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Leave millennials alone about their piercings and tattoos

(Vincent Chambon/ Flickr)

Over the summer, I interned at Long Beach City Hall. I had to apply for the position and was eventually interviewed. My interview went well: I brought my resume, dressed for the occasion and made sure I appeared qualified. I also had bright blue hair in high school, including when I interviewed for my internship. I have eight piercings in total: five in my left ear, two in my right and one in my left nostril.

Piercings and tattoos, while viewed by many as a staple of modern fashion and self-expression, are still loathed by many parents, with one argument usually finding its way to the forefront: How will anyone ever find a job with that horrible permanent ink or bit of metal on them? In fact, in an opinion piece published by the Guardian, a heartbroken mother complains about her son’s tattoo, which she has never seen and refuses to look at. She raises the question: What if this tattooed young man becomes a lawyer? The answer is very simple: He’ll be a lawyer with a tattoo.

Some people have an easier time defying their parents than others. My roommate, who was already eighteen when she arrived at school, asked me in July if I would go with her to get her nose pierced—her parents didn’t want her to get it done, but she was desperate. Her parents told her they thought facial piercings looked trashy, but they wouldn’t know until Thanksgiving, so we went into Northampton together. I held her hand as a piercer put a small silver hoop through her nostril.

As of 2010, of people between the ages of 18 and 29, 38 percent have a tattoo and 23 percent a non-earlobe piercing. Still, the debate over body art rages on. Many employed adults feel the need to keep their tattoos covered at work and consider what one should keep hidden from a prospective employer during an interview.

Some tattoos are purely meant to adorn the body, but others have deeper meaning. For example, Project Semicolon is an organization whose aim is to spread awareness of suicide and mental illness by opening up conversations with body art. One of the ways this can be achieved is through tattoos of semicolons—they symbolize times when an author could have ended a sentence (their life) but instead chose to keep going. People have for years also been getting tattoos of friends and loved ones who have passed away, tattoos to remind them to stay sober or tattoos which help them remember family that is still with them. These tattoos, no matter how meaningful, might be affecting job prospects (there’s little concrete data). But tattoos, regardless of their meaning, don’t make one more or less deserving of a job.

Things are looking more promising for soon-to-be and recent graduates, but how secure can they be if they don’t know whether their tattoos will bar them from employment? There is little concrete data on whether tattoos actually affect employment, since the whole thing is subjective, but there are plenty of anecdotes on the subject. With so many millennials finding new and creative ways to decorate their bodies, it can certainly be frightening to send out applications or sit for interviews.

The odds may seem to be stacked against pierced and tattooed millennials, but I hope that things will improve with time. Right now, there are doctors and engineers and teachers with full sleeves of tattoos who are great at their jobs. It’s unfortunate, but the responsibility to show employers that our body art has nothing to do with our capability falls on us, the applicants.

Sophie Allen is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at siallen@umass.edu.

Comments
One Response to “Leave millennials alone about their piercings and tattoos”
  1. Tomahawk4040 says:

    Is anyone bothering millenials about tattoos? Seems like a made-up problem. Fact is, everyone, even “open-minded” millenials, judge everything they meet within the first 10 seconds or so. It’s called a first impression and those psychology majors will recognize it as a powerful force that most people are unable or unwilling to overcome. Just like freedom of speech carries consequences if speech is unpopular, so does personal appearance. So when you mark up your body with graffiti like an old New York subway car from the 70s, don’t expect people to have an exalted impression of you. Especially those offering you a job, who don’t have the slightest interest in “getting to know the person inside.” What I see now is many of my peers (who began the tattoo craze in the early 1990s) severely regretting their decisions. That awesome tattoo doesn’t look so great 20 years from now. Wrinkly skin, changing life attitudes, or having a child can do a lot. Just ask a million women who got the ever popular “tramp stamp” in the late 90s. Or the cute butt tattoo that only “special people” get to see once your butt is 3x the size it is now. Not cute. As for artistic expression, those extreme ear piercings (you know, with those really, really cool bottle caps or whatever stretching out earlobes) have caused an epidemic of reconstructive surgery that are making cosmetic surgeons rich and the people who got them disfigured for life. There are a lot of reasons not to get tattoos and extreme piercings. The way you will be treated by a potential employer is certainly a valid one. But consider your future self who may be really embarrassed by that dumb tattoo located in a terrible spot. Sometimes a bad idea is just a bad idea.

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