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Piercing of body parts: Why entertainers, others are embracing trend

Piercing of body parts has surprisingly become a common trend among Nigerian dancers, singers, performers and entertainers in general and truly, social media personalities.

One may wonder why people pierce their body parts. But the closer you look, the more reasons you stumble on. While older people see those with too many piercings as irresponsible, others, including the piercers, see them as stylish aesthetic individuals.

Some people pierce for religious or spiritual reasons, while others pierce for self-expression, for aesthetic value, for sexual pleasure, and to conform to their culture or to rebel against it. Some forms of piercing remain controversial, particularly when applied to youth.

The display or placement of piercings have been restricted by schools, employers and religious groups. In spite of the controversy, some people have practiced extreme forms of body piercing, with Guinness bestowing World Records on individuals with hundreds and even thousands of permanent and temporary piercings.

Body piercing is a form of body modification, a practice of puncturing or cutting a part of the human body, creating an opening in which jewelry may be worn. Ear piercing and nose piercing have been particularly widespread and are well represented in historical records and among grave goods.

The practice of body piercing has waxed and waned in Western culture, but it has experienced an increase of popularity since World War II, with sites other than the ears gaining subcultural popularity in the 1970s and spreading to mainstream in the 1990s.

Contemporary body piercing practices emphasise the use of safe body piercing materials, frequently utilising specialised tools developed for the purpose. Body piercing is an invasive procedure with some risks, including allergic reaction, infection, excessive scarring and unanticipated physical injuries, but such precautions as sanitary piercing procedures and careful aftercare are emphasised to minimise the likelihood of encountering serious problems.

The healing time required for a body piercing may vary widely according to placement, from as little as a month for some genital piercings to as much as two full years for the navel.

By the early part of the 20th century, piercing of any body part had become uncommon in the West. After World War II, it began increasing in popularity among the gay male subculture. Even ear piercing for a time was culturally unacceptable for women, but that relatively common form of piercing began growing in popularity from the 1960s.

Body piercing was also heavily popularised in the United States by a group of Californians including Malloy and Ward, who is regarded as “the founding father of modern body piercing”. In 1975, Ward opened a home-based piercing business in West Hollywood, which was followed in 1978 by the opening of Gauntlet Enterprises, “the first professional body piercing specialty studio in America.” From it, Ward distributed the pamphlet which Malloy had written and Ward illustrated, disseminating much misinformation but stimulating interest in more exotic piercings.

Ear piercing

Ear piercing has been practiced all over the world since ancient times. There is considerable written and archaeological evidence of the practice. Mummified bodies with pierced ears have been discovered, including the oldest mummified body discovered to date, the 5,300-year-old Ötzi the Iceman, which was found in a glacier in Italy.

This mummy had an ear piercing 7–11 mm diameter. The oldest earrings found in a grave date to 2500 BCE. These were located in the Sumerian city of Ur, home of the Biblical patriarch, Abraham. Earrings are mentioned in the Bible. In Genesis 35:4, Jacob buried the earrings worn by members of his household along with their idols. In Exodus 32, Aaron made the golden calf from melted earrings. Deuteronomy 15:12–17 dictates ear piercing for a slave who chooses not to be freed. Earrings (to some cultures) are also referenced in connection to the Hindu goddess Lakshmi in the Vedas.

In Europe, earrings for women fell from fashion generally between the 4th and 16th centuries, as styles in clothing and hair tended to obscure the ears, but they gradually thereafter came back into vogue in Italy, Spain, England and France, spreading as well to North America, until after World War I when piercing fell from favour and the newly invented Clip-on earring became fashionable.

From the European Middle Ages, a superstitious belief that piercing one ear improved long-distance vision led to the practice among sailors and explorers. Sailors also pierced their ears in the belief that their earrings could pay for a Christian burial if their bodies washed up on shore.

Nose piercing

It remains customary for Indian Hindu women of childbearing age to wear a nose stud, usually in the left nostril, due to the nostril’s association with the female reproductive organs in Ayurvedic medicine. This piercing is sometimes done the night before the woman marries.

Many Native American and Alaskan tribes practiced septum piercing. It was popular among the Aztecs, the Mayans and the tribes of New Guinea, who adorned their pierced noses with bones and feathers to symbolise wealth and (among men) virility. Nose piercing also remains popular in Pakistan and Bangladesh and is practiced in a number of Middle Eastern and Arab countries.

