In the four decades Claire's has been in business, the accessories chain has pierced more than 100 million ears around the world. Given the store’s target demographic, it’s safe to say that a large percentage of these piercings have been on young girls. While ear piercings generally go off without a hitch save for nervous butterflies and an iron-gripped hand squeeze, a new viral Facebook post written by a former employee has sparked a heated discussion around children and consent.
As first reported by Refinery 29, 32-year-old Raylene Marks recently quit her job at an Edmonton, Alberta, location after taking issue with the company’s piercing policy. In a post titled "An Open Letter to Claire’s Corporate," which has received upwards of 6,500 likes and 500 comments, Marks details an uncomfortable situation in which she was asked to piece the ears of a seven-year-old girl who "made it clear she no longer wanted to get her ears pierced."
“I had a couple 'gray area' piercings where the children resisted heavily [then] were pressured and intimidated by the parents into settling down," she wrote. "I didn't feel good about those, and I started to wonder at what point the piercer and the parent are actually violating a child's personal boundaries. Last week was a breaking point."
She then goes on to share more about the interaction that made her leave the company. Marks was performing a “double” with another sales associate (a procedure in which two associates pierce both ears at the same time), which is often done on nervous children who might get upset after the first earring is put in. Marks says the girl was crying loudly, begging her mother to take her home, and “expressed that she didn't want us touching her, that we were standing too close, that she was feeling uncomfortable."
"That child's message was loud and clear to me," Marks continued. "Do not touch my body, do not pierce my ears, I do not want to be here.”
The mother and daughter eventually left without a piercing after Marks took a step away from the situation. “I'm inclined to respect a child's right to say no to any adult forcing any kind of non-medical contact on them, so I told the other piercer I wouldn't be part of the ear piercing for this girl,” she wrote.
The next day when discussing the event with her manager, Marks explained how uncomfortable she felt as the child was “begging to be left alone” despite the mother’s pressure to go through with the piercing. According to Marks, she was told, “You would have had no choice but to do it." She then hypothesized the “worst scenario I could think of,” in order to see how far she was expected to take the policy.
“So if a mother is physically restraining her daughter, holding her down and saying, 'DO IT,' while that little girl cries and asks me not to, do I do the piercing?" asked Marks. "Yes, you do the piercing," Marks says she was told.
She quit the same day.
In her post, Marks goes on to say that her manager continued to assert that "children can be held down and pierced,” and that there was one policy in place regarding the subject of consent, which stated: “We reserve the right to refuse an ear piercing if a successful one cannot be done.” Marks calls this "a deeply flawed policy that helps facilitate situations where children can be traumatized,” as there is “no mention of the use of physical restraint by the parent, or the employee’s right to refuse an ear piercing”—and she challenged the company to consider amending its policies.
Glamour reached out to Claire's representatives for comment and received the following statement:
"Claire’s has been piercing ears for more than 40 years, and has pierced over 100 million ears. Customer well-being is our main priority, and we ensure that any child piercing we do is carried out with the best care in consultation with, and with the agreement of the legal guardian. In relation to the ear piercing incident involving the former employee Raylene Marks, we believe she acted appropriately and in line with our policy by refusing to do the piercing. The policy is in place to ensure that if a child is distressed or resisting, Claire’s employees have the right to refuse to continue the piercing. We are investigating the specific store instances she mentions, and will take appropriate corrective action. We will also be reviewing the policy to ensure that the intent is clear."
The story has been circulating on social media, where other former employees have been weighing in about their experiences giving piercings.
Leah Prinzivalli, 28, who worked at a Claire’s store in Bridgewater, New Jersey, in 2005 tells Glamour, “I was hired at the Claire’s at my local mall the week I turned 15, learned how to pierce ears on my very first day, and was immediately asked to pierce an infant’s ears. The mother signed a consent form, but she had no idea that her child was my piercing guinea pig.” She adds, “Almost 15 years later, I can still picture the dot of purple pen I used to mark that tiny baby’s earlobe.”
Says Jennifer Deis, 31, who was a store manager at Icing (Claire's sister store) in St. Louis from 2011 to 2014: "I had issues with the lack of training provided for ear piercings. But we were always told that if the child tells you 'no,' you can't touch them—regardless of what the parent says. But if the child couldn't speak on their own, we had to do the piercing unless they were moving so much that we couldn't."
Marks’ post now features an edit before the original post begins: “Claire’s has reached out to me and expressed intentions to revise the policy. I do hope Claire’s will release a public statement if and when their policies are revised.”
She also thanks commenters for reading and sharing her post, writing, “If Claire’s changes their policies, it will be because you helped make it happen.”
Commenters on Facebook and Twitter have been very involved in the discussion of children’s consent and body autonomy. While most believe that children should have a say in ear piecing, there are also those who think it’s no big deal.
Bella Cacciatore is the beauty assistant at Glamour. Follow her @bellacacciatore_ on Instagram.