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They've Got a Nose for Fashion

Despite the drawbacks, nosering bearers insist that many concerns by non-wearers are simply overblown.

By Ira E. Stoll

They've risked employment opportunites, parental wrath and even brain damage.

They've suffered sharp pain that's lasted as long as several minutes.

They've braved endless questions from strangers, on everything from the cold weather to runny noses.

But they're not alone--not anymore, at least. Nosering wearers at Harvard say they're happy to have bits of precious metal stuck in their nostrils, and they say the trend is slowly catching on.

"There has certainly been a growth of them occurring on campus," says David R. Gammons '92, who has adorned his self-described "button nose" with a tiny crucifix. "It can be a real phenomenon."

Michelle D. Holdt '92, who like Gammons lives in Adams House, agrees that noserings have grown in popularity since she pierced her own nose three years ago.

"When I got here, lots and lots of people started getting noserings and then it was trendy and sort of annoying," Holdt said. "I feel like they've become much more common in the last year."

And further support for the idea of a nosering trend comes from a trendy popular musician.

According to Valerie Q. Nestor '92, also an Adams House VES concentrator, "Donnie Wahlberg of the New Kids on the Block has a nosering. He is my favorite person who has a nosering. Maybe he's copying me."

Noserings may be more popular these days, but that doesn't mean people aren't noticing them. Students with noserings say they are often asked to explain their facial jewelry.

Gammons, who has seven ear pierces, responds by saying he just ran out of room on his ears and wanted to find a new part. "I like decorations," he said. "Your nose, it seems kind of the logical next step."

Nestor, who also has seven ear pierces, explains that time considerations were a leading factor in her decision to pierce her nose last January. "If you can't do it in college, when can you do it?" she asked.

But others said they simply liked the visual appeal of a nosering, and decided it was worth trying.

"It was very random," says Marta K. Taylor '92, a chemistry concentrator from Lowell House. "I just like the way it looks."

And Holdt said simply, "I was looking for a way to make a visual impact."

Elora Shehabuddin '91, a social studies concentrator from Leverett House, had the left nostril of her "roundish" nose pierced by a gun this past summer in a Bangladesh beauty parlor. "I think it's a very personal decision. Not everyone can carry it off," she said. "I just do it because it's the thing to do in Bangladesh."

Back in the United States, nose-piercers often operate out of less distinguished venues. Just ask Taylor, who last spring break had her nose pierced by a man with a piercing gun who was working out of the back of a van in Los Angeles.

Unfortunately, nosering wearers acknowledge that their nasal adornments often end up piercing their parents' hearts. For Nestor, at least, Mom and Dad were less than thrilled at their child's newest jewelry item.

"My mom just didn't want it to get infected. My dad didn't say anything. My little brother who's three says take it out," Nestor said.

But sometimes parents do know best. Infection is not just the product of paranoia. it is a very real risk, as nosering bearers will attest.

Nestor, Taylor and Holdt all report infections from their piercings. They caution that fellow wearers use clean jewelry made of genuine precious metals and warn them not to replace the piercing stud too early.

But nasal infections are more than just a pain. According to Dr. Daniel H. Vogel, an Arlington ear nose and throat practitioner, infections can pose a serious medical risk.

"When people pierce their earlobes, it's basically skin and fat, and there's very little risk," Vogel said. "But when people start piercing the upper ear and the nose, that's cartilege, and there's a risk of a cartilege infection."

Vogel warned that amateur piercers using non-sterile instruments run the risk of hepatitis and other infectious diseases. Even worse, he said, an "infection in the mid-face can spread back to the brain."

Gammons and the others deny any brain damage resulting from their piercings. But they say their piercing did cause something else--pain.

Students interviewed say they used everything from guns to pins to do-it-yourself kits to pierce their noses. Each implement brings with it its own level of pain.

"There's a sharp pinch, then pain for the first 30 seconds or so," Gammons says. "It was sore for a little bit. You don't realize how much you move your nose in normal conversation until it's sore."

"It was painful," Nestor says.

Taylor, whose favorite nosering is "a little tiny turqoise one" that she wears in her right nostril, concurs.

"Yeah, it kind of hurt." she says. "I got sort of nauseous and dizzy."

For those with more materialistic concerns, noserings bring other hazards. Employers--especially those of the Wall St. variety--are not known for their fondness of excess facial jewelry.

Taylor, for instance, says she was once told in a job interview that if she wanted the job, she would have to remove her nasal adornment.

Despite the drawbacks, nosering bearers insist that many concerns by non-wearers are simply overblown.

Contrary to popular belief, wearers say, noserings are not cold against the skin in the winter. They do not fly out when the wearer sneezes. And they are not annoying, even with a runny nose, wearers said.

"You get used to it," Taylor said. "I never, ever notice it, except when I look in the mirror. It's really not that big a deal."

Of course, that doesn't mean noserings are right for everyone.

"I think they look really good on some people and really horrible on some others," Holdt says. "I knew someone in high school who pierced his nipple. I'm not quite that crazy. I had a diamond nosering and I really liked it but I lost it. I like small flat ones. I wear one all the time."

Even Holdt--who has worn noserings for nearly three years--says she runs into trouble every once in a while.

"Someone brought me back a nosering from India," she says. "But it was threaded like a corkscrew and really painful. If anyone can tell me how to wear it so that it doesn't hurt, I'd be really grateful."

And there's always the problem of connotations. Shehabuddin, whose favorite nosering is a tiny pearl, says she worried about sending the wrong messages by piercing one of her nostrils.

"The right one used to be associated with prostitutes on the Indian subcontinent," says Shehabudding. "There's less of a stigma attatched to the left one."

Most of the time, however, Taylor says people should not worry about the connotations when they ponder getting a nosering.

"I don't think there should be any symbolism attached," Taylor says. "It doesn't mean you're a punk rocker or a rebel--it just is."

On balance, most nosering bearers seem happy, as they wear broad smiles below their sparkling gems.

"I think it's a great thing. I think it's really fun," Gammons says. "If you're into piercing, then I highly recommend it. I never take it out except to change it."

So it's little wonder that Nester advises the curious to try the feat for themselves.

"It was painful, but I think it was worth it," Nestor says. "I would say if you want it, you should do it."

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