Lip piercing and Tongue piercing

Lip piercing and lip stretching were historically found in certain tribal cultures in Africa and the Americas. Pierced adornments of the lip, or labrets, were sported by the Tlingit as well as peoples of Papua New Guinea and the Amazon basin. The practice of stretching the lips by piercing them and inserting plates or plugs was found throughout Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and South America as well as among some of the tribes of the Pacific Northwest and Africa. In some parts of Malawi, it was quite common for women to adorn their lips with a lip disc called a “pelele” that by means of gradual enlargement from childhood could reach several inches of diameter and would eventually alter the occlusion of the jaw. Such lip stretching is still practiced in some places.

Most women and men in Nigeria have also adopted this practice. Not in their cultures but in their fashion sense. It is said that most who desire this forms of piercing also desire the British accent equally.

Nipple, navel and genital piercing

The history of nipple piercing, navel piercing, and genital piercing has been particularly misrepresented by printed works. Records do exist that refer to practices of nipple and genital piercing in various cultures prior to the 20th century. Nipple piercing may have been a sign of masculinity for the soldiers of Rome. Nipple piercing has also been connected to rites of passage for both British and American sailors who had traveled beyond a significant latitude and longitude. Western women of the 14th century sometimes sported pierced as well as rouged nipples left visible by the low-cut dresses fashionable in the day. It is widely reported that in the 1890s, nipple rings called “bosom rings” resurfaced as a fashion statement among women of the West, who would wear them on one or both sides, but this trend can’t be traced now, perhaps, it didn’t last long. The trend however seems to catch the fancy of individuals who once again desire fashionable and aesthetic looks not minding the history of the practice.

Contemporary body piercing jewelry

For those who must, body piercing jewelry should be hypoallergenic. A number of materials are used, with varying strengths and weaknesses. Surgical stainless steel, niobium and titanium are commonly used metals, with titanium the least likely to cause allergic reaction of the three. Platinum and palladium are also safe alternatives, even in fresh piercings. Initial piercings should never be done with gold of any grade, as gold is mixed with other metals, and sterling silver is not a good alternative in a piercing, as it may cause allergies in initial piercings and will tarnish in piercings of any age. An additional risk for allergic reaction may arise when the stud or clasp of jewelry is made from a different metal than the primary piece.

Permanent body piercings are performed by creating an opening in the body using a sharp object through the area to be pierced. This can either be done by puncturing an opening using a needle (usually a hollow medical needle) or scalpel or by removing tissue, either with a dermal punch or through scalpelling.

Tools used in body piercing include:

The piercing needle

The standard method involves making an opening using a beveled-tip hollow medical needle, which is available in different lengths, gauges and even shapes. While straight needles are useful for many body parts, curved needles are manufactured for areas where straight needles are not ideal. The needle is inserted into the body part being pierced, frequently by hand but sometimes with the aid of a needle holder or pusher. While the needle is still in the body, the initial jewelry to be worn in the piercing is pushed through the opening, following the back of the needle.

The indwelling cannula 

Many piercers use a needle containing a cannula (or catheter), a hollow plastic tube placed at the end of the needle. The procedure is similar to the piercing needle method, but the initial jewelry is inserted into the back of the cannula and the cannula and the jewelry are then pulled through the piercing. More bleeding may follow, as the piercing is larger than the jewelry.

The dermal punch

A dermal punch is used to remove a circular area of tissue, into which jewelry is placed, and may be useful for larger cartilage piercings. They are popular for use in ears, though not legal for use by nonmedical personnel in some countries.

The piercing gun

The vast majority of women in the West have their ears pierced with a piercing gun. The safety of piercing guns, which were originally developed for tagging livestock, has been disputed. The Department of Health of Western Australia does not recommend their use for piercing body parts other than the lobes of ears, and the Association of Professional Piercers recommends that piercing guns not be used for any piercing, requiring members to agree not to use piercing guns in their practice. But that’s tales for overseas. Piercing shops in Nigeria especially at Lagos State capital, Ikeja, use the piercing gun as a sophisticated tool for their business.


Cork may be placed on the opposite side of the body part being pierced to receive the needle.


Forceps, or clamps, may be used to hold and stabilise the tissue to be pierced. Most piercings that are stabilised with forceps use the triangular-headed “Pennington” forceps, while tongues are usually stabilised with an oval-headed forceps.


Anesthesia is supplied by some piercers. The anesthesia may be topical or injected. Piercers and other non-medical personnel are not legally permitted to administer anesthetics. Some piercers use this to aid painful piercing process.

Shop owners at Ikeja, Lagos State clear up corners to accommodate piercers who do not have shops of their own. Other shops like salons and jewelry shops add piercing to their services. This has been on for years and they seem to earn money ranging from N500 to N1,500 depending on the body part.

It is instructive to note that one of the finalists of Big Brother Naija, Tokunbo Idowu, popularly known as Tboss, popularised piercings when she exposed parts of her body with piercings during the three-month DSTV programme that shook the airwaves and Africa.


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