The fascinating history of body piercings

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Body piercing, or body modification, is an ancient art.

While today, body piercing is starting to be accepted in many places, there are still many others in which it is still not considered mainstream. Body piercings are perceived – according to location and culture – as many things, ranging from taboo to funky and everything in between.

In countries where body piercings are frowned upon, some workplaces prefer not to hire people who have obvious body piercings, such as piercings on their faces for example.

Some workplaces prefer not hire people who have obvious body piercings (photo: funnyjunk)

Many parents get into conflict with their teenagers over whether they are allowed to pierce their lips, tongues, eyebrows, ears, or navels. Some parents disapprove because they are afraid of the health risks that may arise from an improperly placed piercing, or a piercing that is performed with tools that have not been sterilized. 
Others may disapprove because they understand that there is a stigma surrounding body piercings in their countries or cultures.

(photo: piercingforum)

Beautiful nose piercings

However, there is a rich history behind body piercings that many people might not know of. The practice of body piercing has been around for at least 4,000 years.

In ancient Egypt for example, the Pharaohs pierced their ears and adorned them with ornamental earrings. This image can still be seen on temple walls today.

(photo: got)

In many tribal cultures, body piercings and body art signify rites of passage into puberty, connection to the gods, and social status. They are also used for purposes of beautification. Some modern day tribe members pierce their bodies as a continuation of practices that their ancestors have performed for hundreds of years.

Khond woman with ear, septum and nostril piercings

In Ethiopia for example, Mursi women from the Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia adorn their faces with ornamental clay lip plates. This is considered a sign of beauty among the tribe.

Ethiopia adorn their faces with ornamental clay lip plates (photo: johnrizzophoto)

Maasai men and women in Kenya wear earrings with colourful beadwork, and stretch their earlobes to enhance their beauty.

Colorful beadwork covers the ear of a Maasai man in Kenya. Both men and women Maasai wear earrings and stretch their earlobes as a sign of beauty (photo: nationalgeographic)

Many women in India pierce their noses when they get married or when they reach a “marriageable” age. They may adorn their noses with elaborate jewelry.

Indian bride wearing a nose chain

Like tattoos and body modification practices, the perception of body piercings is largely relative. In some modern societies, piercings are viewed as an act of rebellion, a way that men and women can make a statement about their bodies being theirs to adorn as they see fit. In some tribal cultures, adorning the body with a piercing or a tattoo is considered a cultural heritage, a way for younger generations to keep the vibrant cultures of their tribes alive.

Practices of body modification performed in the name of beauty (photo: ancient-origins)

The mark of a truly open-minded individual is tolerance of other people, even if they have different religions, different nationalities and different cultural practices. The controversy surrounding body piercings may finally quiet down once people look at them with a different light. As William Shakespeare famously wrote in his epic play, Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”