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Writing about body modification, Part III

This was originally begun on 8 March 2015 but indefinitely put into my drafts folder. I felt exhausted at the thought of writing up what felt like an endless list of piercings! New material  is in bold.

This is the third official installment of a series on writing about body modification. This installment covers healing times and historical developments. When it comes to non-earlobe piercings and tattoos on anyone outside of the military and underground subcultures, unless your characters are aboriginal, you’re pretty much limited to contemporary and contemporary historical. You can’t have a character in the 19th century sporting a stretched septum or an anti-eyebrow piercing!


Lobe: This is historically the most common body mod across cultures, though only in the last few decades has it become more socially acceptable for non-aboriginal men to sport earrings. Until about the 1970s, it was standard practice to get pierced by a needle at home, not by a gun in the mall. Around the same time, it became more socially acceptable for women to have multiple ear piercings.

In eras when hair, bonnets, and high collars covered the ears, earrings were unnecessary. When it was the fashion to wear the hair up, earrings became ubiquitous fashion accessories.

Earrings sharply fell from favour in the U.S. and U.K. in the late 19th century. They were associated with low-bred, vulgar women, though women from the highest reaches of society wore earrings. Clip-ons were invented in the 1920s, followed by screwbacks.

Pierced ears came back into fashion in the 1950s thanks to the new Queen Elizabeth II.

Healing time: 10 weeks

Helix: This is the next-most-common ear piercing. It probably became more popular around the same time as multiple ear piercings. The healing time is about 4 months.

Tragus: This piercing got popular during the Aughts of the 21st century. Healing time is 4 months.

Anti-tragus: This is another non-standard ear piercing of fairly recent origin, and takes at least 6 months to heal.

Rook: This piercing was first publicised in 1992, and named after famous piercer Erik Dakota, in a shortened version of his forename. Healing takes at least 6 months.

Snug: This piercing was named by Caitlin Theobald in the mid-Nineties, after the clothing company Snug Industries, which was owned by her then-boyfriend. Healing takes about 8 months.

Daith: This piercing was created in 1992, and taken from the Hebrew word da’at, “knowledge.” Da’at is also part of the Kabbalistic Tree of Knowledge, representing the union of understanding and wisdom. Healing time is 6 months.

Conch: Historically, the conch was pierced by the Hindu subgroup the Gorakhnathis and the Mangebetu tribe of Zaïre. Both the inner and outer conch take at least 4 months to heal.

Industrial: This piercing, like the daith and rook, was also publicised in 1992 and created by Erik Dakota. It’s similar to the orbital, which is connected by a ring instead of a bar. Both take about a year to heal.

Stretching: Historically, many diverse cultures have practised earlobe stretching, but it didn’t become common or popular in the West till the Nineties. When properly stretching, one shouldn’t skip sizes, and should take at least a month at each size. It’s a journey, not a frantic, rabid race. Once one gets to 00, there are no more tapers to stretch to the next size with, and one should begin wrapping a few layers of tape around a plug. One may also have the ears scalpeled to achieve a larger size more quickly, and then continue stretching normally until the desired final size.

Nostril: One of the most ancient piercings across many cultures, even mentioned in the Bible. In India, it’s traditional to pierce the left nostril, which is believed to have an ayurvedic link to pain relief in menstruation and childbirth. Indian brides wear a nath, a chain connecting their nostril ring to an earring.

Healing time is 6 months to a year. My car accident was only 7 weeks after my nostril piercing, and my body shifted all its energy into healing the most serious injuries. I felt zero pain when I was pierced, not even a prick.

Septum: Just as historic as the nostril and lobes, though unfortunately now part of the Woke™ uniform along with things like blue hair and pronoun checks. The septum cartilage itself isn’t pierced, but the sweet spot between the septum and bottom of the nose. So-called “horseshoe” rings can be flipped up and hidden in more conservative workplaces and schools.

Healing time is 6–8 weeks.

Bridge: The bridge of the nose was first pierced in 1989, on Erl Van Aken. This piercing is nicknamed the Erl after him. As this is a surface piercing, there’s a high risk of rejection, even with a curved barbell. Healing time is 8–10 weeks.

Navel: Disputed historicity. Some believe the Ancient Egyptians pierced their navels, while others have found no evidence it’s anything but contemporary. The piercing took off in 1993. Mine sadly rejected due to extreme weight gain, in spite of my very honest piercer explaining I have an anatomically perfect navel to pierce. Healing time is at least 6 months, often over a year.

Eyebrow: Appeared in the 1970s as part of the punk scene. As a surface piercing, it carries a high risk of rejection, though some people have had eyebrow piercings for over 10 years. The anti-eyebrow piercing is on top of or next to the eyebrow. Healing time is 6-8 weeks.

