It all started with a seemingly simple Facebook status. And, of course, a girl-crush (girls and social media run my f*cking life).
"I want to get a fashion septum piercing," I thoughtlessly typed into my Facebook status. It was a rainy Tuesday afternoon, and I had spent the morning lazily carousing Instagram, gazing at my favorite model/girl-crush of the moment, Cailin Russo, and her fashionable feed.
Cailin Russo is the kind of long-legged, California-girl gorgeous I could never be, with glowing sun-kissed skin, seafoam eyes and effortless blonde beach waves. And just beneath her perfect button nose with its perfect smattering of freckles is an unexpected septum piercing.
I admire a girl who's born conventionally beautiful but chooses unconventional fashion over succumbing to the societal standards of "pretty." It would be so easy for Cailin to take basic pictures of herself posing in yoga pants like every other California babe, but instead, she rocks platform goth boots over stilettos and opts for a septum piercing over a spray tan.
Now that's a f*cking cool girl.
I was born a fashion-obsessed entity who garners inspiration from badass girls with fierce personal style. So, electrified by Ms. Russo, I decided I HAD to have a septum piercing just like she did. And as per usual, I spilled my fleeting idea of the moment onto Facebook.
I wasn't expecting any reaction, let alone over 100 comments from strangers and friends alike telling me I MUST DO IT or telling me it WOULD RUIN MY ENTIRE FACE AND TURN ME INTO AN UGLY COW.
The reaction was so aggressive that I felt like I was in an alternate universe. It was as if I had announced I was leaving New York, moving to Mars and starting a GoFundMe for astronaut school or was going to do a reality show with Sarah Palin.
But what if I bought a fake septum, acted like it was real and gauged the reactions?
So, that's what I did. I ordered a faux diamond septum piercing in the mail, and three business days later it was clipped inside of my nose. I wore it for several days, telling my friends, lover, coworkers and strangers that it was real.
I'm not your typical septum-sporting girl. While I love fashion and am a style risk taker, I'm not the stereotypical facial piercing type. I have long brown hair and am perpetually clad in prim little dresses and towering heels. I rock a quilted black Chanel bag with an ostentatious gold chain daily. I would describe my personal style as extremely f*cking feminine with a sneaky, subtle edge.
So last Tuesday when I adorned my virginal nose with a septum "piercing," snapped a selfie, uploaded it to Instagram and waltzed into work, I had no idea what I was in for.
I was blown away by the reactions and feelings this piece of metal triggered.
Who knew a seemingly vacant septum piercing would be a window into the societal standards of beauty?
The eccentric lady on the street complimented me.
Lucky for me, I work in the fabulous, funky neighborhood of Chelsea in lower Manhattan. As I walk into work each morning, I go largely unnoticed. Fashion icons, super models and the wild weirdos are far more interesting to stare at.
Within 20 minutes of wearing my septum in Chelsea, an eccentric woman probably in her early 70s physically stopped me in the street.
"You're soooo beautiful," she gasped, taking a long, meaningful puff of her Parliament light 100. Her body was wrapped up in a white fur coat, and Jackie O sunglasses were strapped to her pale little face. Her fingers boasted a myriad of exotic turquoise rings.
She touched my arm. "Your piercing is stunning," she proclaimed before turning and walking away with the fierce intensity of a true fashion diva.
I felt cool as f*ck by her compliment. I could tell she was not only a native New Yorker, but an original West Village character. She probably hung out with Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick back in the day. She probably dated Lou Reed and sang in 70s punk band.
I took a moment alone and smiled into the slate grey Manhattan sky. It's hard to get a compliment from any woman in this town, let alone a cool downtown 1970s superstar.
My mother shamed me on Instagram.
It wasn't long before my text message made that triggering little "ding" sound through the confines of my black quilted purse. I reached in and saw it was my lovely mother. My heart pounded with a daughter's intuition before I even read her text.
Let me tell you a little bit about my mother: My mother is a former model. She's a stunning force of a woman who hasn't aged a day in the last 20 years.
She's idolized by many, including myself. That being said, she loathes the discreet tattoos I sport and gets pissed at me when I do anything that could possibly tarnish my "natural beauty."
