On a beautiful summer morning in the city of London UK, my sister and I woke up and made a decision we knew would not exactly make momma proud. We were going to the nearest Claire’s store to get additional piercings in our ears. I remember the excitement with which we skipped to the mall at Uxbridge for something as mundane as an extra ear piercing. But it was what it was – a defiance of an upbringing that had confined us so much, that our first opportunity to let loose brought about inexplicable joy and release.
For me, it was the excitement of deliberately testing the limit of cultural decency. A couple of years before that day, when I lived in Ibadan in Nigeria, I had unknowingly tested the same limit. That day, I had adorned my left ankle with a silver anklet that matched the dark blue knee-length denim skirt and white top I wore to my A’levels class. I thought nothing of it. It was jewelry and I loved jewelry. So imagine how shocked I was when I got a call from my mother later that evening asking if I had joined ‘a bad gang’. A bad gang? Where? What gang? You need to know how nerdy I am to understand how unlikely this accusation was. Yet, there I was trying to figure out the link between my activities at school and this band gang association tag. Yes, I did many teenage stuff, but way-before-bad-gang was where I drew the line. How did my mother reach this conclusion?
It turned out that a friend of hers who had visited her daughter at the school that day had seen me, and on noticing the anklet, figured I was part of a prostitution ring or helping armed robbers in cash heists. Because, in Nigeria, good girls do not adorn themselves with anklets, nose rings, toe rings, lots of rings on their fingers, belly rings, tongue rings, extra earrings… or any form of adornment that can be easily associated with women who are not under any form of control. So you can understand why me and my sister were excited to take our first step toward freedom by getting extra ear piercings. They were not in risque places but still, getting them was a step gained against the widely-accepted idea of what decent women ought to dress like.
I recently saw a tweet from a Nigerian man that made me think back to that day in London.
“Nose piercing and or breast baring in pictures is now the order of day. Even the supposedly Nigerian “good girls” have also caught the bug. I am seeing things.” – @Lexymma
I couldn’t help but chuckle as I read that. I would have laughed out loud and responded if it did not bring back the memory of being accused of committing crimes across the city of Ibadan simply because I wore an anklet to class. I would have been really amused if it did not remind me of the many times as a child that I saw beautiful women who gracefully embellished their feet and ankles with beautiful toe rings and anklets, only to be told they were women who could not get husbands because they were prostitutes or mermaids sent from the sea to mislead married men and steal them from their wives. If the women were light-skinned, the mermaid story stuck. If they were dark-skinned, they were aspiring to join the mermaids in the sea (a story for another day).
I tried to dig into why these fashion elements are so demonized in the Nigerian society, and the best reason I got was from the bible. A young Nigerian man pointed to the fact that the Israelites had built a golden calf using their jewelry; therefore, any woman who had extra jewelry on, was endorsing the actions of the Israelites and possibly plotting to build a calf of her own. I don’t know about you all, but building a calf is not what comes to mind when I put on my anklet or toe ring. I just want my feet to look pretty.
It really sucks that in Nigeria, decency is still pretty much determined by inconsequential actions such as wearing a nose ring or an anklet, and this unfortunately affects how you are perceived by society. It is not unusual for women to meet men who are cool with their nose rings (like this should even be a thing???), but when it is time to meet the family, cool guy pleads with them to remove these extra embellishments. Why? The parents just will not approve. It is not surprising to find men in Nigeria assuming that a woman with extra piercings or jewelry is down for whatever. The idea is that if she is dressed like that (referring to use of jewelry here), then she is the kind of girl who will be exciting for the night but not good enough to marry. I have also heard pastors preach about how holy their wives are by pointing out her natural beauty and lack of jewelry as proof of this holiness.
I usually don’t know if I should laugh or weep when I hear these things. How does a piece of jewelry determine a person’s sense of morality? How do people even come up with these things? Besides vilifying women who wear jewelry, a new wave is demonizing women who cut their hair in trendy styles. I remember a WhatsApp broadcast message I received recently where ladies who cut and dye their hair were accused of being part of a diabolical prostitution ring. According to this broadcast, these women are members of a cult whose mission is to ‘hook’ married men to their vaginas and extort money from them. Do you see the trend? Have you noticed it? The idea that women who do these things are simply trying to steal poor married men from their marital beds.
To be fair, in Nigeria, men with tattoos are regarded as cultists or robbers most of the time, so women are not the only ones who are suffering from meaningless dictates of morality that have no direct correlation with behavior. What I wonder about is how these rules came about. Who decided to associate anklets with prostitution, and piercings with looseness? Who is the ancestor who has imprisoned women and men in this box of decency, preventing them from expressing themselves through fashion choices that are really just fashion choices?
Anyway, I have been thinking of piercing my nose but people say it is really painful and uncomfortable. Decisions… decisions….
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