The nose ring has a rich history -- not just in women's fashion, but in anthropology at large. Although Eastern traditions prefer the left side over the right for a woman's nose piercing, modern society does not differentiate between the two.
Nose-piercing in women can be traced back four thousand years to the Middle East, where it represented the wealth of a woman's family. A woman's husband would give her a gold nose ring as a wedding gift, with the size of the ring indicating his family's wealth. This tradition still endures in some nomadic cultures in Northern Africa and the Middle East. Now, if the man divorces the woman, she may keep the golden nose ring for financial security.
The Moguls brought nose-piercing to India in the 16th or 17th century, where it became custom to pierce the left nostril. Some women also linked their nose ring to their ear via a gold chain. Ayurvedic medicine links the left side of the nose to the female reproductive organs, and claims that a piercing in the left nostril could alleviate pain during childbirth or menstruation.
When Western hippies began traveling to the Far East on journeys of self-discovery in the 1960s, they were attracted to this exotic piercing. Women began to adopt the practice, and brought their nose rings back to the United States and Great Britain, though the nose stud quickly overtook the nose ring in popularity. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, nose piercing was adopted by the Punk movement, as a form of rebellion against conservative values.
Modern Nose Rings
Over the last several decades in the West, nose rings have become increasingly divorced from their traditional meaning and implications, and accepted into the mainstream as a form of personal adornment. As such, women are free to choose on which side they prefer to wear their nose ring. Those interested in holistic or Eastern medicine can honor the Ayurvedic tradition by choosing the left, but general society does not differentiate between the right or left side for piercings.
M. Farrugia is a writer and editor with more than five years experience in print and online media. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in French and Francophone studies from UCLA, and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing/critical studies from CALARTS. Her writing appears regularly on Racked and Curbed.