“I’m pretty sure my greatest accomplishment in my life is my right ear. It represents everything I’ve ever achieved.” I say this kind of thing a lot – only half-joking – to my husband, close friends and anyone who makes an innocuous comment about one of my earrings and realises, too late, that this is the equivalent of casually asking Kourtney Kardashian about her wedding plans. It’s not my ear I’m proud of exactly, but the piercings that adorn it. A chaotic constellation of sparkles which never fails to make me smile.
There are 18 piercings in total, zigzagging across both ears and studding my nose, enough for me to easily be the poster girl for every “midlife piercing comeback” article you’ve ever read. Piercings are my hobby, obsession (or is it addiction?), and – as my husband might say – the habit I keep wasting my money on when I should be doing the responsible thing and sorting out my pension.
As someone “turning-40-this-summer”-years-old, it’s quite possible all these piercings are my equivalent of a midlife crisis, desperately trying to find parking in overcrowded cartilage and lobes… but I see my piercings as a glittering map, illustrating my life story so far. They’ll show you places I’ve lived, introduce you to people who matter, celebrate occasions I’ve wanted to mark. There are love stories with friends and family threaded through; there is deep, unshakeable grief. Self-doubt and acceptance. It’s all there, written on, and around, my face.
Other parts of my body tell a story, too – the cartilage of my upper right ear, my belly button, the right nipple that only ever managed to release my babies’ milk in unsatisfying dribbles. Ghostly scars of long abandoned piercings past, hardened over the course of two decades. These carry as much meaning as the holes still glittering with jewels.
Over the decades, I’ve swapped tattoo parlours and titanium ball studs for Maria Tash and rose gold spikes. The thrill of each new piercing is every bit as exciting as it ever was, a memory to cherish long after the initial sting has faded.
Of the many piercings I’ve acquired throughout the course of my life, the only ones I didn’t want were the first. My mother decided I should have my ears pierced when I was seven-years-old and took me to Ylang-Ylang, a jewellery boutique in my native New York. With eyes scrunched shut, my small hand squeezed around hers, I anticipated pain… and felt a rush of excitement instead. It never faded; after waiting the interminably long eight-to-10 weeks for those first holes to heal, I realised my ears could become the jewelled equivalent of pick-and-mix. I was no longer boring old me. My ears could spread a message of peace, love and yin and yang through the endless cheap studs, hoops and danglies, sold in colourful multipacks, that were now at my disposal.