When I came home from camp last summer, I instantly panicked. Luckily, I had just enough time between when I walked through the door and when my dad came plodding up the stairs from his basement office to slip into the bathroom and make the quick change. As I greeted my dad, arms open for a big hug after many humid weeks in the Pennsylvania wilderness, my nose stud glinted, the ring that had been in its place seconds earlier still clutched in my sweaty palm.
The change in the appearance of my piercings is constant and very conscious: the bare minimum for job interviews or professional situations, and all nine with hoops and barbells at camp, where hippie-flower-child is the norm. At school this fall, it also became an expression of my sexuality, when I came back from the summer with my shiny new industrial piercing.
“Maura, that is the gayest piercing in the world,” my roommate Dani assured me.
“But…I’m straight,” I responded, willing her to see the piercing from my piercings-are-aesthetically-cool point of view.
“Yeah, well, good luck with that,” she snarked back. I had never mused on how my piercings could perform gay—and what that would mean for a straight girl—yet she assured me that this specific piercing definitely did.
My worries about what my piercings say are linked to my worries about class. When I have my nose ring on in public, especially in my hometown—where Main Line boutiques and mansions with swimming pools are the norm—I can feel judging eyes locked on my nose. At stores and restaurants, there is a constant side-eye and a marked reluctance of store owners and pedestrians alike to treat me as an equal. Even my parents, who are modest with money and socially liberal, encourage me to “tidy up” my face in front of guests or relatives.
I live within the confines of race and class that still stifle certain forms of self-expression. While I dream that others could be more accepting about body modification, I realize that not everyone digs the metal-in-face look. Yet such tiny aesthetic choices seem to dictate behaviors of how we treat others and how we are treated. This shows up everywhere—hair, clothes, decoration—although often seems invisible to the person making the choice.