Last April Fool’s Day, Marissa Ain ’04 called her mother with some surprising news. She said that she had dyed her hair purple, pierced her tongue and eyebrow, and was dating a 25-year-old.
“Two of those four things were true,” Ain said. “But all my mom said was, ‘You’d better be kidding about the eyebrow piercing.'”
Ain was not joking about the 25-year-old boyfriend. And to her mother’s chagrin, she was not joking about the eyebrow piercing.
Many people would never expect Ivy Leaguers to engage in any form of “self-mutilation.” In fact, a lot of people presume all Yale students to be clean-cut in appearance.
For the most part, they’re right. Among the pea-coated throng, only a few students choose to wear their fashion statements in their nostrils.
But while sporting metal in places other than one’s earlobes no longer draws stares, the pierced look has barely caught on at Yale.
Kirsten Webb ’04 said one of reasons that she chose to attend Yale is because of its welcoming environment to forms of expression such as piercings.
“I see so many people with varying outward projections of themselves that [my nose ring] is not an issue for me,” Webb said.
William Schleyer ’04, who sports a stud in his navel and a ring on the cartilage of his left ear, said some piercings are more acceptable on campus than others.
“Other piercings, like those below the lip, get people’s attention here still,” Schleyer said.
A junior who wishes to be identified as “Mary” got piercings in both her nipples for increased “sensitivity,” among other reasons. She did not want her name revealed because then people would know her as “the girl with the nipple rings.”
“Mary” said she rarely sees anyone with body piercings at Yale.
“Yale is particularly conservative,” Mary said. “You barely see people with nose piercings, much less tongue and other more extreme piercings.”
Over the Edge?
Located on Chapel Street, Edge Tattoo and Piercings is the closest option for Yalies to get pierced in New Haven. An Edge Tattoo employee, who would not give his name, said that not many Yalies frequent the parlor.
“When they do come in, usually you can tell they are from Yale because they always come in groups,” the employee said.
Schleyer got his cartilage pierced at Edge Tattoo. Arthur Kang ’04 got his tongue pierced there too. Both said they had good experiences at the parlor.
But Ain said her experience at Edge Tattoo was a negative one.
In late October, Ain said, she discovered her eyebrow piercing was too shallow and her body was beginning to reject the piercing. She said she returned to Edge Tattoo and was instructed to put soap on the problem area and return in a month.
She said she followed those instructions, but the infection got worse.
“It was excruciatingly painful,” Ain said.
Ain returned to Edge Tattoo once again in November. This time, she said one of the employees yanked out her piercing and said, “Maybe nice girls like you should think before you get freaky piercings.”
“The treatment they gave me was unprofessional and demeaning,” Ain said. “I still have a scar on my eyebrow, which I’m annoyed about.”
The current manager of Edge Tattoo said he knows nothing of the incident. He said he took over the shop in December, after the incident took place.
“Piercings do grow out if it’s not done deep enough,” he said.
Webb went to get her nose pierced having heard that the pain was “no big deal.” She was in for a huge surprise.
“It was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced in my life,” Webb said. “They pulled my nostril out and stuck a 2-inch nail through it. All I felt was a mind-numbing pain from my nose.”
When “Mary” got her first nipple pierced, she said her “eyes kind of bugged out.”
Other piercing experiences were less excruciating.
“The pain wasn’t that bad,” Schleyer said of his belly piercing. “It was no worse than getting a shot in the arm. It hurt most when they put the ring in.”
Healing time varies for different types of piercings. It is during this time that the pierced area hurts the most.
“For the first two days, I had to sleep with ice on my chest,” “Mary” said. “The nipples bleed initially.”
Views from the unpierced
Some students view their peers’ perforated bodies in a less-than-charitable light.
“When I see a person with an extraordinary number of piercings, I see somebody who is trying to prove something in a kind of shallow way,” Margaret Hodes ’03 said.
Kang has not noticed any negative reactions to his tongue piercing while at Yale. He said college is a time for students to experiment without backlash.
But Kang admitted that he intentionally got a piercing that would not be easily seen.
“Most people don’t notice a tongue ring right away,” Kang said. “I like that. I don’t want people immediately casting judgments on me for it.”
“I don’t think my professors care,” Kang said. “Or, at least, I hope not.”
Many professors are indifferent to their students’ ornamentation.
“I think body piercings are a dumb idea, but I doubt that will stop people from engaging in the activity,” said Robert Dunne, professor of computer science. “I don’t hold it against anyone.”
Mary Lui, an assistant professor of history and American studies, said historians and anthropologists have shown the importance of piercings to numerous cultures throughout the world.
“It certainly doesn’t bother me if students wish to pierce their bodies,” Lui said. “In this country, we clearly follow certain social conventions that make certain forms of piercing more acceptable than others.”
Reactions on the home front are often considerably less enthusiastic.
Webb said her parents were supportive of her decision get a nose ring and that they have always been accepting of her modes of expression.
“They are fine with it as long as I don’t amputate my arms or something,” Webb said.
But Kang’s parents were less gung-ho about his tongue ring because it goes against traditional Korean convention.
“Among my older family members, a piercing is not really smiled upon,” Kang said. “My parents want me to take it out.”
Schleyer got his navel ring during his first time away from his parents during a term abroad in England.
“I was making a lot of decisions on my life for the first time,” Schleyer said. “My parents couldn’t do anything about it.”
“Mary” said the first questions out of her parents’ and her friends’ mouths when they found out about her piercings were, “Did it hurt?” and “Why’d you do it?”
“You have to have a reason to do it that goes beyond any kind of outward superficiality,” Webb said. “If you worry what it will project, don’t do it.”