Barbells, rings, and body positivity

By Paloma Giustizieri


In 2017 Ayanda Dlamini went to a small piercing parlor in Kloof, KwaZulu Natal. Five minutes later, along with some numbing cream and some wincing, her nipples were pierced. She once explained how she always used to dislike the way her body looked, particularly her boobs. “Their size and shape are so different, they are not symmetrical at all!” She used to find insecurity in them.


Piercing my nipples gave me a sense of power. Claiming the one body part that makes me particularly self-conscious," said an anonymous speaker. Photo credit: Paloma Giustizieri


Ayanda has now had these tiny bars through her nipples for two years and her confidence has bloomed. She closes her eyes and laughs, “my mom’s reaction was the best though”. Her mother saw the piercing one-day and she was beside herself. She explained that her mom thought she got the piercings for sexual reasons. This was not Ayanda’s actual reason. She got them for her confidence, to become more comfortable in her body.


Certain piercings are seen as taboo, particularly those in more “private” areas. Many people resonate with Ayanda’s experience. The idea of becoming more body positive is something a lot of individuals think about, considering ways to bring their confidence up instead of trying to change who they actually are, just adding a little seasoning to their physical presence. Piercings in these “taboo” areas deserve to be understood and acknowledged as a form of self-love and transformation in a positive way.


I have a similar experience to Ayanda’s. My breasts always felt incredibly bland, unequal and boring. Due to the fact that I have always liked piercings (I have an industrial, a rook, a helix, two nipple rings, and a webring), I decided to make a small body change by getting both my nipples pierced. Having nipple rings comes with a sexual liberation of sorts. It also came with making me feel more confident being braless, it brought up my self-confidence more than I ever thought it would.


This connotation of nipple rings comes from an older ideology that believes that nipple rings are only associated with sexual activities and to increase pleasure however the practice actually derives from the late 14th century when Queen Isabella of Bavaria introduced the "Garments of the grand neckline”, a combination of delicate chains going from one nipple to the other in upper-class societies.


I believe that piercings become a part of body art. If you speak to someone with piercings, you’ll know that their piercings are a part of who they are. They shape your identity and bring an element of self-awareness. Piercings are a form of self-expression.


Thabiso Ntshulani-Mgwaba showing us his, "face art". "Throughout high school, I never took photos of my face, my piercings gave me a sort of a shield, a sense of confidence.


My body art has created a more positive image of my physical presence in my mind. It has helped me embrace the physicality of who I am and helped me realize that this body I have is changeable. It is worthy of art and expression.

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