Lose the Nipple Ring

Lose the Nipple Ring

Lose the Nipple Ring

Science, technology, and life.
April 2 2008 1:02 AM

Lose the Nipple Ring

I'd like to start the blog on a high note. But it's hard to pass up the nipple-ring story. It brings up some topics I've addressed before , and, weirdly enough, it does raise the kinds of issues HN is designed to explore.

Here are the basics, as outlined in a letter issued Thursday and reprinted in Slate 's Hot Document : About a month ago, a woman named Mandi Hamlin set off a handheld airport metal detector and was told by TSA screeners that she'd have to remove the metal object in order to pass screening. The object was a nipple ring. According to the letter, signed by attorney Gloria Allred, "Ms. Hamlin has several body piercings, including in her ears, belly, and nipples."

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.


Hamlin told the screener "that she could not remove" the piercings "but that she would show them to a TSA officer." The screener said no dice; she would have to take them out (behind a privacy curtain) and stop setting off the detector. She eventually gave in and did so. The letter says Hamlin heard male officers "snickering" nearby. It says she was "publicly humiliated" and "made to suffer the physical pain of removing a nipple ring with pliers." It demands a "public apology" and an "investigation of this matter by the Office of Civil Rights and Liberties."

On one point, Allred nails TSA. The agency's guidance to passengers says , "Hidden items such as body piercings may result in your being directed to additional screening for a pat-down inspection. If selected for additional screening, you may ask to remove your body piercing in private as an alternative to a pat-down search." Hamlin says she wasn't even offered the pat-down option. On Friday, TSA issued a statement promising , "In the future TSA will inform passengers that they have the option to resolve the alarm through a visual inspection of the article in lieu of removing the item in question. TSA acknowledges that our procedures caused difficulty for the passenger involved and regrets the situation in which she found herself."

If TSA thinks a visual or pat-down inspection is sufficient to discount metal detection, I guess that's their business. I don't really see why nail clippers are more dangerous than piercings, but hey, they're the experts. And if the officers snickered, that's out of bounds. But for my money, that's not the crux of the case. The crux of the case is that all the metal in Hamlin's body was elective.

If you need metal in your pacemaker or your artificial hip, that's one thing. Adornments are another. Metal can be dangerous on planes, and TSA's first responsibility is to protect other passengers. Want to pierce yourself silly? Go ahead. But if you expect to fly commercial, take out the tongue stud, Stud.

Allred thinks this is too much to ask. "After nipple rings are inserted, the skin can often heal around the piercing, and the rings can be extremely difficult and painful to remove," her letter argues. "In addition, once removed, the pierced skin may close up almost immediately, making it difficult and painful to reinsert the piercing."

Forgive me if this sounds, um, callous, but aren't these medical concerns a pretty good argument against getting pierced in the first place? Isn't this nature's way of telling you you're designed to be made of flesh, not metal?

"The last time that I checked a nipple was not a dangerous weapon," Allred writes. No, Ma'am, it isn't. But nobody asked your client to remove her nipple—or to puncture it.