I always found it to be a bit too large, a bit too lopsided, a bit too red and blotchy for my liking. As I grew older, I became far more comfortable and accepting of myself exactly as I was, but I would never have described my nose as one of my favorite features, as the insecurities from my youth still lingered every time I looked in the mirror. I learned to dress in a way that represented the eclectic, creative person I was, I developed a sense of style, a passion for art and photography, a love of writing and storytelling, and yet there were still times I looked in the mirror and felt like something was missing. I had always admired nose piercings on my friends, all of whom had the side of their nose pierced, and while I had considered one of my own the self-doubt I had obtained from years of self-consciousness about my lopsided, “potato-like” nose always seemed to hold me back, simply from a fear of making an even bigger mess of myself.
So there I was in downtown Asheville a few weeks into my move, a city where piercings ranged from simple studs to hoops the size of my fist, a city where self-expression and body art were as common as seeing ants on the sidewalk. I was waiting for a friend to finish a hair appointment, and with nothing else to do in the meantime, I decided to just go for it. I walked to the Empire Tattoo & Piercing parlor, introduced myself, and asked for a price estimate. The man behind the counter, who had a beard as long as my arm and I would later find out an entire drawer full of lollipops, asked me what kind of piercing I wanted, and with only a moment’s hesitation, I answered boldly, “septum”. I suppose my decision came to be because I’d heard that a septum piercing balanced out your face, it was said to actually hurt less, and the piercing itself was five dollars cheaper than a regular nose piercing.(Your girl’s on a budget!)
I don’t want to sugarcoat it and say the piercing experience was entirely painless, but as someone with a relatively low pain tolerance, I can say it was far less traumatic than I previously anticipated. The sharpest pain felt slightly like a harsh sneeze, kind of like when you bump your nose and your eyes water for a moment. I got not one, but three lollipops after from the overflowing drawer paid for my new piercing and left not even 10 minutes after I entered.
I immediately sent a picture to my best friend and texted my mom to let her know I’d gotten a new piercing, only to get surprised responses from both of them when they found out it was a septum. After the initial shock they both concluded it was a good look for me, and that while neither of them would get one themselves, they thought it suited me well. I was too focused on checking out my new look in my front-facing camera to really care.
When I finally got home and could look at my new nose ring in my bathroom mirror, I instantly fell in love. Though the hoop still felt foreign to me, a feeling that lasted only a few days as the ring now feels as normal as my eyelashes, a little touch of something unique was exactly what I needed. I had opted for the small hoop, and the subtle touch of something a little different, a little edgier, made me feel more myself than I had in a while.
Though the hoop was subtle, I felt just a little more myself every day because of it. I loved its uniqueness, I loved its simplicity, and I loved how it made me feel like a badass everywhere I went. The people around me reacted positively or hardly seemed to notice at all—perhaps somewhat altered by the fact that I was mainly confined to a college campus, but also influenced by the fact that I didn’t make a big deal out of it, it felt as normal to me as having pierced ears. Despite the occasional “bull ring” cracks from my family, my septum ring was now just another part of me, as normal as my glasses or earrings or makeup. I suppose in a way it was a mark of my new city, but it was also a mark of me.
Reactions were different when I returned home to Richmond however. The septum ring was commented on more, seemingly noticed more, perhaps partly because I hadn’t seen so many in so long but also possibly because I was no longer on my liberal, tattooed, pierced college bubble. I often became more aware of it in different social situations; how I was seen by my friends from home, my employers, and even my family. The stigma that accompanies piercings, especially one of a unique nature like a septum, was far more apparent to me than ever before, something I knew I would face at some point but had yet to get used to. In the past, criticism about how I looked seemed to hurt me deeply to the core, yet for a reason still a bit unknown to me, the comments about my new “silver booger” didn’t seem to cut that deep, perhaps simply because I knew my septum ring wasn’t something I regretted, and rather something that made me feel more comfortable, and more myself.
I don’t regret my septum ring for an instant. In fact, I absolutely love it. We live in an age of self-expression, and I believe that finding a way to do so that makes you feel beautiful and whole should be praised. My septum ring is not by any means “trashy”, “unprofessional”, or “disgusting” by my standards. It's rather a representation of a unique, colorful, yielding soul. It is not a permanent mark, but it represents a permanent feeling, a feeling of being completely and unapologetically myself.