Piercings: Tradition for South Asians, Rebellion in the West

For those from the subcontinent, the practice is a given, even for babies. In the West, it’s taboo and reviled. Why?

Deccan, donna seduta con fiore, hyderabad, 1710 ca
Deccan, donna seduta con fiore, Hyderabad, c. 1710 (Cincinnati Art Museum)

Isha Banerjee


January 18, 2024


9 min

“You put holes in my baby’s ears!” Rachel accosted her sister Amy after she pierced her daughter’s ears without her permission. “You punctured our daughter!” Cameron scolded Gloria when she did the same thing to Lily. In the sitcoms Friends and Modern Family, doing something as dangerous as piercing a baby’s ears made Amy and Gloria irresponsible. In 2015, a U.K. petition to ban parents from piercing their baby’s ears even garnered 36,000 signatures. Meanwhile, many South Asian parents pierce their babies’ ears before they can speak. Yet, in the West, piercings represent rebellion and non-conformity, inadvertently making piercings one of the few categories in which South Asians in the diaspora felt “cool.” So why does the practice, which dates back to 3000 B.C., have such divergent meanings?

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