Everything No One Warned Me About Earrings

About a year ago, I got my ears pierced—for the first time, ever. This makes me a cultural oddity; a woman who had gotten into her early 30s without ever having worn earrings. Here, it’s not uncommon for girls in kindergarten to be taken to have their ears pierced, and some even take their infants. It’s seen as an intrinsically female thing; without pierced ears, are you feminine?

What Took So Long?

My reasons why not are pretty basic: my parents didn’t think it was appropriate when I was little, then when I was a preteen and all my friends were getting it done, they told me I wasn’t allowed until I was 16 and “could make my own choice.” But by the time I was 16, it didn’t seem like that big a deal. In fact, it started to feel sort of counter-culture, being the only girl who didn’t have pierced ears. I sometimes joked that it would be a good way to identify me if I were a victim of a horrible accident: I’d be the only one without pierced ears. My aunt was horrified when she heard I didn’t have pierced ears, and sent me multiple pairs of clip-ons—because, again, it just isn’t done for a girl to not have earrings. But clip-ons hurt like the dickens, and I am not the one to suffer needlessly, especially just because someone else thought I ought to, for fashion. I also sometimes joked that I could tell if someone knew me well by whether or not they gave me earrings as a gift; a few boyfriends definitely fell into that pitfall, but again, it’s just assumed that woman have pierced ears. It’s the default.

But then again earrings are the most convenient mechanism to display stealth nerdiness. It’s a way to quietly rebel from the norm; you’re dressed business-casual, but there, hidden under your hair—unicorn earrings. Or Star Wars ships. Or a pendant that says “SherLOCKed.” All the coolest nerdy jewelry, it seemed, was for pierced ears.

When I get anxious about something, my default is to research it, so I tried to research ear piercing. Basically, there just isn’t a lot of information out there. There was no information about standard pricing, a huge variety of information about piercing children’s ears, and some about getting the more unusual piercings, but next to nothing about being a grown damn woman getting your ears pierced for the first time. Most everything talked about getting piercings at places like Claire’s, and that you shouldn’t because it did Bad Things. And most of the women I asked didn’t remember much, if anything, about the experience: after all, it had happened when they were children, at places like Claire’s.

Finally my sweet husband got tired of my fretting about it, and packed me into the car to take me to a highly reputable tattoo parlor/piercing shop. That in itself was very anxiety-inducing for me: What if they tattooed me by accident?

Getting Pierced

Well, it was fine. It was way more expensive than I had thought—about $150-200 for the piercing itself, plus you HAD to buy special gold earrings from their shop, plus a bottle of saline solution to clean your ears with—about $600 total. But the piercing specialist—herself so studded with piercings I doubt she is able to go through airport security—was very kind and professional. She helped me get situated in the dentist chair/massage table piercing chair, helped me mark the spots on my ears where she would put the piercings, explained how her tools worked, readjusted the marked spots to make sure my ears were level.

She was also mildly astonished that I was an old lady without having ever gotten my ears pierced, but she covered it well. I appreciated that.

The actual piercing barely felt like anything. Like a mosquito bite, then a little warm. It was easy as pie. It wasn’t until later in the day that it felt a little sore, throbbing. It was incredibly easy and definitely not a fuss at all.

The Routine

The piercer also explained the rigorous cleaning they expected of me. No pools or baths for six weeks (which was agony to get through for me, baths are delicious!), plus twice-daily spray with the special saline or ridiculously dunking my earlobes in a warm salt water solution. I can’t imagine how kids do it. It was bad enough getting myself to do it. And, most frustratingly, it wouldn’t be healed for six months. Six months before I was allowed to switch out the earrings! For someone who was only doing it to get to wear cute earrings, that felt like an absolute eternity.

Plus on top of that it wouldn’t be until 9 months, at least, that my ears would be “really healed.” Until then, I had to always have earrings in my piercings. That meant, when I did get to change them out, I was suddenly going from never doing it before to doing it all the time.

I obediently followed the routine, sprayed and dunked and didn’t submerge (thank goodness I did it in winter, or summer would have been a real trial). It was both extremely horrifying and also satisfying when I was first able to remove the teensy expensive gold earrings, to see them caked with skin gunk even all my assiduous cleaning hadn’t been able to reach. (Bodies are gross, I can’t believe we’re allowed to do this kind of thing.)

People Actually Live Like This?

But the real stuff I didn’t know didn’t come until after that six-month mark, when I finally got to try out different types of earrings. I didn’t realize all the things people (women, mostly) go through all the time with earrings. Like it’s no big deal. Such as:

  • There are things on the back of some earrings, particularly dangly ones, that are meant to keep the earring on. You shouldn’t throw these nameless plastic doohickeys away or you WILL lose an earring somewhere in the office.
  • Heavy earrings actually hurt. Sure, they are fun at first, but over time it will feel like your head is dragging down.
  • Even non-heavy earrings sometimes make you feel like this. Earrings will be the first thing you take off when you get home; shoes are second.
  • Dangly earrings will constantly tangle in your hair. This makes them less cute.
  • Getting dangly earrings stuck on your jacket/sweater/anything can make them pull. And hurt.
  • Studs are fine but the ones with pointy edges will poke you. Stars are awesome but so pokey.
  • Flat cellphone faces are the worst for earring wearers. It’s so much harder to talk on the phone when you have to hold it out at an angle to get it close to your ear without hearing the scritch thunk of the earring over whomever you’re speaking to. It’s a huge bother.
  • It’s also a huge bother to take off earrings for a work phone call.
  • Sometimes, for no discernable reason, an earring will refuse to go into the piercing. Trying harder just makes it madder. You end up with both earrings properly in, but one ear red and slightly swollen.
  • It is possible to spend quite a lot of money on Etsy all at once to stock up on earrings.
  • Buying earrings from Claire’s is a rite of passage. Realizing why you shouldn’t buy earrings from Claire’s comes only after learning from personal experience.
  • (See above) There are levels of quality of earrings. Your ears can tell when you cheap out.
  • Even when you are very new to the earring game, it is possible to quite quickly become known as “the one with quirky earrings” at work. Then you have to buy some normal earrings to blend in.
  • Related to the above: Some women wear the same earrings every day, which just makes you wonder what the point of it all is anyway.
  • For some reason, the year you get your ears pierced, no one will get you cute earrings for Christmas, even though it seemed like an obvious gift idea.

I enjoy my small but mighty earring collection now, but I don’t always know it was worth it. I wear earrings every day, but am still sort of fascinated at this cultural tradition. (And when I watch shows like Vikings, I wonder how ancient folk did it. Ouch! Ear aches!)

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