Too young to pierce

It's not the earrings that offend, it's the holes

It's not easy explaining to a four-year-old why you'd rather she didn't get holes put in her ears. Earrings hold a natural fascination for babies and children. I had to stop wearing my hoop earrings (the only bit of glamour I was able to inject into my post-partum wardrobe for at least 11 months) when my baby learned to grab. Even though hoop earrings have an inbuilt quick- release mechanism, I didn't want to risk ripping my ear lobes asunder. So the hoops fell into the bottom of a bag and were left to oxidise for a couple of seasons.

Eventually, of course, my baby grew up to be an observant little girl who realised that some people wore earrings and, worse, that some of her peers did. Unfortunately, young children have no interest in marching to the beat of their own drum: they want what other children have.

And so the requests started.

"Mummy, can I have earrings?"

"Mummy, can I have some holes in my ears?"

And the answer would be no, no, no. Sometimes I would explain my decision by letting rip all my prejudices about children with pierced ears, saying the sorts of things I would not so readily admit in public.

One day at playschool, one of her bejewelled friends was dropped off by her mother. "Mummy, why does Tara-Kayte have earrings in her ears?" I bit my lip. Tara-Kayte's mother looked on as her own picture-frame earrings gently swayed back and forth. Then I decided to be really honest. "Because Tara-Kayte's mother doesn't mind her little girl having earrings in her ears. And I do." I twitched slightly with the effort of keeping so much still unsaid.

But I realised, in that instant, something liberating. I didn't actually have a problem with children wearing earrings, because I understood the attraction of wanting to dress up. I had a problem with the making of holes in a little one's ears.

This is one of the few things I disagree with in my culture: it is very common, in Italy, to pierce the ears of very tiny children. I find it abhorrent. Why would anyone want to make a hole in a baby's ears, when they have no say over the matter themselves? Also, children look so cute just as they are, they don't need icing.

The "can I have my ears pierced?" requests abated when I realised there was no logic behind my denial of earrings and promised my child that she could have some clip-on ones. Somewhere deep in the velveteen folds of my long-lost jewellery box, I have various glittery and shimmering drop earrings. Clip-ons are invariably more fancy than their pierced cousins.

So there will be no annoying, "trying to be subtle", tiny gold studs or sleepers for my child. When her ears are finally bedecked, it will be in full-on glitz and sparkle, like a Piccadilly Circus advertising hoarding. In fact, I may even take sponsors.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 24 March 2008 issue of the New Statesman, The truth about Tibet