I pierced my nose when I was 13. I did it to look different, to look unusual. I didn't think facial piercings were attractive; in fact, I thought the opposite. But at 13, I was tall (a half inch shy of my adult height) and big (a good 40-plus pounds heavier than I am now) and thoroughly convinced by critical voices, both internal and external, that I couldn't "do" pretty. So instead, I did ugly. With torn black stockings, peacock-green eye shadow (and red eyeliner), and--the piece de resistance--a fat, silver hoop in my right nostril, I created on the outside the freak I felt like on the inside.
By the time I got to college, I still felt like a freak, but suddenly I was surrounded by a bunch of other women who'd spent the past five or so years of their lives also feeling like freaks. I threw out my shredded tights and adopted the unofficial uniform of the film studies department: black top, dark jeans, pointy-toed black shoes. My aesthetic with regard to facial piercings also changed; many of my classmates made them look not just attractive but downright hot. I started wearing a tiny gold "freckle" instead of a chunky hoop. My nose ring was no longer the finial on my "freak" flagpole. It was just part of my face.
I had 22 piercings when I got married at 22 (a total coincidence). I finally had to "retire" one that either never really healed or that my body was trying to reject, and I considered retiring others, but I was sure that I'd still be wearing my little gold nose freckle well into old-ladydom. Even though it was poorly placed and a little crooked, it was surely there to stay.
When I got pregnant, I became especially determined that being a mother would not affect my aesthetic. There was no way I was going to turn in my hippie-esque, mod-ish, punk-lite style for khakis, polo shirts, and sneakers.
Especially the "sneakers" part.
But looking around at the women in my birth preparation class, and then later in the (awful) mothers' group, I felt like a freak again. "Dress comfortably" the instructor's e-mail had said, so I came in a wrap dress and leggings. Other people wore pajamas. The only piercings in sight were your standard-issue earlobes, all sporting classic one-carat diamond studs. This time around, however, I didn't mind looking different. My clothes, my jewelry, my tattoos felt good, like things I liked about myself instead of apologies for not doing "pretty" (or "mom") right.
Last year, in the midst of sorting out my postpartum food sensitivities, I experienced a lot of terrible allergy symptoms. Among them was a chronic runny nose. Between the sniffling and constant nose-blowing, my piercing was constantly getting gunked up and irritated. Finally, I took the stud out, fully intending to put it back in when things with my health calmed down a little. That was nine months ago.
The little sewing-needle hole I was so sure I'd have for the rest of my life is barely noticeable today. And I'm not sure how I feel about that.