OT: Piercing/Tattoo Prejudice

I find it hilarious how many times I get asked by people of an older generation what my piercings mean. I have been asked, on probably 20 different occassions this exact question, “What does that bar in your ear mean?”

I usually look kind of dumbfounded at the person while I try to ascertain what they are really asking. I mean, its a piercing, its just there for decoration. 90% of the time, the person asking is an older lady who has her own ears pierced in a traditional fashion. I generally ask them why they got their ears pierced. To which some will reply that it was just so they could wear earrings for decoration.

I am by no means pierced to death either. At this point I only have a rook piercing, and an industrial. Both of which are in the ears and not all that odd. I used to have many more piercings, but tended to not get questions about those. I also had my ears gauged to 0s as well. But those have since been taken out as well and have shrunk back to a normal size.

I often wonder where this question comes from though. And am usually very confused by its origin. What does that piercing mean? is such an odd question. Part of me thinks that it must stem back to when gay men supposedly wore one earring in the right ear to signify their gayness, though I’ve never met any gay man who did this. It makes me wonder if that is what they are asking. Or if they are wondering if it signifies that I’m in a gang. I don’t know. I just find it such an odd question.

My guess is that they are just not asking the right question.

It was like when I worked at the theatre…the question “do these stairs go up?” was asked. It was one of those questions that wanted to make you beat your head against the wall. Clearly the stairs go up…what they wanted to ask was “do these stairs lead to [where I want to go]?”

While it could be simular to the “gay ear” question…I have a feeling it is probably a misasked question.

I don’t know…quite frankly I can’t figure people out. A piercing is a piercing…it often doesn’t mean anything more than the person who has them, likes piercings. On a tattoo it makes sense…on piercings…not so much…

My tattoo is music notes connected with a vine and a blue rose all around my ankle. I rarely get asked if the music notes are to anything…and they are…the are the music to The Rose. shrugs…I don’t know!

I have 8 earlobe piercings, a helix and a navel piercing. No-one has ever asked what they “mean” though me being a girl may have something to do with that. Ironically two of my piercings I got to commemorate events, the helix was for one of my birthdays (my piercer gave 1/2 off on your birthday, too) and the navel I got to commemorate raising $2000 and walking 60km (in August, in two days) for a cure for Breast cancer.

Maybe you should make up something like “I got this one to commemorate climbing Mount Everest.” :lol:

I agree she’s probably not asking the right question. If you’re really open to discussing it or enlightening her/him then ask if they mean something else and then tell them. Then they won’t have to ask anymore. :wink:

The below bit is my [I]personal[/I] opinion and I hope it’s tactful enough not to get me in trouble -

As for prejudice… I’m sure there are many people who very much are, but some aren’t so much prejudiced as wary. When I was younger it was mostly a certain group of people who were pierced and tattooed. People often feared them and stereotyped them to be druggies, troublemakers, etc. I doubt they caused anymore trouble than anyone else in reality, but fearing what you don’t know and don’t understand is a common emotion. It’s partly human nature and part common sense and probably partly what has kept us on the planet so long.

My 80 yr old parents would cross the street to avoid a person with tats and piercings, but I’m 57 and it doesn’t bother me although I do notice it (which is maybe the point) and wonder why on earth anyone would do that to themselves. No need to answer that because I know…I just disagree that it’s attractive. :lol:

I think Jan has summed up what I’ve seen very well. Depending on where you live or how/where the questioners grew up, decorating yourself with tatoos or multiple piercings just wasn’t something that people in the mainstream did. In some cases, it was even unusual for a woman to get her ears pierced. My grandfather told his daughters that if they got their ears pierced, he’d pierce their nose. My dad (his SIL) thought that philosophy sounded like a good idea. So when my mom got her ears pierced at 40, it was a very big deal. Similarly, the first young man in my high school to get his ear(s) pierced did so while studying abroad (this was in the mid-80s). Piercings, for men in particular, just weren’t mainstream. So getting a piercing, the mainstream thought, had to have been done for something. After all, why would you want to be that different? There were/are, I guess, some unspoken rules about it being OK to be different, as long as it was within certain parameters.

I was the first boy to get pierced ears at middle school. So I guess I was the kid who didn’t care.

I guess I’ve grown up in a completely different atmosphere. Where tattoos and piercings were just part of decoration like necklaces or earrings only permanent and a little different. And I think society has gone through some major changes in the past few decades, we’ve shifted from a group society to an individualistic society. Where people were trying so hard to fit in in the 50’s, people now try harder to be different. So tattoos and piercings were just a form of being artistic and different and I suppose people who grew up in an ideology of fitting in that there would have to be some kind of reason that somoene would want to be on the fringe. Where as to us, we don’t understand why someone would want to look like everyone else.

