There are thousands, perhaps millions, of people across Canada whose ears are pierced because they sat in a chair at Claire’s, nervously clinging to their best friend, parent, guardian, or a lucky person willing to hold their hand while they endured the slightly painful procedure of having a metal rod impale their earlobes. Claire’s has pierced over 100 million ears around the world in four decades, to be exact.
Getting your ears pierced may seem innocuous and pedestrian — a basic rite of passage — but this week, the act has started a nationwide conversation about children and consent.
Raylene Marks, a 32-year-old from Alberta, quit her job at one of Claire’s Edmonton-area stores over the accessories chain’s ear-piercing policy. In a widely shared Facebook post, Marks wrote “An Open Letter to Claire’s Corporate” detailing a situation in which she refused to pierce the ears of a seven-year-old girl, who “made it clear she no longer wanted to get her ears pierced.” Marks and her colleague were supposed to do a “double” on the girl, an internal Claire’s term for piercing both ears at the same time. Marks wrote that the girl cried and loudly stated that she “didn't want us touching her, that we were standing too close, that she was feeling uncomfortable.”
“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,” Marks wrote. Eventually, the girl and her mother left without going through with the piercing.
The next day, Marks says that when she told her manager about the situation, she was told if the mother had insisted on doing the procedure, Marks “would have had no choice but to do it."
"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?" Marks says she hypothesized to her manager. The response, according to Marks was, "Yes, you do the piercing."
Marks quit the same day. In her Facebook post, which has over 6,500 likes and close to 500 comments, Marks wrote, “I cannot be part of a company that teaches a child that their right to say, ‘NO,’ to invasive non-medical contact can be so easily overridden by an adult.”
In her post, Marks challenged Claire’s to change their policies to include better guidance on piercing children. She refers to the company’s Policy 509, which states: “When a child is resisting the ear piercing, politely suggest to the parent that perhaps it would be better to perform the ear piercing on another day and/or when two associates are available to perform a ‘double’ piercing. We reserve the right to refuse to perform an ear piercing if a successful one cannot be done.”
Marks believes the policy is “deeply flawed” and “helps facilitate situations where children can be traumatized or otherwise subject to forms of intimidation and abuse in-store.”
When reached for comment, a Claire’s representative told Refinery29 that it is investigating the incident and that it will be reviewing the company policy. The representative said Marks “acted appropriately and in line with our policy by refusing to do the piercing.” Though Marks says she was told otherwise when she contacted the employee relations line after quitting.
Since her post went viral, Claire’s sent Marks a personal message, saying: “We can appreciate how the last sentence of the policy could be misconstrued, and we thank you for bringing this to our attention. However, we assure you that the intention of the policy is absolutely that we reserve the right the refuse to pierce if a child is distressed or resisting the piercing.”
Marks is pleased Claire’s is now backing her up. “It really demonstrates what happens when you put something in the hands of the public to decide,” Marks says. “It’s very possible that [Claire’s] caved under public pressure.”
Marks says she’s shocked the letter has garnered such widespread attention. “I think this issue speaks to a child’s right to consent and to anyone who has endured any childhood trauma, to anyone who has had a bad ear piercing, and to anyone who has worked in any of these Claire’s locations.”