Let's Reminisce About The Golden Age Of Facial Piercings

My face was full of metal well before I made it out of my teens.
Publish date:
February 26, 2014
teenagers, dental, nose rings, piercings

Under the humming of a dental
drill, l feel bits of broken tooth and amalgam filling crumble away. I lay back
and get multiple novocaine shots in the roof of my mouth, complacent as
livestock. My tongue is a fat, dry slug, forced to hang out and desiccate against
the constant suction of the mouth-vacuum wielded by a dentist who obviously has
to be Terry Gilliam, because this is something right out of Brazil.

As an adult, I spend my extra money
trying to upgrade my teeth so they don’t abscess or fall out. I didn’t get
dental care until later in life, so I try to be careful with the teeth I have
left. This tooth--the one that they are currently drilling into--was cracked, with a filling holding the tooth slightly ajar. It hurt so bad, that
if I accidentally touched it, I saw stars.

For years, I told people this story
about how this one time, I was eating yogurt and got in a fender-bender and bit the spoon, and that’s why my tooth
cracked; not because I had a metal bar clacking around in my mouth at all hours.
It had nothing--nothing--to do with my tongue piercing; not because I was
prattling on while shoving quesadillas in my face, and bit down on the end of
my barbel. No way.

Looking at the dentist bill 15
years later, and it still seems pretty much worth it.

My first piercing was my navel. It
was a joint effort between my sister and me. I remember lying on my back on
the bottom bunk, her working a safety pin through the tiny bit of skin, lit by Christmas lights tacked around our precious Crow
movie poster. She doused it in Bactine and taped it to my stomach for the
night, so it wouldn’t get torn out. Basically a professional.

A few months later, I was crouched
in front of our bathroom mirror, getting up the nerve to pierce my own lip. I
was 14, and even though I’d written letters detailing how important it was to
me to pierce my lip, my mother still wouldn’t come with me to get it done. I’d
scored some 20-gauge hypodermic needle tips, practiced on my friends, gone
through the procedure a dozen times in my head. My mom pounded on the door;
I breathed in, popped it through and fed in a horseshoe ring. I couldn’t stop
staring at it, like a magpie with a treasure. It landed me in the principal’s
office a few times when I declined to take it out in class.

For my 16th birthday, my boyfriend
bought me a tongue piercing. I went with my friend, and even though she was
pretty tough, she peeped a little bit when they put the clamps on her tongue. I
sat on the bench, my thighs sticking to the glitter vinyl through the holes in
my corduroys. Good thing we had gin and juice before we went to the piercing
studio, because there is no way I could just chill while a dude in gloves jacks
open my jaw and rubber-bands clamps onto my tongue before spearing it with a needle.

After three days of swollen, pus-leaking
grossness, I was flicking my barbell around like I was born doing it. It would
get stuck on things, I’d bite it frequently, I even swallowed a few barbells.
But there was a whole dirty teenager language that I suddenly had access to. I
looked so hot and bad.

I got a nose ring for my 17th
birthday. A few years later, I got my
smiley, an upper-lip frenulum piercing. Along with my gauged ears, my face was full of

People stopped and stared, old people shook their heads. It was constant
upkeep, replacing parts, and taking jewelry in and out for crappy waitressing
jobs. I decided I would always love my piercings, and they were part of me.
They signaled to girls that I was a badass not to be trifled with. They made
me look like I was pretty much 21.

Then I went to Thailand.

It was my first trip abroad. I
packed Ziploc bags full of every possible necessity. I had a phrasebook, and I
learned enough Thai to get around, order food. I packed and repacked my
backpack months ahead time, fingering the paper tickets that came in the mail.

We spent a month taking sleeper
buses and hitching rides from one end of the country to the other, trying to
hit all towns and stay off the beaten track as much as we could.

everyone we met in rural Thailand was curious about my facial piercings and
jewelry. They thought it was strange, and asked all kinds of questions, but
mostly: Why? I answered that I thought
they were beautiful. Were they medically
It makes sense: utilitarian stainless steel doesn’t really look
like jewelry. Old women all needed to thoroughly look me over. What is wrong with you? they asked,

I lost the retaining balls for my
tongue, as well as the captive bead on my lip. Body jewelry was obviously
nowhere to be found, so I just made do. Both piercings just looked like wire jabbed pointlessly through
perfectly good skin.

When I got home, I didn’t replace
the lost jewelry; I unceremoniously took my lip ring and tongue piercing out. I
didn’t need them. I didn’t want the amount of attention they garnered, and
after explaining their importance a dozen times, it was easy to see: there was
none. I liked them, and they used to make me feel unique, but they didn’t mean
jack beyond that. Just one more thing to worry about.

I kept my nose ring. It just makes
sense. I have a huge nose, it’s kind of the pinnacle of my face, and the thin
silver hoop in my nostril is decoration. I have tiny scars where my lip and
tongue piercings used to be. My frenulum actually tore off when I bit into an
apple. Yeah, that’s a thing that can happen.

I don’t miss them at all. It
signaled the end of an era in my life, one where practicality and beauty wins
out over shock value and attention-seeking.

I’ve noticed that dermal piercings
and surface piercings are super-popular right now. I was subbing at a high
school a few months ago, and it seemed like every third girl had surface
piercings on her collarbones, or surgical steel studs buried into the base of
their necks. I don’t look at these girls and shake my head in condescending
disapproval; I’m happy they’re experimenting with their bodies and style in
weird and gross ways.

Navel piercings and multiple ear
piercings are trendy right now, but I wonder if multiple facial piercings
will ever be as popular as they once were.

Do you remember when
facial piercings were a huge deal? Did you want or have some? Is there a "professional" (vomit at that
word) way to wear facial piercings? Does anyone still have
multiple facial piercings? Pics or it didn’t happen.