Jenna Bal

Illustration by Tiffani Nelson

Welcome back to Trending Now (& Then), where modern trends are discussed from their origins to where they are now. 

Last week, I chronicled the history of Weight Watchers and the controversy that has surrounded the diet plan for decades. This week, I am pivoting to a cosmetic trend: Body piercings. 

Tribu, a London-based jewelry company, shares in their blog that the oldest mummified body found with a piercing is about 5,000 years old, meaning body piercings are not a new tradition; they are simply experiencing a resurgence in popularity. 

As Tribu is a company heavily influenced by tribal roots, its blog post explores the rich history of body piercings in several cultures. 

Ganta Srinivas via Pexels

For example, Aztecs, Mayans and native tribes used tongue piercings as a form of blood-letting in religious ceremonies. 

In the Roman Empire, nipple piercings represented unity and strength within the army. 

Even sailors had a special purpose for ear piercings: earring metal could be used to pay for a Christain burial if the sailor’s body ever washed up after being lost at sea. 

Kolo, an expert piercing shop based in Atlanta, Georgia, reports on its own blog that pharaohs in ancient Egypt used navel piercings to show their royal status. Any Egyptian subjects who were discovered to have their own navel pierced were punished as it was considered to be a body decoration only those in power could have. 

Tamara Gore Via Unsplash 

Within the past century, piercings in modern American culture shifted to aesthetic reasons as compared to the religious and cultural purposes of the past. 

In Marie Claire’s Ouch: The History of Piercings, fashion writer Liana Satenstaien reports that in the 1920s, people favored clip-on earrings over piercings. Through the 1970s and 1980s, nose and septum piercings overcame the punk scene. Then in the early 2000s, celebrities like Britney Spears popularized navel piercings. Today, a multitude of tiny earrings covering one’s ear is the pinnacle of fashion. 

Anna Elizabeth Via Unsplash 

Modern-day piercings range from religiously symbolic to a defiance of culture. However, one aspect of piercings is certain: It is trending now just as it was then.