Nose Rings are Not Just Ornaments for the Diaspora

As nose piercings become popular in the West, South Asians in the diaspora grapple with preserving their cultural symbolism.

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Maitreyi Ramakrishnan as Devi Vishwakumar in Never Have I Ever Season 3, Episode 1 (Netflix)

Sanchita Kedia


October 13, 2022

Shaila Chand, a 34-year-old from San Jose, California, got her nose pierced in her 30s after resisting for many years. As a child, she was picked on for being “too Indian.” Classmates would ask her: “does your house smell,” “does your dad work at a 7-Eleven,” “why are your arms so hairy.” But one day, she was practicing a wedding dance and could not stop staring at how beautiful her cousin looked with a nose ring. 

“Before I was worried about looking too Indian,” Chand said. “But now, I want to look Indian because I am.”

Some countries in the West, such as the United States, have seen a recent rise in nose piercings. For example, Infinite Body Piercing, a piercing studio in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Baltimore, Maryland, saw a 45% increase in nostril piercings in just two years, from 1,659 in 2017 to 2,412 in 2019. Today, 19% of women in the U.S. who have piercings have their noses pierced. For many South Asians in the diaspora, the nose piercing remains a symbol of rebellion and resistance in the face of Western beauty standards, a way to claim one’s identity. Yet, as Western beauty standards change, does this symbolism disappear, too?

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