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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I just finished reading the letter from "Upset in Collegeville, Pa.," regarding the 15-year-old girl who wanted to get her belly button pierced. Your response included, "As long as the procedure is done hygienically, it shouldn't cause any damage."

I am a gynecologist. I have observed that navel piercings often cause significant permanent scarring, especially at the upper piercing site. These scars are far larger than one would expect. They can also be associated with darkening of the skin at the scar site, which makes them even more cosmetically unacceptable.

I can't explain why other piercings such as earlobes usually have no scarring while navel piercings often result in unsightly permanent scars. Anyone considering a belly button piercing should be aware of this potentially permanent problem. -- OREGON GYNECOLOGIST

DEAR OREGON GYNECOLOGIST: Thank you for writing. Although I live in Los Angeles, probably the navel-piercing capital of the United States, I cannot claim to have seen as many belly buttons "up close and personal" as you have, so I bow to your expertise. Many readers commented regarding that letter. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: May I add a note to your response to the parents who agreed to let their daughter pierce her belly button, then changed their minds? I am 62 and still can't quite forgive my father for much the same thing. He was old-fashioned and wouldn't let my older sister drive. When I was 15, I begged to take driver's ed and get my license at 16. He agreed -- on the condition that I pay for the lessons myself.

Well, I did -- and passed with flying colors. But when I turned 16, he refused to allow me to get my license. When I asked why he'd lied to me, he said he hadn't lied. He simply thought I'd never be able to save enough to pay for the course. Even after 46 years, I still think he lied to me.

My advice to the parents: Do not break your word. It could damage your relationship with your son or daughter forever. -- MARJ G., WESLACO, TEXAS

DEAR MARJ: I agree. She fulfilled her part of the bargain, so the parents shouldn't have reneged on their promise.

DEAR ABBY: In some states, piercing isn't legal before age 16, even with parental consent. If the parents relent, I hope they'll find out what the local laws are and go to the most reputable person who performs piercings. My advice to potential piercers: Stay away from those who will do the piercing regardless of state law. -- SUZANNE, PRIMEVAL INK TATTOO, MONROE, WASH.

DEAR SUZANNE: Good advice.

DEAR ABBY: While I respect the right to change one's mind, the relationship of a parent to a child can be permanently damaged by relatively small betrayals. In today's world, belly button piercing is little more than a fashion statement, and the parents who are waffling over their promise to let their daughter pierce her navel in exchange for good grades risk far more by breaking their promise than by allowing the piercing. -- GEORGE (A YOUNG PARENT WITH CHILDREN), SANTA MONICA, CALIF.

DEAR GEORGE: I agree. And you stated it very well.

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