During a recent visit to the Iowa State Student Health Center, I had a discussion with my doctor about college life in general and how I was doing here at ISU. I told her about my roommate and my dorm experiences and how I was doing in my classes. She was shocked by my stories and amazed that I still mange to retain my sanity and keep from failing. The conversation eventually led to my recent acquisition of a naval piercing and from there to the psychological reasons behind the growing trend in college piercings. She explained that the trend has doctors who deal with college students completely confused. No other generation before us has felt such a need to tattoo permanent designs on their
bodies or poke holes trough themselves in what can only be defined as a pop trend. But the question that seems most mind-boggling to her generation is why we would put ourselves through such a painful experience to get a look that is deemed by most of her generation to be appalling. She explained that some psychologists feel that humans need to experience some form of hardship during the adolescent stage of development. Since our generation has never experienced anything like Vietnam, the Great Depression, or even a moderate economic recession, we feel the need to bring some form of hardship and suffering on
ourselves. I found that to be a very interesting idea. I don’t know if that is why I got my piercing, but it makes me wonder if that could be the reason. When I initially arrived here at ISU, I felt, for some odd reason, an overwhelming desire to pierce my tongue. I have since changed my mind about tongue piercing for a number of reasons that I discovered while investigating the theory my doctor presented to me. These reasons, when thought about logically, should be ample evidence to persuade any college student to reconsider tongue
piercing as a fashion statement, rebellious movement, or attractive addition to his or her body.
Piercing is a personal choice. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, and no one should be able to tell you what you can or cannot do to your body. These expressions of "speech" are protected and shouldn’t be censored. And I also have to say that piercings in general have become a major fashion trend. The Iowa State Daily apparently thought that enough of the student population was at least interested in piercing to run a front page article on the salons in Ames and student opinions about it. “ Lasche and Maxted [two pierced ISU students featured in the article] both agree that in social settings, people generally have a positive response. ‘It has started to become more
popular,’ Maxted said. ‘Our generation has accepted it.’” (Boes). Although college students fuel the trend, it was started, and remains popular, in high society. “The practice has become increasingly fashionable in recent years and has been made famous by stars like Scary Spice and the Princess Royal's daughter Zara Phillips” (BBC News).
Along with that, I have to admit that the piercing salons and the methods that they use are, in most cases, sterile. The two salons in Campustown, Asylum and Lasting Impressions, appear to be clean. I have not talked to anyone who has negative things to say about either establishment. I got a piercing at the Asylum and watched a friend receive one at Lasting Impressions. I was impressed with the cleanliness and professionalism of each. Clean instruments, along with rubber gloves and disposable needles drastically cut
down the risk of disease. Hypothetically the risks of disease (AIDS, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, HIV, and even warts) are very high, but actual reported cases stemming from piercing practices are very low. In fact, no known cases of AIDS have been reported as a result of piercing needles (Catalano).
However, those who say that tongue piercing is completely safe are naïve in thinking that no harm will come to them. Dentists in particular are very against tongue piercings. "Some orthodontists refuse to do any work on people with pierced tongues because of its effect on muscle position and the possible risk of encouraging speech impediments” (BBC News). Tooth decay results when metal jewelry is played with and wears down the enamel of the teeth. Biting on the ring can also cause broken teeth. Besides the major dental factors, tongue piercings carry a high risk of infection, which can cause the tongue to swell and result in a restricting or even blockage of the airway. "In addition, bacteria under
the tongue often spread quickly and can lead, in extreme cases, to the potentially fatal toxic shock syndrome or blood poisoning" (BBC News). In one particular case, by accidentally hitting a vein in the tongue, a piercer caused a customer to lose four pints of blood before rushing the customer to the hospital (Shepherd). Studs can be swallowed or inhaled, leading to breathing problems (BBC News). Some people have actual allergic reaction to the metal used in the jewelry and the piercing become infected and eventually is rejected from the tongue (BBC News).
I also have to say that tongue piercing is very accepted by the college community. College students in general accept trends and variations in style without a second thought. Tongue piercings are thought by some to be attractive and very much in style. “Not long ago, men were considered deviant for having one earring. Today, piercings of all sorts are common, Smith said [owner and piercer at Lasting Impressions] tongues, eyebrows, tragus (part of the ear), lips and genitals are among some of the places pierced” (Boes). But the judgments of others quickly outweigh this acceptance. Many businesses have dress codes against any facial piercings. “Tracy Wheelock, manager of Hickory Park, said the restaurant’s policy is for those working with customers to limit the piercings to only their ears” (Boes). The food service system here at ISU also has a policy against facial piercings. Customers feel the piercings show the workers to be unclean or criminals. Businesses don’t want to lose profits and therefore make policies against such piercings. Although these judgments are often unfounded, the dress codes still exist. Even some religions judge piercings rather harshly and do not permit members to be pierced (Reybold
Finally a newer and possible more threatening concern is the addictiveness of piercings. There currently are not treatment programs for piercing addicts, but "there is mounting evidence that tattooing and piercing can be physically addictive…” (Wark). "Dr. Charles Schuster, director of substance abuse clinical research at Wayne State University’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, say biochemistry may help drive [a piercer] to the parlor for repeat visits. "‘There are people who engage in this kind of behavior to great excess and there has been some theorizing about why, and this has a lot to do with how the brain is made,’ Schuster says. When the body is in pain, the brain releases chemicals that work much like morphine or heroin. These ‘natural opiate-like peptides may be addictive,’ says Shuster, a former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. ‘It is at least theoretically possible that some people engage in piercing and other things because it does engage these pleasure centers. And in that sense it could be analogous to people who become addicted to drugs,’” (Wark). Such addictions cannot be easy to recover from and could be expensive and painful as well as being something to regret for the rest of life.
Is it really worth the risks to have a small ball on your tongue? If you have already make the decision to pierce your tongue and nothing that I have said make you think otherwise, good luck. But for those of you who are thinking twice about it after reading this information, keep thinking. There are alternatives to this sort of piercing. Although no fake tongue rings exist, other piercings can satisfy the desire while still being more sanitary and having less risk of infection. Ears are the safest place to pierce as they don’t have a high bacteria rate and they are less likely to come in contact with dirt. Also other piercings can be hidden from view of an employer. Tongue rings, however, are there every time you open your mouth. Once an opinion is formed of you, it can be hard to regain an unbiased view. Going by the risks, an intelligent college student can make only one choice. Although a tongue ring may seem glamorous, it can cause serious health problems and severe social consequences and, therefore, college students should not pierce their tongues.
BBC News. “Tongue Piercing can be Fatal.” BBC News. 21 July, 1999.