"What the f*ck did you do to your nose," she had lovingly text me. I instinctively checked my Instagram. She had publicly commented: "As Zara's Mum.... I hate it!!!!"
Suddenly I felt ugly and cheap. I was fueled with desire to rip off my piercing and end the experiment instantly.
I've always been a secret sucker for my mother's approval. In fact, I think the need to please her maternal figures is embedded into every daughter's DNA. No matter how hard I try to resist and how high the dramatic measures of rebellion I've taken to rise against her taste, her opinions are impossible for me to shake. They sit in the back of my mind and torment me, even when I disagree with them.
I was surprised and disappointed in myself. I'm 29 f*cking years old, and one comment from my mother (over a piercing that isn't even REAL) was enough to temporarily shatter the fragile glass of my self-esteem.
The girls loved it.
Despite my mother's disapproval, the Millennial girls across the board LOVED my septum piercing.
"It's hot." "It's hot." "It's hot," echoed throughout the office.
Hot. Hot is an interesting choice of word? It's madly different than pretty, gorgeous or beautiful.
Hot alludes to sex appeal, not traditional beauty. Is breaking traditional beauty sexy to women?
Do us girls find risks sexy? Do we find personal style and self-expression sexier than basic beauty?
The reaction was very, very different from boys.
The boys hated it.
I could see the look of disgust on every boy's face that I encountered. There was just an instant reaction of disappointment from every boy-creature who knows me.
"Why did you do that," one echoed.
"Hmm, that looks painful,” cried another. I could read between the lines: It was his polite way of saying "What the f*ck did you just f*ck up your face for?"
Luckily, I've always been the kind of girl who is far hungrier for girl approval than boy approval, so it didn't bother me too much.
Plus the boy validation I yearn for tends to revolve around gay boys or alternative freak bois, and they all loved the sh*t out of my septum.
Downtown embraced me.
Later that night, I met up with my best friend Owen in a wig shop on 14th street. He was buying a wig for a fashion photography shoot for which he was styling the hair.
All the downtown fashion weirdos purchasing wigs for god only knows what smiled at me. Normally they don't even look my direction in my prim dress and patent leather heels.
I felt like there was nowhere in the world I belonged more than a East Village wig shop on Thursday night. And it was a great feeling of belonging I've seldom felt before.
Uptown shunned me.
I live on the Upper East Side of the great isle of Manhattan. I love the tree-lined streets, am amused by the uptown supermoms pushing strollers in their $1200 Moncler puffer coats and $300 Lululemon leggings and adore the civilized nature of the neighborhood.
Obviously I sometimes attract nasty looks from Burberry-wearing, Chanel No. 5-reeking older women as I strut around the block in faux fur and lace stockings, but it's usually not so terrible. After all, I do have a classic Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, which is the resident dog breed on the Upper East Side, and she grants me instant acceptance from the stuffy older ladies.
Who knew a septum piercing would suddenly make me the town freak, even with preppy dog in tow?
UES is known for its bitchy nature, but I never knew how real it was until I walked around with a septum ring. Even the flirtatious deli guys turned cold on me. Young moms looked at me in fear, like I was going to steal their precious children right out of their strollers and take them to the bondage club.
This empowered me more. I became fiercely protective over my piercing (once again temporarily forgetting it was fake) and stomped down the streets with my head held mother f*cking HIGH, taking up more space on the city sidewalk than ever.
I wanted to tell them all to GO F*CK THEMSELVES, which, as a gentle creature, is not my default nature. But in that moment, I remembered what it felt like to be disapproved of and went forth anyway.
It validates your strength when you don't care what the bitches who fear anything different think of you.
It reminded me of how much I respect those who do what the f*ck they want, despite what society thinks.
So here's to all the creatures who go as themselves, regardless of consequence.
Here's to the little boy who wears nail polish to school despite getting beat up by the jocks.
Here's to the goth girls who rock black lace to school and listen to death metal on their headphones, knowing (and not f*cking caring) that it scares off the wimpy teenage boys.
Here's to drag queens who risk their lives walking home at 2 am in dangerous neighborhoods from a gig, just so they can express themselves freely.
Here's to the girl who cuts her hair short and wears men's suits to work because that's what makes HER feel sexy.
Here's to anyone fearlessly expresses themselves, despite the pressing societal standard of "pretty."