Reclaiming my body from the Patriarchy
On November 12, 2000 then-President Gordon B. Hinckley gave a talk to the youth and the single adults at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. This talk is more commonly known as the 6 Bs talk. In the section “Be Clean,” President Hinckley cautioned the young women against having more than one piercing in each ear. He said:
As for the young women, you do not need to drape rings up and down your ears. One modest pair of earrings is sufficient.
When this talk was given I was already a married adult with a baby on the way. I was also not particularly active in the church. My husband and I were not married in the temple at this point (we were later sealed with our two oldest children). I grew up at the tail-end of generation X, just a skosh older than the oldest Millennials. I was in high school when grunge and flannel ruled and every girl I knew had several ear piercings, and piercings in other parts of the body were becoming popular. More than one piercing in each ear was never my thing. I did have a brief flirtation with the idea of an eyebrow piercing. Forty-year-old me is thanking 20-year-old me for never going through with that idea. I did, however, pierce my navel. By the time President Hinckley cautioned against multiple piercings though, my navel ring was long gone.
After this talk was given there was a definite shift in LDS culture. Many women I knew were taking out their multiple ear piercings as a show of obedience to the prophet. This cultural test was even used in a talk given by Elder Bednar just five years later at a BYU devotional about a young man who ended a relationship with a young woman he loved because she had multiple ear piercings and he couldn’t marry someone who refused to obey the prophet. There is no mention in this talk if this young man actually discussed this with the young woman first, or just made assumptions about her and her character before casting her aside. Regardless, cultural lines were drawn and it has been one of our cultural markers in the last 19 years to assess a woman’s worthiness and obedience by the number of holes in her ears.
I worked for the church for over six years. I wrote about a particularly troubling incident while I worked there. After that many years of having my worthiness judged based on my outward appearance I felt compelled to reclaim my body as my own. Even though a double ear pierce has never really been my thing, on April 12, 2014 I took myself down to the piercing studio and put another hole in each ear. Every time I put a stud in the second hole in each ear it’s a reminder to myself that my body is mine, and what I do with it is not based on the tastes and preferences of older men.
I have many friends who have multiple tattoos and piercings who ask me why it is bad that they are altering their temple that way, but in Utah many women have plastic surgery or tattoo their makeup on their faces and that is never mentioned as a sin or disrespectful of their “temples.” The only conclusion that I’ve come to is that the alterations made to our bodies that make us more attractive to the men in charge (the patriarchy) are good and righteous, but the alterations to our bodies that make us less attractive are bad and unholy. I’m not judging those who have had plastic surgery. I’ve done it myself. It’s just an interesting cultural perspective on what is and what is not deemed as culturally acceptable in the church.
In the 6 Bs talk, President Hinckley went on to say this about tattoos:
I promise you that the time will come, if you have tattoos, that you will regret your actions. They cannot be washed off. They are permanent. Only by an expensive and painful process can they be removed. If you are tattooed, then probably for the remainder of your life you will carry it with you. I believe the time will come when it will be an embarrassment to you. Avoid it. We, as your Brethren who love you, plead with you not to become so disrespectful of the body which the Lord has given you.
I think of this quote and contrast it against a sermon the pastor of the nondenominational church I’ve been attending for the last couple of years gave the second to last Sunday in May. He was giving a sermon about what things are and are not okay to engage in as Christians. He specifically brought up tattoos and shared a few funny pictures of tattoos “fails.” He then went on to share a beautiful story of a woman in the congregation who had been battling breast cancer the last few years. Her small group has rallied around her and her family during this trying time. (A small group is a group of people who study scriptures together and minister to each other). The one word this woman is constantly uttering is “joy” – finding joy in the journey and joy through Him. The female members of this woman’s small group each got a tattoo of the word “joy” in her handwriting. I don’t think there is going to be a day where they regret that tattoo. The message of this tattoo is not disrespectful to their bodies or the Lord in the least. It’s a celebration of their friend’s love of Christ even in her darkest moments.
My oldest must have taken this message to heart because two days later on her 18th birthday she spent the day at the tattoo parlor. A few years ago she found my mother’s signature in a Harry Potter book that belonged to her. My mother wrote her name in every book she ever owned. She loved books. My mother died when my oldest was just six and the pain and the grief at the loss has been difficult for her. They were very close. When she found the signature she told me she was going to have it tattooed on her body when she was 18. And she did. There was a part of me that wanted to be upset that my child had permanently altered her body. I also realized I had no more claim over her body than the patriarchy does. Besides, this way her grandma will always be with her.
I was 35 years old when I reclaimed my body from the patriarchy. My daughter was 18. I don’t think either one of us is going to regret it.