Fashionably Late

Body piercing finds a new market in an older crowd that's decided such a youthful statement has a certain ring to it.

August 14, 1999|By PATRICIA MEISOL

Her adult friends counseled her against it, calling it shabby and warning that it would make her look cheap. "Why destroy yourself?," they asked. "Why make yourself look like someone you're not?"

But Carolyn Turner had younger friends, too, and she found it harder and harder to relate to them. That changed the day last January she went ahead and got her eyebrow pierced, hanging a dime-sized golden ring with a tiny ball in the new hole.

"It opened up doors," she says. "It was cool."

Turner, a Pasadena hairdresser, is 53. Her decision to style herself in what has been mostly a young people's fad shocked her daughter and her friends and affronted her customers, some of them religious.

They got used to it, and the rest of us may, too: Droves of women in their 40s and 50s these days are taking needles to their bodies, piercing them in prominent and not so prominent places.

An act of fashion, a new way to rage, wishful thinking, perhaps, putting holes in the body and calling it art is the new symbol of baby-boomers anxious to stay in touch with the times.

How else to explain navel rings revealed at poolside by otherwise conservative soccer moms? The new style has wrought nose rings in the office and cheek jewelry on the golf course. The little circles are sprouting up everywhere.

"It's all a fashion thing," says Dave Wicks, a tattoo artist at Full Color Coverage in Annapolis. "That's what's driving people to have piercing. It has nothing to do with being young. It's about spicing up your life."

On Web sites, body piercing is sold as a fun, midlife bit of self-expression.

"Some people get to the point in life when they are old enough to be bold, and no one can object. That little part of you that wants to be you," Turner says.

For women, it's a way to make a point, she adds. "If a woman wants to do something, she can. She can be her own self without people making judgment on her."

A cheaper make-over

Many people are put off by the prospect of enduring unnecessary pain. A navel ring, which ranges from $50 and $150, can take as long as a year to heal.

An eyebrow takes three weeks to heal. Piercing generally, though, is less costly, less risky and less dramatic than the other midlife crisis make-over route -- cosmetic surgery.

But piercing, whether public or private, is about control -- an act, in a public or private place, that tells oneself or others they are in control. In public, it becomes a symbolic way of taking charge.

Becoming a trend

"Some days, my biggest customer is older ladies," says Vicky Taylor, the piercer at Inkers in Rockville. She's done hundreds of them, she says, and the trend amazes her.

"It's definitely midlife crisis," Taylor says. "They are trying to retain a youthfulness about themselves. They want to do something that seems younger to them."

Talkative and nervous when they arrive, these women leave cocky. After all these years of thinking about it, they did it!

Some show up after a divorce, saying they now have the freedom to do it. One did it to mark her separation from her husband -- she thought a pierced navel might motivate her to lose weight. Another, a conservative power-mom, an executive, did it to mark her 40th birthday.

Navel rings are the piercing of choice in this age group, since they can be hidden under a suit. Adorning the belly button can be an act of rebellion and confirmation of individuality.

One 40-year-old mom celebrated her birthday with a navel ring because, she said, it was so wild and uncharacteristic. She had just had her first child, and she said: "Now that I have this little fertility goddess belly, I might as well ornament it."

Turner, owner of Plum Loco Hair Designs, says she didn't do it because she's getting old and wants to feel young again. But she did find it harder to relate to younger people -- they didn't seem to be opening up to her, she says. Piercing was one way back. "It was great to be able to relate to kids and to be part of something," she said. "Kids are your future."

Not on impulse

Her daughter went with her to get the ring, only because she didn't believe her mother would really do it. "Mom, you are not going to do this, are you?" (Her daughter, Tammy, 23, wouldn't dare wear one to her white-collar office job.) Even as the needle was being readied, the daughter quizzed her mom, "Are you sure you want to do this? Are you really going to wear this?"

A few days later Turner walked into her daughter's workplace and her daughter showed her off -- "Look what my mom did!" to rousing applause. Her 27-year-old son smiled when he saw it -- thought he still doesn't go for her tattoo. It doesn't fit his image of Mom, she says.

Her friends looked at her, and looked at it, and finally, told her the ring looks great and nothing like the ostentatious mark they envisioned.

"It's like wearing a third earring," one said.

An unexpected reward for Turner is that she felt herself opening up inside, being more friendly and relaxed. Plus, she took a chance with something she always feared. To set herself apart from her friends, to do something they didn't approve of, and then, afterward, to still be accepted by them, that made her feel she is more special than most people. A lot of adults don't have the guts to do something like that, she says.

Bottom line, she says: she just wants to have fun.

Pub Date: 8/14/99

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