Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Advanced Conversation Class - Piercings

As I tried to read my book on the bus on my way home yesterday evening, I was constantly distracted by the girl sitting in front of me. In 21st century Europe people with piercings through various parts of their anatomies are a common enough sight and, until last night, I have to say that I've been pretty ambivalent about them. Even the spectacle, many years ago, of a young male member of my staff showing off his newly pierced nipples to his colleagues, evoked in me a mere raised eyebrow and the unvoiced question as to what purpose the chain linking the two nipple rings could possibly have! (Answers on a postcard, please!) So, my opinion on this matter, as on many others, has always been, 'live and let live' - what people choose to do to their own bodies is their affair. Which is why I am surprised at my reaction to the girl on the bus!

I had seen her as I boarded the bus. I had registered the fact that she had several piercings on her face - through her nose, her lip, her ears, her eyebrow and her cheek - but had made no conscious judgement about her based on these body adornments. It wasn't until I sat down behind her and saw the piercing through the back of her neck that I found myself unable to concentrate on my reading and, more than that, found myself questioning what her motives could be for violating her body in such a way. What business is it of mine? Absolutely none, but I couldn't help myself!

Her piercing was like none I have ever seen before. It looked like a very thick  old-fashioned hatpin with a large cabochon depicting the Virgin Mary on one end, a protective stopper on the other, and a good 5 or 6 centimetres of metal hidden under her skin between the two. I wondered at first whether the 'ends' were simply stuck on her skin to give the illusion of a piercing, but no - the girl kept reaching behind her, fiddling with the pin and demonstrating quite clearly that it did indeed go under her skin.

I honestly don't know why I felt such a strong reaction against this girl's 'body art'. Was it the size of the thing? Was it a matter of where it was on her body? Was it the religious image (I'm not a particularly religious person)? I just don't know! I questioned myself as much as the girl's reasons for having it and, ever the teacher on the lookout for a lesson idea, took a surreptitious photo of it to use in my advanced conversation class! (I haven't reproduced it here because, though I doubt the girl in question would be identified through it, I didn't ask her permission and my action could quite rightly be construed as an invasion of privacy!!)
Thus, today, we had a discussion lesson on the pros & cons of piercings.  To encourage debate, I presented my picture, hidden in a selection of photos of piercings (one of which is reproduced here), to my class of young(ish) students and elicited their responses.  I asked them to arrange the photos on the table: firstly, in order of how socially acceptable they thought the piercings were; secondly, in order of how likely they would be to have each type of piercing themselves; and thirdly, in order of how upset they would be if their younger brother or sister came home with such a piercing.  As you can imagine, the discussion was lively, to say the least, especially as I had insisted that they reach a consensus within their groups. 
The results were very interesting.  There was a general feeling that the whole question was outside of their experience and that no piercing, other than through the earlobes, would ever be appropriate (I do live & teach in a very conservative northern Italian town!).  So what about the 'bolt' through the back of the neck?  Well, using reason & logic, the students generally thought that this was probably one of the most socially acceptable piercings because, as they pointed out, it wouldn't be immediately visable & it could be hidden quite easily under clothing.  However, in terms of initial shock reactions & in answer to the final question, all the groups agreed that the neck piercing was the worst.  And they were doubly shocked when I revealed that I had seen it on a local bus.........!!
I have to say, I felt somewhat vindicated!!

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