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Don’t judge body modifications by a double standard

Photo by Tina Wallace

“You look like a cow. Later we’re going to tie you to the fence by your nose ring.”

Parents don’t always understand piercings.

As a suburban adolescent searching for a way to stand out, I grew up admiring downtown Toronto and its many tattoo and piercing shops. I would always stare through the body modification shop windows to creep on the action while fantasizing about hitting an age at which my parents would finally cave and let me get pierced.

When I turned 17, my fairly conservative father finally said OK when I asked to get my nose pierced.

“As long as it’s not a ring,” he said. Apparently studs are a little more decent.

I adhered to his rules and got the piercer to use a stud. To my dismay the piercing got infected, and after hearing many “I told you so’s” from my family members, I took it out, let it heal, and decided I wanted to try it again later.

In my second year at the University of Ottawa, I walked into Planet Ink on Rideau Street and had my nose repierced. The second time I went all out and got a ring. I loved it then, and still do now about three years later.

Anytime I go home now, it seems the only thing we talk about is the nose ring. Generally, I’m compared to some kind of bovine creature and told I’m much prettier without it.

What really bothers me about the comments made by my relatives is that nothing is mentioned about the women in my family who engage in cosmetic procedures, another invasive form of body modification.

Three out of six of the women in my close family have used soft-tissue injections to enhance their looks and so have millions of others. The kicker for me is that injections are just as likely to result in complications as a piercing. Ninety per cent of all filler procedures result in noticeable bruising and swelling for up to seven days after the procedure. More serious effects can include short-term and permanent nerve damage and blurred vision.

Other long-term issues are aesthetic in nature, since certain fillers can cause misshapen features over time—Joan Rivers is a perfect example. But of course, none of these complications are as serious as the way I look with a ring sticking out of my nose.

The reason I take all the flak while my older cousin with perfectly pouty lips and unnaturally smooth skin gets off scot-free is because her body modifications bring her look closer to what my family and many people in Western society deem to be beautiful. It’s acceptable because it makes her more attractive, while according to my grandmother, I look scary and out of place.

I’m not trying to make a case against plastic surgery or non-surgical aesthetic procedures, because I think everyone should be allowed to choose how they want to look. Whether I’m decked out in studs and rings all over my body or big-lipped and wrinkleless at 60, I just want people, especially my friends and family members, to accept the way I want to look.

The bottom line is that it would be a hell of a lot easier to be comfortable in my own skin if those closest to me kept their standards of beauty to themselves while I’m visiting the place I’d like to call home.