‘Ear parties,’ luxury piercing, and the mothers yearning for control

It’s 3pm on a Saturday afternoon in West Hollywood and I’m at my 5-year-old’s swim class. We are a small gathering of preschool parents who sit by the pool, cheer on our kids’ bravery, and discuss their social-emotional development. We also find moments to dive deep into our latest obsession: ear piercing.

Like any good resident of Los Angeles, we own the superficiality and embrace the topic with little self-consciousness. “I’m thinking of getting one mid-lobe, like skipping a spot where the second hole should be,” one says.

“I mean, I don’t know if I can pull off multiple lobe piercings? I think I look too… traditional mom?” another one wonders.

“I just need to get in and do it before I get pregnant,” I say. “They won’t let me do it after my IVF transfer.”

While this may sound like straightforward middle-age rebellion, luxury ear piercing, as well as ear styling, has become a thing among women ages 20 to 50. Social media has, no doubt, played a role in this trend in a city that loves trends. Search for #CuratedEar or #EarParty on Instagram, and you’ll find thousands of images of women of all ages sporting dainty studs in constellation-like formations on the lobe; meanwhile, huggies and climbers might adorn the helix, tragus, and conch part of the cartilage. Also, asymmetry is key. Anything too matchy-matchy might make one feel off balance.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BmTt0upgBZw/?taken-by=maria_tash

https://www.instagram.com/p/BnHBQpeHwHS/?tagged=earparty

But it isn’t until I’m sitting in Body Electric Tattoo waiting to get pierced on a Tuesday afternoon before preschool pickup that I figure out why so many women I know, especially mothers, are into this particular trend. I begin chatting with a clean-cut woman in her early 30s with multiple dainty gold helix and lobe piercings. I tell her I’m in a rush to get pierced before my IVF transfer, which I’m nervous about.

“It’s my way of channeling my anxiety, through a controlled pain of sorts,” I share. “Everything in the world is out of control—this somehow makes it feel better.”

“Oh, I started getting the piercings days after the 2016 election,” she tells me. “And I’m going to continue to do so until he’s not in office.”  

This desire for distraction among reasonably privileged women in liberal L.A. is indeed partially related to the general anxiety felt since Trump took office. Between the countless reports of sexual misconduct among the Me Too movement, the threat of losing Roe v. Wade, and all the families being separated at the border, it feels like our world is unraveling and emotional triggers have become the norm. But there is resistance: We march, call senators, call constituents, attend rallies, write letters, and volunteer to accompany immigrants to court—real acts that evoke change. And then there is just yearning for a little control in a life—as a human, as a woman, as a new mother—that often feels so unstable.

Even if that control, or distraction, is just curating a look and poking holes in your ear.

By BKT✌️ #bodyelectrictattoo #BrianKeithThompson

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“I think people are lashing out a little bit,” Brian Keith Thompson, who has owned Body Electric since 2006, tells the Daily Dot about his clientele, predominantly women in their 20s through 40s. “I have clients coming in and saying that they want to feel a different pain. Every time you turn on your TV, it’s just negative, negative, negative, negative, and you feel like you want to scream. And I think [piercing] is a way for people to say, ‘You know, fuck all this.’”

Jessica Zucker, a Los Angeles-based psychologist who specializes in women’s mental health, agrees this “fuck it” attitude is related to trying to be in control when there is no control to be had. “In times of ongoing stress, cultural and political fear borne of uncertainty, acting out can take many forms,” she says. “Clinically, I’m hearing women report an increased difficulty in taking care of themselves, particularly as it relates to their bodies.”

While you can argue decorating your ear with something shiny or sparkly could be a form of self-care and that piercing is by no means as dangerous as starving yourself or binge drinking or cutting, there is, like tattooing, a sort of release in whatever little pain piercing brings.

“Culture has taught women to turn negative feelings inward—this is why women are prone to shame, self-blame, and guilt,” she says. Add to that the those who have histories of emotional abuse or neglect, and they “are understandably triggered most by the unpredictability of the current political climate,” she says. “Like, fuck it, I don’t matter, I can’t make a substantive difference, I don’t have control anyway.”

Sara, who’s in her early 40s and the mom of a 5-year-old, recently jumped on the trend and currently dons five dainty gold studs in one ear. She says she admires the aesthetic of multiple piercings, but also explains that “there is something about the ritual of going and seeking out an adornment. Another way to adorn the body and have it be… not permanent. If I ever want to take [the jewelry] out, I can,” she says. “But, internally, it may have something to do with wanting to get a release of some of the existential pain that I’m feeling in our political environment and in mid-life in general.”

@maria_tash #curatedear #jewellery #piercing #finejewellery #designedear

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Victoria, a mother of two young children, describes her recent experience of getting four new piercings as a response to the fraughtness of motherhood itself. At 38, she had spent her previous eight years giving up her body in attempts to grow her family. She endured multiple miscarriages, medicated IUIs, IVF, and gave birth to 10-pound babies. “There’s been a long stretch of time that I felt imprisoned by my circumstances and it had infiltrated every part of my life—from my diet, to my alcohol consumption, to my sex life to…everything.”

She says that piercing was a way to reclaim ownership of her body postpartum and release some of the tension that had built up with each sacrifice. “I felt really inspired to do something that was mine, that was just for me, that was maybe a little bit rebellious, and that I couldn’t have done in recent years past,” she says. “I’m not very spontaneous or edgy. Somehow piercing came to me as connecting with [that part of myself] before I was a mom: young and free.”  

Victoria spent five months mulling over her piercing game plan by researching and consulting with piercers, as well as getting inspiration from Instagram, like piercer Maria Tash’s account. She then began talking about it with another mom at her son’s soccer class, and within moments, five more moms chimed in with their desire for new piercings. They then invited the moms from their kids’ preschool classes. Once the teachers found out, they were in too. Seventeen women ultimately joined their piercing party at a tattoo parlor in West Hollywood.

“It really felt like everyone was doing something for themselves. Like, they took the night to get out, be with other women, drink wine, and do something purely for themselves,” Victoria reflects.   

So while it may seem like a shallow distraction from the political dumpster fire, the piercing craze is also about women embracing self-expression and seizing a tiny bit of control in the chaos. And even when it’s not about the camaraderie, and even when it is simply about the adornment, focusing on something pretty and dainty and light can’t be the worst thing. Especially, in times that feel can feel so ugly, heavy, and dark.