I always check people’s tattoos and piercings but have never wondered what they signify…Some tattos are true works of art and I admire the artistry. Piercings are not so interesting to me, just simply because I’ve never had anything pierced and it’s so common. My husband had a tattoo on his arm with his first wife’s name and although I didn’t ask him to, he had it changed into a Marlin fish last year…I was glad…everyone used to ask him why he had “Wanda” on his arm and they know my name is Mary, now he never has to explain that again…so he’s glad, too.

I am 68 years old. I grew up in the late 40’s and 50’s. Some women got their ears pierced and wore small hoops. My mother did not get her ears pierced until she was in her 40’s. Her father disapproved of that and women who cut their hair. I got my ears pierced in my 30’s because dh wanted me to. I actually got the second ear piercing in my 40’s so I could wear diamond studs because he wanted me to also. I can remember when I saw the first man with long hair. It was in the late 60’s and I worked in a bank. Someone saw him in the Loan Department and we all took turns walking though the Loan Dept to get a look. Just so weird. I am sure he was aware of what we were doing but was very nice about it. lol Times change and people change their idea of what is acceptable. Who knows what our greatgrandchildren will think is cool!!! :roflhard:

I’ve never had anyone ask me what any of mine mean but I have been asked, often, why? My answer: Because I like it. Simple as that…I’m not trying to be different, I’m not trying to be “cool” or fit in anywhere, I just like it, period. No different than why people wear certain clothes or shoes or listen to certain music. Same with tattoos…I have only 10 right now but if I had the money, I’d be just about covered in tattoos…Why? Same reason, I like it. Not to mention it’s great being able to break the stereotype. I love it when I hear people say to me “ya know, from the way you look I thought you’d be a b**ch but you’re the sweetest person I know!”

My non-biological grandfather had a bunch of tats on his lower arms…

I’m lucky enough to work in a “creative” environment where my tattoos and piercings have never been an issue. I do try to cover them up when possible, just because I’m a paranoid baby and don’t want conflict… even though it’s never happened!

I teach small children (and older ones too) and I’ve often been worried in interviews that my neck and wrist tattoos might cost me a job. I’ve never not gotten a job I’ve interviewed for and it’s probably just because I have an amazing resume and references.

I’ve never been asked about my piercings, but I do get the occasional questions about my tattoos. The visible ones are a neck tattoo that means dance, and a red star on the underside of my wrist. I put the star there after many years of teaching ballet and explaining to students the focus on écarté should be the inside of your wrist… now I can just show them the star and they instantly get it.

All of my tattoos have meaning, my piercings… not so much ;o)

I don’t understand your quandary. If someone of any age asks a question it’s usually because they want to know or understand something. If an old lady asked you, “Why in hell would you do such a stupid thing as put a bar in your ear?” - I could understand your being nonplussed, however, if she simply asked if there were a significance to the adornment what’s your gripe? Next time have some fun with it (much better than being aggravated) tell the person who asks, "Well, ya see, my ear got bit off by a madman and the only way the docs could reattach it was with that simple metal bar. Adding, I can pull out the bar and show you how it’ll flop down to my shoulder! :<) I’d love to know what reaction you get.
You think this behavior is new and individualistic? The human species is the only one which decorates their bodies. It’s been so since early man inhabited this earth. I wish I could cite a good book about it but, I can’t. If interested I’m sure anyone can find plenty of info online or at the library. So, those who chose to get away from very early influences were not trying to “fit in”. Quite the opposite. However, man’s need to adorn himself and make a personal statement will always win out (note the cosmetic industry, plastic surgery along with tattoo/piercing). It’s all the same. That’s just the way we are. When you speak to the younger generation being individuals I can’t help but smile. When people young or old become individual thinkers there won’t be fashion, style, marketing trends or any of that great stuff that makes the world’s economy turn and young guy’s pants hang down below their Fruit of the Looms. I’m an old lady, but I talk to young people and I don’t care if they cover themselves in tats and piercings. (Are you also aware that some piercings are for stimulation not decoration?) How people relate to me is what’s important.
I’ve never had my ears pierced. When our daughters wanted pierced ears, they were given an age when we’d allow it. They argued and talked and pleaded till my husband said, “O.K. Let’s go get your ears pierced and your lips too, so I can put a lock on them!” They got ears pierced when we allowed it. I’m not into most kinds of mutilation, including circumcision of males and in some cultures females. With any of these things, regardless of the reasons now given, I can’t help wondering, why was it done the first time?

