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Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

The Great Ear Piercing Debate in Our Multicultural Home

Ear piercing/ Cropped image by lorenkerns

By Jan’s wife Souad.

Piercing the ears of our daughters is a debate I have been having with my husband since our eldest was born, over eight years ago.


I never suspected ear-piercing to be such a controversial subject. Well, suffice to browse a couple of UK forums to witness tempers flaring and name-calling as soon as the question is asked: “At what age is it appropriate for a girl to get her ears pierced?”


I asked my English friends. Their verdict is unanimous: the minimum age is 12, preferably 16. They see ear-piercing as a sign of womanhood. In their minds, piercing ears is linked to puberty and responsibility.


According to my husband, little German girls with earrings is the ultimate sign that her parents are uneducated.


Similarly in England, little girls with earrings = CHAV family.


Once again, this is essentially a cultural issue. In Algeria, it is customary for little girls to get their ears pierced at a very young age. Heck, you could be accused of mistreating your daughter if her earlobes are intact by her fourth birthday!


A couple of generations ago, even boys got their ears pierced, so that the evil eye mistakes them for a girl and spares them.


I have a theory: I think early ear-piercing in Algeria gives the message that girls are allowed to wear and display ornaments. Because they will have done so practically from birth, they do not require any more modifications to their body in adulthood (piercings, tattoos etc). They would have had them in their childhood otherwise. Remember, tattoos, scarifications and body alterations in general are forbidden in Islam.


The debate in our household has resurfaced once more. Our 8.5 year old daughter has been asking for over six months now to have her ears pierced. Dad is still reluctant, but has refrained from telling her, “I don’t want people to think I am a Chav!”

© 2014, Jan Petersen. All rights reserved.

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Jan, who is German, works mainly from home as a software engineer. His wife, who is Algerian, stays at home to look after their three girls aged 7, 4 and 1. They live in the U.K. and are raising their children multilingual in Arabic, French, German and English.

Leave us a comment!

  1. CommentsAlathea   |  Monday, 27 January 2014 at 4:27 am

    Interesting that tattoos were forbidden in Islam. I live in Morocco, where tattooing used to be traditional for women in both the Arabic and Berber-speaking regions. My mother-in-law (born about 1930) has a simple stripe down her forehead and another down her chin: I have seen older women with much more complex tattoos on their face, wrists and ankles. I only learnt recently that the tattoos were not done at a single moment in a girl’s life: instead they were done over a period of years. So my mother-in-law was at the tail-end of the tattooing “fashion”, and only had one set of tattoos done. Her older contemporaries would have had several sessions with increasingly complicated designs. Having said that, I have to say that I’m with your husband on the ear-piercing thing! I don’t have pierced ears myself (never seen the point of it, I only wear jewellery on rare occasions) and I wouldn’t allow my daughters to have their ears pierced as children, as much for reasons of hygiene as anything else: but also because I saw many women with huge holes in their ears from wearing very heavy earrings. My husband’s family dropped hints about getting their ears pierced from time to time, but he and I ignored them. The girls chose to have their ears pierced as teenagers.

    Interestingly, now that so many women here wear a headscarf which covers their ears, you no longer see earrings on display as much as in the past.

  2. CommentsThereza   |  Monday, 10 February 2014 at 8:25 pm

    In Brazil baby girls leave maternity to go home with ears already pierced! It is very common, and usually godmothers already bring them earrings as gifts.

  3. CommentsLili   |  Tuesday, 11 February 2014 at 7:07 am

    What a great article!
    I am from Brazil and live in the USA with my 2 daughters (2 years, 5 months). My husband is American. I went to Brazil with my first born when she was 4 months and I decided to get her ears pierced. My hubby never cared whether she had her ears pieced or not! He understood it’s a cultural thing. I think I got my ears pierced right after I was born and I turned out fine. I do like wearing earrings and I frankly like the small delicate jewelry. I guess when we talk about cultural differences, there will be always a debate, but we cannot judge. We need to understand others’ habits and practices. Cultural sensitivity is a key to promote a healthy environment.

  4. CommentsAnke   |  Monday, 17 February 2014 at 7:12 pm

    haha, thanks for helping me understand why I don’t like ear piercings. Growing up in Germany, my parents wouldn’t let me get my ears pierced even when many of my friends did. I think by 7th grade many girls did have them pierced. Eventually I lost interest and never did get them pierced. I am raising a 2, 5 and 6 year old with my American husband in the U.S. now and the older ones have started asking to get their ears pierced. Many of their friends already have. Not sure when and if the time will come, for now we are delaying it. Maybe when they turn 10 or 16 or …

  5. CommentsYetunde   |  Wednesday, 19 February 2014 at 9:00 am

    It’s definitely clultural. In Nigeria as well, baby girls leave the hospitals with their ears pierced. Since I had my girls in the US, I had to wait 2 months before I could get their ears pierced

  6. CommentsSarah Grace   |  Monday, 31 March 2014 at 8:57 am

    This is really interesting. We all came from different countries with different culture and beliefs. Here in the Philippines ear piercing with a new born baby girl is up to the mother’s decision. Some pediatrician suggests parents to have an ear piercing at an early age, to determine if the baby is a boy or girl. I remember when my baby girl was 3 months old her pediatrician suggested to do the ear piercing because my baby had a very thin hair. She cried for just a few minutes after her ear were pierced. No matter what culture we all have, we need to respect each other. So happy that I learned from the conversation here.

  7. CommentsYolande   |  Thursday, 17 July 2014 at 5:12 am

    For me it is more about safety. My girls are physically very active. They climb trees, do circus arts, dance, etc. I have a friend whose earlobe ripped and another one lost a finger due to a ring getting stuck at a wall (sorry for being so graphic), so there is a real danger there. I am holding out as long as possible (10 or 12 I guess).

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