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***Full disclosure: I have half a dozen piercings. I started getting pierced when I was 18. That’s when I was legally allowed to do it on my own because my mom wouldn’t sign for me. Am I angry that I wasn’t given more body autonomy growing up? Not livid, but certainly annoyed. I probably wouldn’t have rushed to a piercer as soon as I got to college had I been granted more freedom a little earlier.***

Supposedly Willow Smith got her tongue pierced. (I saw the picture online and am not 100% convinced it’s real, but for the sake of argument let’s say it is real.) She’s eleven, and apparently it matters despite the fact that she and her parents are celebrities who clearly live on another plane than the rest of us. So… because everyone else is talking about it: Let’s get into it.

People have been railing on Will and Jada for just about everything with Willow. Letting her dress crazy. Letting her be a little pop-rock-hiphop princess. Letting her shave her head. Letting her paint her ear. Whatever. So many people have something to say about what they let Willow do. It seems to me that Willow has a strong personality and a deep knowledge of what she likes and what she wants. I actually think Will and Jada should be applauded for letting her safely and confidently express herself. Arbitrary restrictions on personal expression suffocate creativity, which in turn stifles personal growth.

There are so many fucked up parents in this world (celebrity and otherwise) that to see two people who actually want to raise an independent, self-assured child raises eyebrows. I think that’s part of what has people so up in arms. “WHAT?! They’re letting their pre-teen daughter make decisions for herself? Who DOES that?! That looks hard!” Many people nowadays are either lazy or they’re helicopter parents, with both methods producing barely functioning adults. These folks seem content with the lowest common denominator outcomes. Did your kid live to adulthood without going to prison? Congratulations; you succeeded at parenting. Will and Jada (and some marvelous people I know) aren’t content with that. They want to raise children to be thoughtful, witty, intelligent, creative, confident adults. A huge part of building confidence is actually allowing your child to make decisions for him/herself. Is it scary? Yes. Is it crucial to the development of a healthy self-image and a basic understanding of consequences? Absolutely. And it’s hard. You have to not only help your child learn how to gather all the information they need to make a good decision–you have to stand back and actually let them make the decision. Hold onto your butts!

I can think of a few reasons why folks are upset about this whole thing…

1) “She’s too young.” Many people say that a tongue piercing is sexual and that pisses me off to no end. A tongue piercing is not sexual. It’s just not. It’s no different than getting your bellybutton pierced and people don’t seem to have an issue with that, as I see it on myriad young girls. I got my tongue pierced because it won’t scar and it’s easy to hide. Period. Don’t make the presumption that you know the motivations of others. She’s not too young to know that she wants something and she’s not too young to be incapable of understanding the pros and cons of such a decision.

2) “It’s not safe.” Anyone who says this has never been inside a reputable tattoo/piercing studio. A good studio is clean and the staff knowledgeable. When you get a piercing the piercer explains to you what will happen and how to care for your piercing. Frequently they’ll even give you printed aftercare instructions and supplies for cleaning your piercing. I never felt unsafe or unclean in any of the studios where I’ve had work done. If she did actually get her tongue pierced, she would have required parental consent and that’s where mom and dad would have helped her select a reputable establishment. I have a very hard time believing Will and Jada would have taken their daughter to some sleazy amateur parlor to get pierced. Now if she had one of her friends do it or something equally stupid–that’s an entirely different story.

3) “It’s weird.” People are still pretty appalled by body modifications. Piercings and tattoos are still stigmatized in our society and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. So many people have them nowadays it seems like folks are wasting a lot of time and energy persecuting legions of everyday folks who choose to alter their appearances. I mean, we’re all entitled to our stigmas and -isms, but I don’t see why it’s illegal to discriminate someone based on weight or birthmarks but not on modifications. I choose to be the weight I am and have the moles I do every bit as much as I choose to be modded. Yet only one of these things is a legal reason to not hire me.

Am I saying everyone needs to let their kids do everything they want? Of course not. What I am saying is this: Here are two parents who know their child and who know what sort of adult they want their child to be. They are doing everything in their power to help her reach her potential. Maybe they want her to have as much body autonomy as she can safely have at her age. Maybe they want her to feel liberated by her self-expression. Maybe they just want her to be happy and didn’t see the point in denying her something for no good reason. And no, I don’t think that “because I said so” or “not in my house” are good reasons to deny such a simple request. If she researched it and saved her own money: Why not sign for her to do it? Who does it hurt if she gets her tongue pierced? Hell it won’t even leave a scar. She could have asked for far more than a piercing…

… which leads to the inevitable question I’m sure people would ask me: “Hey, Rampaige, so do you think kids should be allowed to get tattoos?” No. And it’s painfully simple why that’s my answer: Tattoos are permanent. Piercings are not. Sure, your piercing may leave a scar, but who doesn’t have scars? If a child knows they may have a scar later on–that’s something they’ll have to take into consideration. I mean, if I wanted to stop wearing earrings tomorrow I wouldn’t be mad at my six-year-old self for getting my ears pierced. (Yeah, wrap your brain around that: a kindergartner can decide to pierce her ears and nobody bats an eye… or worse: parents get their babies’s ears pierced without any consent at all.) A tattoo, however, is a much bigger and wholly permanent choice. A hole is small and inconspicuous, but a tattoo is larger and it’s a design dictated by your interests at the time you get it. Your interests change monumentally before and during puberty, which is why I wholeheartedly agree with the 18-year-old requirement for tats. Otherwise I’d be covered in Lisa Frank Orca tattoos.

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