Beauty from Birth

Baby girl with earrings, from babyphotospictures.com

At our childbirth prep class on Sunday I bravely asked the visiting pediatrician the question my husband wanted answered, but was too shy to articulate: When is it appropriate to pierce the baby’s ears?

We had already covered how soon a baby can fly in an airplane, and spent 10 minutes on the pros and cons of circumcision, so it seemed like the right time to ask. Besides, I suspected asking would be doing my fellow moms-to-be a mitzvah. I was the only non-Latina mom in the room, and I had a hunch that some of the other ladies were banking on the fact that their infant daughters’ ears would be pierced as a matter of course before they left the hospital.

The pediatrician smiled, “Great question; you can do it any time after the baby has had her two month vaccines. Generally, we tell people to wait until the third month and call our office to schedule a ‘beauty visit’.”

Murmurs of shock rose up around the room. “In my country, they do it in the hospital on the second day,” said the Venezuelan woman in front of me.

Baby earrings from www.thejewelryvine.com

“We already have her first earrings,” said the dad behind me. “I guess we can take them out of the hospital bag.”

My husband had also assumed that Amalía’s ears would be pierced in the hospital, as is common in Nicaragua. “If you wait until later, she’ll be afraid it will hurt,” my mother-in-law explained when I said that I didn’t think that happened in hospitals here.

Having researched the topic online, I’ve also read that some people feel it’s better to pierce the baby’s ears before she can pull out her earrings. And then, others argue, without earrings, “How will people know it’s a girl?” (I’m not so worried at this point about people knowing whether or not my baby’s a girl, but I know this issue troubled my mother; a platinum blonde as a kid, I didn’t have visible hair until about the age of two, and my mom was reduced to scotch taping bows to my bald head. Until I was old enough to pull them off, I guess.)

“I always joke that half the time, I’m a beautician,” the pediatrician continued once the rumble of shock died down. “I resisted it for 10 years, but the truth is, in Miami, everyone wants their baby girls’ ears pierced.”

A glance around the room at the perplexed mothers-to-be confirmed she was 100% right. Latina babies have pierced ears.

As a former beauty editor, the whole incident got me thinking about cultural norms of beauty. I love me some earrings, and I’m willing to get Amalía’s ears pierced once her doctor says it’s OK, but I feel a little guilty making this choice for her instead of letting her grow up and make it herself. On the other hand, we’re making dozens of choices for Amalía every day, from the types of diapers we plan on using to where she’ll sleep to her very name. (Plus, older kids don’t always make the smartest choices–I know plenty of 36 year olds who regret the tattoos they were so proud to get at 18.)

Amalia's filakto collection

Since Amalía is, in part, Latina, (to be specific, she’s Greekaraguan), I figure earrings are as much her birthright as the filakto, the protective amulet I plan to pin to her little outfits once she’s born. A number of mothering blogs have taken up the discussion of ear piercing, with some women falling on the side of rejecting the girly habit as antiquated and others claiming it as a cultural birthright. A Cuban blogger waxes nostalgic about violet baby perfume. (Part of me loves that idea and part of me wonders what kind of dynamic I’m setting up if baby wears earrings and perfume every day and mama only manages to get it together to do so a few times a week.)

Baby with kohl eye liner from baby-pictures.org

And then there’s the practice, among some Indian cultural groups, of lining a baby’s eyes with kohl, both to protect them from the glare of the sun, and to save them from buri nazar, the evil eye. In my travel memoir, North of Ithaka, I describe a middle-aged Greek woman I’d met who showed me a small scar on her temple where her parents had burned her with a coal after she was born, to make her imperfect and deflect the Evil Eye. We won’t be doing that to Amalía.

A Hindu bride, appropriately adorned, from anamikas.hubpages.com

At least the earrings, I reason, will belong to Amalía; she can grow up and wear them or sell them on Ebay if she wants. It’s a bit like the 16 adornments Hindu brides are meant to wear…these don’t constitute dowry; they belong to the woman herself. If she chooses to walk off into the sunset one day wearing all of them, then she takes her portable bank account with her in her ears, nose, etc.

Of course, to me, there’s also a little something subversive about piercing my baby girl’s ears. I wasn’t allowed to get my ears pierced until I was 10, and the event took place at the Rob Roy hair salon (a salon? Please! Why wasn’t there a doctor in the house for my beauty visit?). The worst part is, get this: My seven and a half year old sister got her earrings pierced the VERY SAME DAY. Sure, I probably agreed to the joint piercing, feigning maturity, but the memory still burns. (When I discussed Amalía’s potential ear piercing with Marina, my sister, a month ago, I mentioned this, and she said, “I knew you still had to be mad about that.” Of course; I know injustice when I see it.)

Still, it could be worse. My maternal grandmother, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, was raised to believe that only loose women got their ears pierced. She spent much of her life searching for clip-on earrings that didn’t hurt.

And what of Joanie, my own mother, who perpetrated the unfair ear piercing of my sister and myself? I can’t judge her too harshly; she too is a victim of cultural norms of beauty. She waited until her mid-40s to have her ears pierced. By then, her own mother had passed away and would never know what her daughter had done in the line of beauty.

Comments

  1. Angie Tune says:

    Eng,

    Was searching for a GF’s blog and came across yours. Started reading and came across your thoughtful post about making the decision to go and having your Amelia’s ears pierced as soon as her ped says it is okay. Your discussion of cultural norms and traditions was well done. I wanted to add one thing shared by my SIL who is Hispanic. In the Hispanic culture, males dominate the society for the most part.

    Piercing the ears of newborn baby girls with earrings signifies they are loved by their family regardless of being a girl. Often red stone earrings are chosen as the desired color to impart the sign of “love” for the newborn baby girl or infant. in Hispanic and Iberian cultures, baby girls with earrings signify they are loved by their parents. I think you were a smart and thoughtful mommy for piercing your girl ears early and everyone in your husband’s family will know she is loved by both of you very much.

    Congrats on making a thoughtful decision on behalf of your dd’s and don’t feel guilty for doing it early. I think babies with earrings are the cutest things. It celebrates their femininity and femaleness. After all, they are little girls. Our ped encouraged us to have our dd done as an infant too right after her first DPT shot at six weeks. She also pierced her dd’s ears at this age and gave me some tips for moms having their dd’s ears pierced if your ped doesn’t do them.

    Promise your girls will thank you later for the “gift of pierced ears” as an infant. If you or any mom would like any of our ped’s care tips for infants, then don’t hesitate to write me an e-mail.

    Angie
    angietune@hotmail.com

    • Eleni says:

      Thanks, Angie! This was such an interesting perspective! Our ped. does it at 3 months so we haven’t done it yet but I will let you know when we do. Thanks for the thoughtful input.

  2. pamela parker says:

    Hi, I am going to have a baby girl in a few months and I want my baby to have ear…where can I find this doctor? how can i make an appointment for her beauty visit? I am from Peru and my husband from New York. I convinced to do that! :)
    Thank you

    • Eleni says:

      OUr pediatrician in Miami is Dr. Susan Leitner at Pediatric Associates; but if you ask whomever your pediatrician is, they may be able to do it after all the two month vaccines. Good luck!

Trackbacks

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