Software, hardware, wetware

Labret Piercing as Mnemonic and Ritual

As of the start of November, I have a labret piercing - a piece of metal in my lip, on the right hand side of my lip.

(You can see it there, honest!)

It was something that I thought carefully about having done. It wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment type thing; I considered it over several weeks. Facial piercings can have very negative connotations among the older generation(s); the prevailing opinions amongst people of a certain age and mindset range from “they look messy” to an innate (and I would say unreasonable) regard of anyone with a piercing as a good-for-nothing troublemaker.

The best argument against the piercing that I could think of was that it could negatively impact my relations with some existing and potential clients.

I went ahead with the piercing, obviously. I chose to get it done as a reminder of a place and a time, the people who were around me and the sort of lessons I’d learnt in the years and months leading up to it. My memory is good (very good, in fact) - but human memory is fallible, it fades and distorts with time. The piercing is a way of externalising some of those memories - a sort of physical mnemonic for those things I want to render important in my recollection.

I often ask other people with piercings or tattoos if they have some special significance, and there’s a huge range of responses. People have these sorts of body modifications done for a variety of reasons. For some, it’s all about the aesthetic. Some get a feeling of pleasure and satisfaction from the experience of having the piercing itself. For others (like me) it’s an externalisation of some internal mental process, or a reminder of something considered worthy of remembering.

The psychology behind body modification fascinates me. Intuitively, I can understand why someone would want to wear an externalisation of a subjective experience or attitude on their body. I struggle explain it in words though.

I think it goes something like this: we (humans) seem to use our expressions of our emotional states both as a signal to others in society (“I’m happy”, “I’m very angry”) as much as a feedback mechanism for ourselves. If you put on a happy face, before too long, you start to feel sort of happy. You can, to some extent, consciously control your emotional state by externalising a representation of what you want it to be.

I think the same wiring is at work with body modifications (at least for me). It’s a dramatic and permanent (well, mostly) expression of something that would otherwise be completely internal. It’s a mnemonic, a key to that experience, but also a sort of scar - a way of presenting physically that a change has occurred in one’s mind, that one considers significant. (Or is it the other way ‘round, that I want to induce such a significant internal change, and the piercing presents a way of externalising that desired end-state!? Huh!)

My other piecing (my left ear), was a gift from a close (and very awesome) friend, years ago. It wasn’t initially a mnemonic, or a rite of passage - it was somewhat more whimsical, at least on face value - but it’s come to serve the same purpose. (Though, I wonder about the motivations of the person who got it for me at the time - was it a whimsical choice for them, too, or did the act of getting me pierced have some significance? Huh!)

As for the clients - I decided I don’t care. The sort of people who are going to judge me on the basis of some piercings aren’t the sort of people I want to be working with anyway. I know my skills and abilities, and it’s other peoples’ loss if they want to judge me on the basis of a piercing.

Plus, it looks cool. :P