“Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!”
― James Oppenheim
When I was in New York over the summer, X and I got second piercings together–an extra hole in one lobe each. We decided to do it almost from the moment we started planning the trip and even picked out the piercer we wanted to use.
So much, so high school, you may be thinking. Why is this, the tiniest of body modifications worth a write up? Well, a third hole punch in my frame may be a rather dinky example of self actualization, but it’s important to me.
Body modification was not an option growing up. LDS teachings place a high amount of reverence on the human body and care of it, which is also why there are the famous dietary restrictions Mormons are often noted for: no coffee, tea, or alcohol, and (supposedly) meat in moderation. Raised LDS, I grew up with a lot of presentation expectations around hemlines, sleeve lengths, hairstyles, tattoos (hard no), and piercings. The formal advice, though it can be enforced in some circumstances, being none for boys and one hole in each ear permissible for girls. There were a lot of rules for girls.
You can find this referenced and cited multiple times in official church literature. I went looking for a link reference for this blog post and ended up with the following, which is instructive in its own right.
I started typing in the words “women should” in the website search bar, and the auto fill in immediately supplied “stay home” on my behalf. Thoughtful of it. But there, right beneath the advice of “women should be women and not babies” (a baffling admonition), and “women should follow their husbands and he follows the counsel from god” (to which, no), is the statement, “women should only wear one pair of earrings.” It’s a bit hard to read, but it’s there, right above “women should avoid paid employment.”
This direction about earrings is something I heard specifically and multiple times growing up, and I experienced dress codes enforcing the one earring rule (among other requirements) which are in place at most church activities, and at its institutions like universities. I adhered to these expectations and didn’t think too much about it. I wasn’t particularly bothered about strictures on earrings and didn’t even get around to having my ears pierced until I was 13; I believe my sister still hasn’t at 19 simply because she doesn’t care to.
But as time went on and my opinions developed, I came to see this rule as a very minor cog in a much larger and troubling context of women’s and gender issues in the church and its culture. These eventually led (through a long and complex route I won’t bore you with again) to me deciding to leave the church and renegotiate my relationship to its organisation and teachings. I’ve since felt the need to review a lot of my notions about my body and what I choose to do with it. It’s not in my nature to be impulsive about my corporeal form, a lot of the reverence I was raised with still lingers, but getting a second piercing was something I’d wanted to do for a long time–since my early 20s and then largely due to a misguided belief that it would look “rebellious.” Oh, youth.
And so, I made a decision to get another hole punched, and plotted and planned with my best friend–who has written publicly and far more eloquently than I have ever managed to about her own faith transition–to do it together. We made a girls day of it, shopped, got bespoke lipsticks, sat next to each other in the piercing studio, had a long and winding talk about faith journeys afterwards at brunch.
It’s tiny but it was a gesture that made me feel as if my body was really mine in a way it didn’t before. Not a loan from on high, not a meat house for the soul, but genuinely something that belonged to me in my own right.
Having the unexpected experience of seeing how many other gender admonitions are connected to such a trivial thing during a website search on jewelry was just reconfirmation that the issues I found so upsetting are still there. Possibly getting worse as strict concepts of bodies and purity and gender roles continue to be emphasized in the way that the organization does, and in some cases such as LGBT issues, is doubling down on.
Out of interest and fairness, I decided to check the auto fill on the site again more recently in drafting this post. The mention of earrings was not longer suggested. However there are now two references to women “hearkening” unto their husbands, one to dressing modestly with two about specific dressing standards, three references to either “staying” home or not working outside of it, and the most troubling suggestion which seems to be a variation on a statement on rape from a book by a prominent former church leader published in 1969–that it’s better to die fending off rape than live through it. I myself heard variations on this theme throughout youth and young adulthood and though I don’t believe it’s claimed as a public position anywhere in the church today, the fact that mangled versions of this idea are common enough to still being generated by algorithmic search suggestions is pretty disheartening.
I also checked again today, out of morbid curiosity at this point. An auto fill suggestion about earrings is back–the problematic suggestion about rape survival remains.
My piercing has healed now and I don’t regret it in the slightest. In a twist of fate, the same piercing studio has now set up shop on the ground floor at Liberty and has begun singing a siren song to me to get another. I’m probably going to give in eventually.