I teach high school and my kids are always shocked when they realize that I have a tattoo on my wrist. The funny thing is that i do not wear a watch but it generally takes about 2-3 months for them to realize its there and then they FREAK.
Around here it is COMMON for the teenages (around 13 actually) to get tattos. I can’t believe that their parents let them at age 13 get a tattoo. I got mine after I turned 21 and my parents couldn’t fuss LOL. So they freak and mine on my wrist out and then find out about the one on my back (pre tramp stamp labeling) and they go into PANIC mode. They do the same thing w/ the idea that I have a bf. They want to set me u[ w/ pp and then when I tell them I’m dating they start catcalling and crap…:eyes: children!

Oh and NOT TELLING them what the wrist tattoo drives them NUTS…:roflhard: it does give me a chance to laugh at them…hehe

I’m 62 and have seen a lot of different new ways of decorating a body over the years.
When I see tatoos or piercings, the first thing that comes to mind is: “wow, that person must have a good tolerance for pain. I could never do it”…but I do like how some of them look.

I used to like to wear eyeliner, makes the eyes look more defined, especially as mine are light green, and my hair was always ash blonde (now it’s grey)…so my face looked kind of bland. If I’d had the courage, I think it would have been neat to have permanent black eyeliner tatooed on to the edge of my upper eyelids…but again: prolly couldn’t take the pain.

My father, now age 84, still has a tatoo on his arm which he got in WW2 when he was a naval rerserve. It says “Mother”, with a rose and a ribbon.

I wouldn’t ever ask anyone what it means…kind of rude, I think.

I think my grandfather was in the military or ??? not sure exactly, I think that’s how he ended up with his tats…sadly, he spent years wearing long-sleeved shirts (even in hot weather) as his tats bothered him


There’s a Tattoo Parlor in Baltimore that has the tag line “Art with a pulse”! It sounds like you’re a walking work of art, then!

Thought you’d like to know! :o)


I don’t have any piercings. I figure I have enough holes in my head without deliberately adding more. . .

The times, they are a changin’!

used to be, multiple piercings/tattoos were considered a counterculture, a slap in the face against “normal” society.

now, they ARE the norm… at least as it has progressed through my family. :slight_smile:

My mother had her ears pierced at birth. She’s from a Hispanic family, and that is the norm for them.

My mother married a Caucasian man, so we were raised with a choice. I had my ears pierced at the age of 12 simply because every female in my family was pierced. (those Hispanics!)

BUT - by the time I was in high school, people of both genders were getting their ears pierced. The men typically pierced one ear - to indicate a gender preference. :slight_smile:
And the women began double/multiple piercing.

I sneaked out to get my second set of ear piercings right before my 18th birthday. I had to lie about my age, by one week, to do so. My mother HIT THE ROOF!

And then, slowly, began to accept it.

My own children were raised with the same gender bias. Girls could get their ears pierced, boys no. No tattoos allowed, etc.

Then, my son came home from the army with a black panther crawling out of a purple mist on his left shoulder.

The middle son gauged his ears and pierced his tongue. He got a scorpion tattoo to commemorate surviving a motorcycle wreak. (yes, he nearly died.) Several years later, he got a tattoo up the side of his ribs, we a motivational saying in Latin.

Then my daughter got a “tramp stamp” (lower back tattoo). She also has MULTIPLE piercings, a helix, navel piercing, etc. She got an ankle tattoo later on.

As you can tell, once the taboo is broken, it’s shattered! I no longer feel like my children are being intentionally rebellious when they decorate their bodies. That’s just them. Self-expression. And I love them exactly the same.

It’s totally changed the way I perceive pierced/tattooed people. I just see them as extraordinarily expressive human beings. And I greet them with a smile.

Maybe, that’s exactly how it should be! :slight_smile:

I’m 60 years old now and have had my ears pierced since I was 15. Actually, I have double pierced ears, but I don’t have bars or anything in the holes. I just wear two pairs of earrings.
I live in Savannah, Georgia, and there is an art school here, Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). Not so much now, but when I first moved here 15 years ago, I’d say about 90% of the SCAD students had hair in every color of the rainbow, multiple piercings, and dressed really wild. But, what they didn’t seem to realize is…in their effort to “stand out”, they all ended up looking the same. Most of the crazy hair and clothes is about gone now, but I kinda enjoyed seeing them every day all punked out and looking goofy. I really thought it looked fine. I did enough crazy stuff when I was younger so I would probably look exactly like the SCAD students if I were a teenager now. I grew up in the hippie era, so that’s what I went with. But, I was a responsible hippie…had a good job and a small child, so I could only express myself after work and on weekends:p Gosh, sometimes it seems like only yesterday. Time sure flies.

I think that tattoos have meaning to people, most often. Something that they relate to, since it’s for a lifetime.
Piercings can be taken out. I guess they have less of a meaning.