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Body Jewelry – Barbaric, Provoking And Extreme Or A Blooming Trend In Fashion?
Body jewelry is in reality a name for jewelry we put on our bodies, which can be finger rings, necklaces, bracelets or toe rings, but it is also a name for the more extreme use of jewelry - body piercing. Piercing means making a cut or puncturing a part on the body, creating an opening in which one can wear jewelry, or anything really, like sticks or safety pins.
If you are from a generation born before 1970's you may think this a bit extreme and linking it to the punk generation, a movement starting in Great Britten in the late 70s and early 80s. Punks were by many seen as something next to criminals, and their body piercing was seen as something provoking, used by rebellious youths to express their identity and individuality, opposing to the older generations. That picture is not entirely true. Punks brought piercing to a higher level, and created a new fashion trend, which was very popular in England in the early 80s. A new subculture rose, called Goth.
If you are born after 1970, you probably see piercing as something entirely different, and probably have one yourself along with a small, but stunning tattoo. Because today, piercing is accepted as a new fashion trend, and is very popular among Hollywood stars and musicians, and of course the younger generations.
But body jewelry is not just modern way of wearing jewelry. Actually it has been practiced around the world for thousands of years. It is a tradition that have deep roots in many cultures, and surprisingly also in the western cultures closer in time to today than you may think. So, let's take a look at the history of body jewelry.
Throughout history different parts of the body have been pierced for numerous of reasons. The oldest proof of body piercing was found on the Ötzi man, a mummy found in the ice in Ötztal in Austria. He died in the mountains about 3200 BC, which makes him close to 5000 years old. Anyway, he had one pierced and stretched earlobe, and is the oldest pierced mummy found.
There are stories saying that the ancient Egyptians also practiced various forms for piercing, but that it was reserved only for the royal family members. If a peasant was found having any part of his body pierced, he was swiftly executed. Exceptions are said to have been made if a girl had a particularly attractive belly and belly button, which was simply made for a navel piercing enhancing it.
Body jewelry is mentioned in the Bible several times, like when Abraham gave Rebbeca a nose ring, and the golden calf is supposed to have been made from melted gold earrings. The Bible also mentions that piercing was used frequently among the nomadic tribes.
Roman soldiers in ancient Rome are said to have pierced their nipples and that it was considered a sign of masculinity. Nipple piercing was also used by British and American sailors who had traveled beyond a significant latitude or longitude. Even the gladiators in ancient Rome had piercings, but for more practical reasons. They pierced their penises with rings, so that they could tie the organ out of the way when they were fighting. (And they also wore awfully short skirts, you know).
Piercing penises is, surprisingly enough, also said to have been practiced in the puritan Victorian ages. Tight male trousers were in fashion, so were chastity. Prince Albert therefor introduced the penis ring, in order to tie the male organ out of sight for the damsels. Probably a thing he picked up from one of the British colonies, but this type of piercing bears his name to this day.
Genital piercing dates back to ancient India ca 350 – 550 AD, and is even mentioned in the book Kamasutra (yes THAT book), where it describes genital piercing to permit sexual enhancement by inserting pins and other objects into the foreskin of the penis.
On Borneo men inserted objects through the glans of the penis for the opposite reason, to diminish their sexual appetite, and Aborigines in Australia pierced boys septum when they reached manhood.
In African American and pacific northwest tribal cultures, piercing was used frequently, and lip and earlobe stretching were considered fashionable.
The stretching started when the wearer was young, and gradually larger objects were inserted into the pierced lip or earlobe. Women of Malawi used large discs called Pelele in their upper or lower lips, something that should arouse the men in the tribes. Unfortunately the plates something altered the occlusion of the women's jaw. Some tribes still practice this today and see it as a status symbol.
Nose piercing is said to have originated in the middle east about 4000 years ago, and spread to India to be fashionable in noble castes. It is widely used in Asia and the middle east today. Hindu women in childbearing age pierce their nostrils as a sign of fertility.
Nose piercing was also practiced within native tribes throughout the world, and objects like hair pipes from bone or horn, knuckles from small animals, thorns and feathers were used, usually through the septum of the nose.
The old Aztecs and Mayan cultures wore labrets through their noses, while other south American tribes used rings. It is also believed that they practiced tongue piercing during religious rituals, sacrificing their blood to the gods.
Jewelry trends mostly go hand in hand with custom fashion, and in the late 14th and early 15th century, Queen Isabella of Bavaria introduced the fashion of exposed breasts for women. Roughed and pierced nipples, often joined with a chain, were accepted as an enhancement. And as mentioned earlier, the fashion of tight trousers, led even price Albert to extreme measures, introducing genital body jewelry to a society where anything connected to sex was strictly taboo.
Sailors in the medieval had both superstitious and practical reasons for piercing their bodies. On their voyages to new worlds, they learned that a ring in one earlobe would improve their long distance vision, which was a good thing to have for a sailor viewing the horizon.
They also believed that if they were washed ashore, the golden ring in the ear would pay for their funeral. The pierced ear is probably the most commonly accepted form for piercing, and survived even the puritan western world through the 18th century Europe.
So you see, body jewelry is by no means a new thing, it has only hit us again with another wave, starting in the gay communities after the second world war. With the flower power hippie generation in the 1960s and 70s, it got a new boost in the young generation, but was still seen as something barbaric and provoking, used by they youths to challenge the society. In the 1980s the punks, as mentioned earlier adopted piercing to be their way of expression, using it as a provocative statement against the social order of the time.
But piercing had come to stay. The first modern body piercing business opened in west Hollywood in 1975, by Jim Ward and Doug Malloy, opening up for safe, hygienic and more accepted way to the wearing of body jewelry. For many this was seen as the piercing renaissance, playing a huge impact on how the world again would come to accept body jewelry as a fashion trend.
The use of body jewelry today have a deeper acceptance, but parts of it still touch the taboo by being used as a tool for sexual enhancement and practicing of sadomasochism. Some use piercing to the extreme for pointing out their individuality and some for the attention it brings them.
Piercing have reached the Guinness book of records, and Elaine Davidson, who you can see to the left, holds the record from 2009 with 6005 piercings on her face and body.
The pierced earlobes, belly button, eyebrow, lip or tongue does no longer shock us, but is accepted as a part of the youths fashion trend and body jewelry, like finger rings and bracelets.
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