As a young girl I couldn’t wait to get my ears pierced. When I wasn’t nagging Mum relentlessly about it, I was parading around wearing a pair of hideously oversized clip-ons. I thought I looked so glamorous and grown up; the idea of getting those permanent little holes in my ears just seemed so exciting and, let’s be honest, a little bit rebellious and trendsetting.
I remember going into the pharmacist, clutching my Mum’s hand, at around age eight. The excitement kicked in when choosing which pair of sparkly jewels would soon adorn my ears, and the nerves kicked in when the pharmacist snapped on her gloves and pulled out her piercing gun. To an eight-year-old, that gun looked mighty big.
I was far from alone in sporting jewel-emblazoned ears in the playground, but I do recall Mum being quite adamant that there would be no piercing of ears before age eight. No amount of nagging or embarrassing clip-ons ever saw her budge on this.
So what is it that shapes our opinions on what’s an 'appropriate' age for our children to get their ears pierced? Does it purely come down to personal choice and cultural traditions?
Sally Richardson has recently been on the receiving end of some nagging from her daughter, 11, who has desperately wanted to get her ears pierced since she was eight.
“I had to wait until I was 16 to get my ears pierced so I felt very strongly about my daughter being that age too,” she says. “I don’t know exactly why I felt so strongly, but I think it’s partly because I believe pierced ears look better on older girls, and partly because I think it’s good to stand your ground on some things.”
Despite saying this, Sally admits that she has been ground down by her daughter: they’ve come to the compromise that she can have them pierced at 12.
“As well as the constant pleading, several of my daughter’s close friends have recently got their ears pierced,” she says. “It’s definitely added a layer of pressure on me!”
Sarah Singer can relate to that pressure; with a 12-year-old who already has her ears pierced, it’s only natural that her younger sister, aged seven, wants to follow suit. Add to the mix some young friends with pierced ears, and she has a recipe for constant pleading. She is adamant, however, that she will stick her ground.
“I'm a firm believer in not following the crowds and backing down,” she says. “When it comes to children I have very traditional views, and I believe there is a time for everything. Children today grow up much too quickly and although ear piecing is only a minor body embellishment, I still feel it is one thing that can wait.”
Naturally, not everyone feels the same – as proven by Samantha Oliver, whose young daughter and son both have their ears pierced.
“I got Evie's ears pierced at 14 weeks, and Jaxon had just turned three when he got his done,” she says.
“I decided to get Evie's ears pierced because they looked cute. I had also heard lots of stories of little girls getting them done at four or five years old, and how they touch and play with them and they get infected. I have not once had a problem with Evie's ears. She always says ‘look, ears pretty’.”
As for her son, Samantha admits it was a case of him wanting to be like his daddy and uncle, who each have an ear pierced.
“I haven't had many negative comments at all, which I was surprised at,” she says. “When Jaxon got his done there were a few elderly ladies waiting at the chemist and they all told him how brave he was and how good it looked. It was nice to have some positive comments.”
In other families, children get their ears pierced as part of their culture.
When Alec Baldwin and his wife Hilaria shared photos of their seven-month-old daughter with pierced ears, many social media users were quick to judge and call the parents irresponsible and inappropriate. But Hilaria is from Mallorca, where it’s not unusual for infants to get their ears pierced.
It’s the same in many South American cultures, explains Amanda Del Campo, a Brazilian who now lives in Australia. “Earrings have simply been part of my life forever,” she says. “Back home in Brazil, if you're born a girl you simply get out of hospital wearing earrings. You’re probably only a few days old, but it is just the norm – I don't think I know one single girl back in Brazil who didn't have their ears pierced from birth.”
“It was only when I moved overseas that I learned that it was different in different parts of the world.”
Penny Crooks, a pharmacy assistant for Terry White Chemist, says she gets children of all ages being accompanied into the pharmacy to get their ears pierced.
“The only stipulation that we have from our side is that there must be two of us present to pierce the ears of anyone under the age of 10 – very often a child can get upset after the first ear is pierced, and it can make it harder if you are by yourself to then do the second ear,” she says.
She stresses that it’s important for the child not to fiddle with their ears once the earrings are in. She also highlights the fact that parents of school-age children should check if earrings are allowed at school, as once the ears are pierced, the initial earrings mustn’t be removed for six weeks.
“As long as parents are going to a reputable place to get their child’s ears pierced, there’s no reason why there should be any issues,” she says. “The main things that are important are that the practice is being conducted in a hygienic manner and that the parent is taking responsibility for the after-care by using an antibacterial spray morning and night while twisting the earring to ensure it's not getting infected.”