What do we think of belly button rings?
I’m not asking because I’m thinking about getting one. I ask because I already have one, and I’m wondering how long that’s going to be acceptable.
I’m 34. I’ve had the ring since I was 26. It went like this: Sister 1, who is two and a half years younger than me, was standing in the upstairs bathroom at my parents’ house on Easter Sunday. I came up the steps and saw her there in front of the mirror, curling her hair, with her shirt riding up and a shiny new piercing exposed. My mouth gaped open and I pointed at it, wide-eyed. She nodded at me excitedly.
“I want one too!” I mouthed, pointing at myself emphatically.
“Okay, I’ll take you to where I got mine!” she mouthed, and then gave me a thumbs-up.
“Where?” I asked with an exaggerated questiony face.
“Warrior!” she lipped at me.
The whole exchange was silent because, despite the fact that we had both been out of the house for a while and she was now married, we did not want to alert our parents to the fact that there were belly buttons belonging to their daughters being pierced.
Mother’s Day happened to be a couple weeks later, so there we were, back at the house for a visit. My sister and I ventured out, secretly, to the place where she had her belly button pierced, so I could get mine done, too.
We arrived at the place and I saw that it declared its name via a sign with a tongue hanging out of a mouth. There was a spike driven through the tongue.
The place was scary to walk into, but it was clean, and we were the only people there. Us, and the tattooed, pierced guy who worked there and had just opened the shop. Apparently he was early and we didn’t really know that the place wasn’t open yet, since it was 2pm. The guy asked us what we wanted and I told him I was there to get my belly button pierced.
Almost wordlessly, he shuffled over to me, pulled up my shirt, stuck a finger in my navel and grabbed the skin at the top of it.
Um… I sort of liked that!
I did not know that about myself!
“Okay,” he said. “You have a pretty hot stomach.”
Those were two separate thoughts. I think he did the finger thing to make sure I had the right amount of skin for this kind of accessory, but apparently the statement was borne of additional cursory observation.
“Sorry,” he said as he slowly prepped the stuff he needed. “I’m still hung over, and we’re not really open.”
My sister and I exchanged looks. And yet I still got in the chair.
You’re not going to believe this, but I actually watched him do his thing. Needles never bother me, so why wouldn’t I watch him drive a small nail through the skin at the top of my navel and then push a ring through it, bending it into submission with pliers and then closing it?
It looks like this. But this isn't me. (image from leeladesigns.com)
It didn’t even hurt, actually. Though the thought occurs to me now, eight years later, that perhaps the alcohol he swabbed on also contained a numbing agent. Like when a mohel performs a bris.
We went back to my parents’ house and celebrated Mother’s Day with no one the wiser about my newly acquired secret hardware.
Which was crooked.
Because the Hungover Piercing Guy didn’t stick the piercing tool through the skin in a straight line.
For a while, I tried to sort of “train” the ring to be straight. I seriously used to thread dental floss through it and tape it or band-aid onto my stomach so that the ring would line up right. I hoped it would heal up in such a way that everything would be fine.
It’s really not that noticeable if I’m standing up. It’s more noticeable if I lay down, because then it sort of flops over to one side a little bit.
Oh, I should mention that I still have the same little silver ring with which Hungover Piercing Guy pierced my belly button. That’s for two reasons:
- A) I sort of think that blingy dangly belly rings look silly on a grown-ass woman… and
- 2) I am terrified of taking out the original ring. My sister says her husband had to use pliers to get hers apart far enough to take it out.
And I think it would be awkward to ask him to do that for me.
(I have also discovered a benefit of having the ring that I think would not be as beneficial if it were just a post or a silly blingy dangly thing, but we’re not going to discuss that here. It would be gauche.)
I should note that, while the moment of the piercing was not painful, the following several weeks hurt like hell. These were still the days of higher-waisted pants… none of the low-rise stuff we wear now (which is much kinder to the navel piercing). A couple weeks after I had it done, I was once again visiting my parents. I got there late at night, parked on the street and got my bag out of the trunk. I was trying to be quiet because it was so late, and I didn’t want to wake anyone up. Lifting the bag out by its shoulder strap, I didn’t think through the physics. The bag swung backward and hit me right in the belly.
Which seemed to catch fire.
I turned into that guy in the Edvard Munch painting, “The Scream.” Silent… but dying. For a really long time.
Eight years later, it’s still crooked, but whatever – most people either don’t notice because they’re not, like, at eye level with it, or they don’t mind because the very few people who have been at eye-level with it were not assessing its placement in any deliberative way, know what I’m sayin’? But now, though my stomach is still in pretty good shape and the ring isn’t getting lost in any flab or anything, I’m wondering how old is too old for this particular adornment.
I guess the reason I got the piercing also figures in. People who know me personally never would have thought I would do such a thing. In fact, a lot of people are shocked – shocked, I tell you – if they find out I have it. As I grew into myself more in my 20s, I started being less “afraid” of the “crazier” sides of myself. I was less “disciplined.” That doesn’t mean I was bad, by any means. It means I lightened up. Mellowed out.
Took the stick out of my ass.
And I wanted to replace it with a small symbol of my lesser-known, more emboldened side. Something that people would only see if they were an intimate acquaintance.
Or a random stranger on a beach.
Or at a pool.
Or on a cruise ship.
Pretty much anywhere I might wear a bathing suit.
Getting my belly button pierced was kind of liberating. I didn’t have to ask permission and I didn’t need to seek validation for it. It was just for me. When my mother saw it at the beach a couple of months later, she sighed, gave me a dirty look and said, “I’m glad you have your own health insurance.”
Now you know where I got the Ass Stick. I was 26, for crying out loud. I wasn’t a kid. But she hated the ring and thought I was going to die of some sort of belly button infection. She also thought it was overly (and overtly) sexual and therefore probably thought I was going to hell’s first circle for getting it.
No, I did not get my navel pierced as a way to rebel against my uber-conservative mother.
Well, maybe a little bit, but not really.
Over the years, I’ve gotten compliments from some who have seen it. My parents’ friend once saw my sister’s at the beach and commented to my dad (thoughtlessly) that he reeaaally liked those things.
“I mean in general. Just, you know, generally,” he said when my father shot him a look.
Yes, it produces a reaction from certain members of the population, and frankly, I like causing a stir. (Not that it happens that often.)
No, mostly it really is for me. It reminds me of the side that’s wilder, less uptight, more game for adventure. I wouldn’t necessarily lose that side of me because I let the piercing close up, but maybe I would have to lose a little of her in order to make that decision.
So… how old is too old to walk around with this thing?