Sisterhood Blog

Coming to Terms With My Daughter's Nose Ring

By Elana Sztokman

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My 16-year-old daughter pierced her nose today. After months of negotiation and debate, in which her family members tried a variety of methods to deter and discourage her (ranging from the rational, “Won’t it hurt when you sneeze?” to the more primal “Eeewwww!”), I finally made a deal with her. I said she can do it on the condition that she lets me blog about it. How’s that for 21st century parenting? I figure, if she gets freedom of expression, so do I….

Truth is, if I’m going to be honest with myself, that I kind of like it. Actually I would say that I think it’s beautiful. Women – and men – have been using gems and fine metals to adorn their faces and bodies for millennia. Here is an article about piercing customs through human history.

The Bible records our foremothers as being purchased with many a nezem, which in all likelihood is the nose ring.

And growing up, my sisters and I all had our ears pierced in our first years of life, as if it was a vital, generations-long rite of female passage.

Sometimes, when I see photos of African and Asian women with their un-Western and sometimes surprising bodily sites for jewelry, I feel like I’ve encountered daring new-ancient demonstrations of loveliness. Women’s facial jewelry is such a cross-cultural phenomenon that it’s hard to understand the fuss over the little nose ring.

Of course, when my daughter announced at one Shabbat lunch that this is what she intends to do with her face, most of the reactions were pretty harsh. But I can’t help but wonder why. Why do people – especially religious Jews – view a nose piercing as a symbol of mutiny, rebellion, or promiscuity? It’s just a stud, for heaven’s sake! My daughter is not getting drunk, or stoned, or pregnant, or failing out of school, or taking a road trip on a motorbike, or becoming an Aviv Gefen groupie. Yet, there is this incredible stigma, as in, ‘oh, nose ring, she’s clearly off the wall, or off the derech’ (meaning the path, or “OTD” as it is known in the Ortho-blogosphere). Here is a recent survey of rabbis’ opinions of the Jewish views on piercing and tattooing.

My friend Jackie, who lives in a religious town outside of Jerusalem, announced recently on Facebook that she really wants to get a nose ring, and the responses ranged from, “Go for it, it’s your rebellion” to “How will that go down in the neighborhood?”

Even 40-ish Orthodox women need creative ways to re-establish their own sense of beauty. Of course, when I suggested to my daughter that maybe I should get a nose ring, too, she was nonplussed. “It’s not for, you know, old people,” she said as gently as she could.

I reminded her that body piercings are generally for life and if she does it now, she’ll still have a hole when she becomes, you know, over thirty. It didn’t deter her (although I didn’t follow through with it myself - I have my own forms of rebellion).

The way I see it, my daughter is and will always be beautiful – with or without the nose ring. And all in all, I really do love watching her explore different ways to express her beauty. Nose ring and all.

Elana Maryles Sztokman is a writer, researcher, educator and activist originally from New York, currently living in Modi’in, Israel. She holds a doctorate in education from Hebrew University and blogs at

Jeremy Fri. Aug 28, 2009

Brilliant and entertaining! Looks like your daughter has a mum who looks after her!

David Fisher Fri. Aug 28, 2009

When my daughter got her ears pierced I regarded it as barbaric. Whether or not mutilating one's body is regarded as acceptable it seems barbaric to me.

maria guzman Fri. Aug 28, 2009

Um.. you're circumcised aren't you?

>When my daughter got her ears pierced I regarded it as barbaric. Whether or not mutilating one's body is >regarded as acceptable it seems barbaric to me. >David Fisher

Jessica Kaz-Hoffman Fri. Aug 28, 2009

A funny and touching read. You are a talented writer and a wonderful mom. please write more on mothering in a traditional setting.

Seth Zwillenberg Fri. Aug 28, 2009

Actually, it is statistically well established that piercings (anywhere but earlobes) are STRONGLY associated, especially in adolescents, with "promiscuity...getting drunk, or stoned, or pregnant, or dropping out of school", as well as STDs and other poor outcomes. Of course, statistical association does not establish causality, and plenty of kids with piercings are not involved with anything unseemly; it's simply more likely that they are than are the unpierced kids. Therefor, I would be careful to check out the pierced kids your daughter is hanging out with. BTW, don't conflate piercings with tatooing. The latter is halachically forbidden, the former is not at all.

Leah Berkenwald Sat. Aug 29, 2009

Great piece!

I got my nose pierced my sophomore year in college. I remember going home for the weekend, ready to shock my parents and defiantly defend my decision....

They didn't even notice.

Eventually I had to pull the ol' "do you notice anything different?" And when I pointed it out, they both looked at it, shrugged, and asked me what we should have for dinner.

I'm glad your daughter got the reaction I wanted! I love my nose piercing, but I think my parents cheated me out of the full experience by accepting it so easily!

Ayala Sat. Aug 29, 2009

Elana - it sounds like your daughter has a great mother! BTW - what is wrong with 'taking a road trip on a motorbike'? ;-)

I had my nose pierced at two different times in my 20's- it didn't suit me so I let it grow back over - no scar or hole there today.

To Seth Willenberg - can you post a link to the reserach you mention? The problem - in my opinion - isn't that kids that get piercings may go off the derekh. It is that many people push them off the derekh by creating such a narrow version of orthodoxy and over-reacting to things. When Avraham went where G-d told him to go, he was actually being very rebellious and non-conformist. How did orthodoxy become so extremely conformist that the moment someone steps right or left, they are branded as 'going off the derekh'? If we push them off the derekh by making orthodoxy too narrow for them to LIVE by, or by branding them as OTD, so that they become marginalised and are only welcome to hang around with other marginalised kids....then we have failed them, and ultimately our own heritage.

Seth Zwillenberg Sun. Aug 30, 2009

Ayala, For one (of many) well documented data sets confirming the association of piercings with antisocial behavior of many types, see "Jnl of Adolescent Health", v34, i3, p224. I am not suggesting that Orthodoxy need be conformist, nor that kids with piercings are "off the dereck", nor that anyone "overreact" to anything. I note specifically that piercings, unlike tatoos, are NOT halachically forbidden, and that many fine kids get pierced and remain fine kids. I merely suggest that, given both the well documented association of piercings with undesirable behavior, & the similarly well documented assumption by adolescents of the mores & behaviors of their peers, that any parent of a kid contemplating a piercing take a good hard look at their kids' pierced friends.

innocent bystander Mon. Aug 31, 2009

As a person who is not connected in anyway to this article, it feels very exciting to know that a simple act can create such a deep and meaningful conversation! (obviously i am being sarcastic when saying that i am not connected what-so-ever... as you may guess i am the one who was being "barbaric" in this case =]) I have personally never considered piercings as something that is life-changing or that can psychologically describe a person and who he\she may befriend. It's just an adolescence experiment, that is not as dangerous as drugs or alcohol and not as permanent as tattoos. On the plus side also looks really good :P

BTW Ayala, thank you so much for informing me that you had no scar after your nose ring, now Elana can be more relaxed that i will not be scarred for life :)

kurt Thu. Sep 10, 2009

>I reminded her that body piercings are generally for life

Actually, as a blanket statement, that's quite wrong. It really depends on where the piercing is -- many piercings close up and in some cases heal completely if you remove the body jewelry. This site on nostril piercing indicates that those piercings close up quickly if the jewelry removed:

Which is one of the things about piercings that a lot of people don't seem to understand -- many of the most flamboyant piercings are essentially temporary.

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