For many people, getting your ear pierced is a rite of passage that you’re too young to remember. For others, it’s the mall kiosk that you’ll never forget; the fight with your parents that went on for months; the first experience with a long needle or a stapler-like gun that portends a long line of future bad decisions.
We asked photographer Mengwen Cao to photograph this the rite at a jewelry store in La Lobe, in Dallas, Texas. The family-operated business, run by owner Nancy Stewart, often sees first-time earring customers. Her son Craig, who also works at the shop, said that on Saturdays they can have more than 20 appointment and walk-in ear piercings in an afternoon, Yes, there were tears, but the tears were often followed by wide grins.
Lola Vernon, 7
Before: “I feel like I’m at a doctor’s office. I’m kind of nervous, but kind of excited. I’m nervous because it might hurt...I want to get my ears pierced [because] I get to be like all my friends.
After: “It was scary, but it was worth it. I feel like I just accomplished something.”
Harper Underwood, 10
Before: “I’m nervous about a needle going through my ear. My older sister told me it was very painful.”
After: “I’m glad that I did it, but it hurt. One hurt more than the other.”
Chloe Hayes, 9
Before: “I’m afraid that it’s going to hurt. I don’t know what’s gonna happen, I’m nervous.”
After: “I’m proud of myself. I feel like I’m 20. It barely hurts now. I feel like I’m really grown, like I’m really grown up.”
“It didn’t hurt. I didn’t even know it ended....I’ve wanted to get them for a few years, I really like the way they look.”
—Tori Fair, 11
Helen Fellows, 7
Before: “My mom made a promise to me when I was a baby that I could get my ears pierced when I turn 7. [She turned 7 on December 10th.] Now that I’m 7, I have more responsibility like washing dishes, things I couldn’t do when I was 6.”
After: “Now I’m going to get a strawberry milkshake.”
“I wanted to get my ears pierced because I’ve always thought my ears are boring. My 8th birthday is tomorrow, so I got them pierced for my birthday. Before I was like, ‘I’m ready.’ My big sister has a collection of dangle earrings, and she said I can wear them when I get older.” —Ella Wood, 7