On a frigid Saturday morning five years ago, I let a whim guide me. It took me on a bus downtown, and then a blue line train heading northwest. The cold pursued me mercilessly as I walked between transit stops. It cut through my gloves and the three layers I had managed to stuff under my coat. I arrived at the parlor with my nose red and running, then promptly asked the technician if he could pierce it. I pushed the words out of my mouth before I had the time to take them back.
It was the week before my twentieth birthday. I had been feeling lost, adrift. I was hoping that this small act could somehow anchor me.
Nose piercings are not permanent. The ring can be removed at any time, and the hole will close itself within one day. It is hardly an irreversible decision. And yet, it was important to me in a way I couldn’t articulate. I understand now that the nose ring was not just about decorating my face with something beautiful. I was struggling, and I needed something to give me courage while facing the adult world’s ambiguities. Or, perhaps more accurately, I needed something to crystallize the courage I was trying to gather from within.
The nose ring marked my passage from my teens to my twenties. Everyday while facing the mirror, with the shiny stud resting against my left nostril, I was reminded that I was growing up. I was starting to make independent decisions. I had not consulted my family on the matter, afraid that they would disapprove. And yet, I still went through with it. Fear of disappointing others was no longer enough to prevent me from pursuing some of the things I wanted. And in this way, however small a nose ring may be, getting one felt like a declaration: I am an adult who occasionally makes choices that are mine only.
It also felt like a promise to my body as it showed signs of change from its adolescent form. The promise was something like: I will honor you. I am the one who makes decisions about us, and no one else. The passage into adulthood is hard on young women. In a culture with narrowly defined beauty standards, many of us are horrified by the natural swelling of our hips and the softening of our bellies. We reach an age where political debates, held mostly between men with opinions about women’s bodies, will start to directly impact us. As we explore the world of dating, and even in everyday encounters, we will have at least a few encounters that reveal the ugly and persistent grip of misogyny. We are told in so many ways that we do not belong to ourselves. The nose ring, for me, symbolizes a commitment to resist those voices.
Five years later, the nose ring has become a near-permanent fixture on my face. I only take it off for medical examinations, and when I do, I feel its loss. I may wear it for many more years. Or, I may wake up one day and decide it no longer suits me. Regardless, I will treasure that tiny gem for having accompanied me through so many changes: some of them painful, some of them exhilarating, all of them pushing me inevitably forward.