Blog By M. Mitera
While not necessarily mainstream for it’s whole lifespan, piercing has been around for about the last 5,000 years. It has served as a symbol of wealth, of squalor, prostitution, and there were even some cultures who thought piercings would keep demons from entering your brain and taking over your body. In Africa, tribe members stretch their lips to accommodate large plates. Indian and Israeli cultures use earlobe piercings and nostril piercings to signify religious belief. Besides being a statement of rebellion in western cultures, piercings can hold many different meanings.
Between the 1500s and the 1800s, up-do hairstyles became popular among the ladies. Since ears were now exposed, people began to adorn them to add an extra bit of flair to their appearance. This was the first real breakthrough of piercing in to a more mainstream spotlight. But while some thought it was a wonderful trend, piercings fell back under the radar for a while leading up to the 1920s. But even then, most of the individuals sporting “piercings” were actually just wearing clip on earrings, rather than actually having the piercing itself.
After the “clip on” era of piercing, it returned in the 1970s with a vengeance. Hippies were traveling all over, carrying with them new ideas. Also, the punk scene in London exploded, creating an entirely new subculture of people who loved sticking metal through parts of their bodies. When punk travelers came through the western areas of the world, the trend continued to spread like wild fire. Piercings became a sign of rebellion to many around the world. Leading in to the 80s, we can’t forget to mention George Michael’s dangling cross earring, which has recently seen a resurgence in pop culture today.
Most of the things mentioned up until now have been fairly tame but in 1975, Jim Ward (one of the main pioneers of body piercing in North America) founded the Gauntlet (Gauntlet Enterprises). Inspired by Ward’s mentor and friend, Doug Malloy, the Gauntlet assisted many of the members of the gay S&M community in West Hollywood and surrounding areas. But as the popularity of piercings grew and word got around that the Gauntlet was THE PLACE for body piercing, their clientele began to expand. This shop also manufactured their own jewelry and left lasting impressions on the industry that are still utilized and respected to this day.
As with most trends that start as a rebellious effort, piercings started to become extremely mainstream. Once pop stars like Brittany Spears started wearing dangly jewelry from her mid section, there were girls everywhere clamoring to get their navels pierced. From around the mid 90s to the early 2000s, navel piercings were the BIG THING. And don’t forget that iconic poster of Christina Aguilera with the guitar, sporting both a nostril piercing and a labret piercing.
Mid 2000s gave us the Janet Jackson nipple shield debacle. In case you forget (or somehow managed to miss it), Janet Jackson did a halftime show at the 2004 Super Bowl with Justin Timberlake. During the show, Janet suffered a severe wardrobe malfunction where her top fell, exposing her nipple piercing, which was sporting a very large, sun shaped nipple shield. This event was a huge deal and while wasn’t necessarily a good thing for the piercing community, brought body modification in to the mainstream spotlight yet again.
Now, in 2019, everyone gets piercings! For some, piercings still have meanings. They are used to mark milestones in life so that people remember certain things. Even so, there are others who get piercings simply because they want to. Adding shine to their anatomy makes them happy and that’s awesome! Piercings have been around for a long time and will continue to make themselves known, whether in mainstream culture or in subcultures around the world.