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.

Sanchita Kedia

October 13, 2022

Nose Rings are Not Just Ornaments for the Diaspora
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan as Devi Vishwakumar in Never Have I Ever Season 3, Episode 1 (Netflix)

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?