Tongue: Documented in Aztec art, though there’s no evidence this was a permanent piercing. Westerners were exposed to it in early 20th century sideshows. As a body piercing, it appeared in the 1980s. Contrary to the oft-repeated misnomer, the jewelry is a barbell, NOT a ring! Healing time is 4 weeks. Oral piercings tend to heal very quickly.

Labret: Practiced by many indigenous tribes around the world. Most people are familiar with the stretched lip plates worn by certain African tribes. It became popular in the West in the 1990s. Many people pronounce it like a French word, but it’s Latin, “little lip.” Healing time is 6–8 weeks.

Monroe/Madonna: Respectively on the upper left and right side of the top lip, after their famous namesakes with such beauty marks. It appeared in the mid-1990s. There are lots of slang terms for piercings around the mouth, which professional piercers cringe at, like snakebites, angel bites, dolphin bites, dog bites. Just tell them where you want your piercings, don’t use silly slang terms not everyone understands! Healing time is 3–12 weeks.

Philtrum: The indentation in the middle above the upper lip. According to Jewish legend, an angel teaches us all the world’s wisdom in utero and taps on the philtrum just before birth so we forget everything and won’t tell anyone these secrets. From birth, we long to relearn this knowledge.

This also is a 1990s creation, and nicknamed the Medusa. Healing time is 6–8 weeks.

Cheeks: Practised historically by indigenous cultures, though mostly for ritual purposes. They appeared in the West in the 1990s, and even many seasoned piercers caution against them or refuse to do them due to the risk of hitting vital nerves. They produce permanent dimples.

Healing time is 6 months to a year.

Surface piercings: Hips, sternum, nape of neck, hand web, wrist, lower back, third eye. Piercings done with a single exit and entry point (transdermals) are somewhat more stable than ones done with curved barbells, but they still need to be removed by a piercer. If done properly, they can last indefinitely, though others eventually reject.

Rejection occurs when the body detects a foreign substance and helpfully tries to push it out. When there are separate exit and entry points, a fistula may not always form around it.

These are obviously from the 1990s too, apart from indigenous rituals. A dermal anchor heals in 2–6 months; two-point surface piercings take a year or more (if they’re successful).

Nipple: Historically common among many indigenous tribes, first documented in the West in the 14th century by Queen Isabeau of Bavaria. They supposedly became trendy among upper-class women in the 1890s, but other historians believe this is more myth than fact, based off a few letters in society magazines which read more like erotic fantasies than reality.

They appeared in the West again in the 1970s as part of punk subculture, and gradually became more mainstream. Tandem piercing is recommended, so that intense pain is gotten over with at once instead of one at a time. Healing time is 6 months to a year.

Personal piercings: Long practised in Southeast Asia, from India to Borneo. They supposedly became a short-lived trend among upper-class Westerners in the late 19th century.

Depending on the piercing, they can take as little as 4 weeks or over a year to heal.


I started reading at three (my first book was Grimm's Fairy Tales, the uncensored adult version), started writing at four, started writing book-length things at eleven, and have been a writer ever since. I predominantly write historical fiction family sagas/series. I primarily write about young people, since I was a young person myself when I became a serious writer and didn't know how to write about adults as main characters. I only write in a contemporary setting if the books naturally go into the modern era over the course of the decades-long stories being told over many books. I've always been drawn to books, films, music, fashions, et al, from bygone eras, and have never really been too much into modern things. If something or someone has appeal for all time, it'll still be there to be discovered after the initial to-do has died down. For example, my second-favorite writer enjoyed a huge burst of popularity in the Sixties and Seventies, but he wrote his books from 1904-43, and his books still resonate today, even after he's no longer such a fad. Quality lasts for all time.

One thought on “Writing about body modification, Part III

  1. Wow – I didn’t know Queen Elizabeth the Second was into pierced ears, much less that she restarted the fashion after about 60 years-80 years depending on when she got into them as a young adult. [I’d wondered about her younger sister, Margaret – and other senior members of the British Royal Family like Anne and Camilla and Meghan and Catherine – and maybe some of the men too like Edward and maybe Andrew – I tried to see Charles with piercings and couldn’t].

    Yes – she does wear lots of earrings on the standard lobe.

    Another thing – the Jewish influence on piercing fashion – many of these are on the cutting edge.

    And how Eric became Rook and Rook became a piercing.

    Thanks for explaining the risks of surface piercings.

    I wondered about the burakumin [Japanese culture with lots of tattoos and maybe piercings].

    And Aboriginal = lots of US and Canadian groups before settlement and ongoing?

    The philtrum thing about wisdom at birth.

    And our bodies are good at knowing about foreign substances most of the time.


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