I don’t remember getting my ears pierced, because I was an infant when it happened. In fact, almost every girl I knew growing up had their ears pierced as a baby. My sister pierced my nieces’ ears when they were infants, and most of my mama friends also pierced their baby daughter’s ears. These kids are all older now, and none of them appear to be suffering some secret trauma because of it.
So, I’m not sure what held me back from piercing my daughter’s ears when she was an infant. I don’t remember having a big ethical debate with myself. Honestly, I think I just couldn’t bear to see her cry even for a few seconds. Piercing her ears just didn’t feel … necessary. Why hurt her simply to make her look cute or rush to this rite of passage for so many girls? I didn’t feel like the brief shock of pain she’d experience was worth what we’d get out of it.
My daughter is nine now, and I am really happy we made the decision not to pierce her ears. I don’t judge other parents for doing it, however. I know there are reasons to pierce ears that young—babies can’t play with the earrings and get them infected; it’s a tiny pinch quickly forgotten; it helps avoid the misgendering of bald little baby girls (except I could write a whole other article on why this ought to be irrelevant); it’s done and you don’t have to go through the trauma of doing it when they’re older. For some, it might even be a cultural tradition. I get it. Parents have their reasons.
But here’s why I am really glad I did not pierce my daughter’s ears:
Beauty standards are bullshit.
Nine years ago, I was put off by the idea of hurting my baby for beauty’s sake. But what I understood on a deeper, subconscious level, underneath the exhausted fog of new motherhood, was that puncturing holes in my infant’s ears was more than just a minor alteration of a body part to make her slightly more adorable. It was telling her, before she could even speak, that there are certain things society expects of her when it comes to how she looks.
My fear about inflicting pain upon my daughter was deeper and more visceral than a simple wish not to physically hurt her. I didn’t want to send the subliminal message that she must do any particular thing to conform to a societal expectation of beauty. She would absorb more than enough of those types of messages from all directions throughout her life. I often imagine little girls are like brightly painted targets and the rest of the world is firing arrows at them. Every arrow is yet another impossible standard, one more absurd expectation to live up to. I didn’t want to shoot the first arrow.
I wanted it to be her choice.
Somewhere around the age of 5, my daughter began admiring my pierced ears as well as those of her friends. She wondered aloud why hers weren’t pierced—she almost seemed a little annoyed with me. I told her why I hadn’t done it. I asked her, what if I’d pierced her ears and she’d turned out not to like pierced ears? Sure, she could take them out, but when you pierce ears that young, the hole never completely disappears.
I told her I wanted it to be her choice. I told her she could get her ears pierced whenever she wanted to and that we would make a special occasion out of it. She asked if it hurt, and I told her yes, but only a little and not for long. Not quite as bad as when you get a shot at the doctor.
When she finally got them pierced, it was a really, really big deal.
So, my then 5-year-old daughter decided then and there that she would get her ears pierced when she turned 8. It wasn’t something she obsessed over—it was simply something she announced would happen and afterward didn’t say much else about it. Several years passed, and, sure enough, a few weeks after she turned 8, my daughter informed me that she was ready to get her ears pierced.
“I’m 8 now, Mommy,” she said, “and I said I’d do it when I turned 8.”
We took her to the mall on a Saturday, to a little jewelry store recommended by a friend as a good place to get ears pierced, and we let her pick out several pairs of earrings—tiny studs with sparkling gems, unicorns, turtles, hearts. She was nervous but excited, but even more than that, she was proud. She knew the piercing would hurt a little, but she wanted to have those earrings, dammit, and she was willing to endure the pinch. She handled it like a champ, and we went out for ice cream afterward to celebrate.
It’s a minor thing, really, whether or not a person has their ears pierced. I know my daughter probably would have been just fine if we’d pierced her ears as an infant. She does love her earrings now that she has them.
And yet I’m still so happy we waited, because the day she made that small choice about her own body was a day that I know made her feel fierce and independent. For her, it was a chosen rite of passage, one that she will never forget and will always be a source of pride.