A Brief History Of Septum Piercings

A Brief History Of Septum Piercings

Septum piercings made a triumphant conquest of social media a couple of years back. Championed by the likes of Zendaya, Zoe Kravitz, Chloë Grace Moretz, and even Badgalriri herself, it quickly shifted status from edgy to trendy. And it is showing no signs of growing less popular, with Gigi Hadid sporting one (along with a grey matte lip) at the 2022 CFDAs (although we suspect that one might have been temporary). 

Photo: Nenad Stojkovic via Flickr

So what exactly is a septum piercing? It is a piercing that sits in the centre part of the nose, in between the nostrils. It goes in the space between the thicker skin at the bottom and the cartilage further up. As such, when performed properly, it should be relatively quick and painless. Perhaps its relative accessibility is also why it has been practised by so many different people across the world. 

Second most practised piercing after the ear

While septum piercings may be relatively new in the West (at least in “mainstream society”), it is the second most common piercing in tribal cultures all over the globe (the first being, unsurprisingly, the ear piercing). It had different connotations in different cultures. However, in what is referred to as Hindu culture, it is a symbol of marriage adopted sometime in the 1500s and honours the goddess Parvati. 

Meanwhile, septum piercings have been widely practised also by males, with tribes in Irian Jaya, New Guinea and the Solomon Islands using large boar tusks to adorn their upper lips. In the Americas, the Mayans, Aztecs and Incas also wore them, adorning their septum rings with gold and jade for religious ceremonies, whereas Australian Aborigines used them for aesthetic and spiritual purposes.

Photo: Ferdinand Reus via Wikimedia

They would use the bone of a bird or animal associated with their tribe’s Dreaming and ancestors to flatten their noses to achieve a specific beauty ideal. Many Native American tribes also used the piercing to mark the successful rite of passage of a wilderness soul-searching journey, whereas women across many areas of Africa use them to enhance their beauty.

From punk to pretty

From a Western perspective, septum piercings began growing in popularity starting in the 80s, when it was adopted by the punk subculture as a symbol of rebellion. While these may have been slightly more DIY and in-your-face compared to today’s dainty jewellery, they were still no kangaroo bones. 

And now, of course, it has become even more broadly accepted as a fashion, rather than a political, statement. A New York Times article from 2015 even went so far as to say it was what ‘separated the millennials from the non-millennials.’

Embraced by people who identify as men, women, or non-binary, the septum has received a whole new life from people who want to stand out a little aesthetically while still being able to hide it if grandma doesn’t approve. They are easy to flip upside down and tuck away with the right piece of jewellery, after all. However, with such pretty jewellery available nowadays, why would you want to? Just maybe leave the boar tusk for occasions other than Christmas lunch.


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