Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Job discrimination based on body modification is outdated

By Elise Martorano

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Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times/MCT

Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times/MCT

I can’t even begin to estimate how many jobs I’ve applied to whose dress codes included a phrase like, “No visible tattoos or piercings.” This mandate always rubbed me the wrong way for several reasons, but I think the most important reason is the perceived difference between a visible tattoo and a non-visible tattoo.

Employers want to put a face on their company that inspires trust and confidence in its clients. Fair enough. But what is it about a pierced or tattooed face that causes people to view the company in a negative light? The answer to this question is so outdated it’s embarrassing. We typically associate people who have visible body modifications with criminals, plain and simple.

We associate tattooed necks with prison inmates, tattooed biceps with motorcycle gangs, pierced lips with bullies and stretched ears with high school dropouts. This concept is, in itself, inherently flawed for several reasons.

The first reason is that these images of “dangerous people” – people who are intimidating, rude and unintelligent – are highly caricatured and for the most part, outdated. Fear of groups like this, largely representative of underprivileged demographics and also of counter-culture movements, has been exaggerated by (mostly white, middle-class) cultural paranoia.

This paranoia can be extended to countless other ways people express themselves through their bodies: Hair colors and styles, fashion, use of makeup and even women’s decisions to shave their body hair. Mainstream society is terrified of people who deviate from the social conventions of what people should look like, and, more relevantly, what professionals should look like.

Although body modifications like this may once have been more or less specific to these groups of people, they aren’t anymore. Today, the pierced and tattooed “demographic” is no longer just a demographic. Those who choose to alter their bodies in these ways are represented by countless careers, personalities, cultures, social circles and socio-economic backgrounds. Body modifications are no longer indicative of the stigmatized pseudo-criminal, if they ever were in the first place.

So how does our perception of individuals with these modifications change when the tattoos or piercings are not visible? Consider two potential employees with equal merit. One enters a job interview with a pierced nose (clearly visible). Another enters the interview with pierced genitals (obviously not visible). In a conservative environment, the potential employee with the genital piercing will, in all likeliness, be far better off. This is because the potential employer cannot see it and is therefore not confronted with the confusing paradigm of a qualified individual with a body modification. Note the sarcasm.

If we want to extrapolate this metaphor into a slightly more sinister context, here’s another example. Imagine an establishment that does not hire homosexuals, although employees are never asked about it in their interviews. Two potential employees are interviewed. Both are homosexual. The first makes no indication of it, and is hired. The second, on the other hand, is spotted holding the hand of their partner before the interview. This second person, given the company’s policy, is not hired.

But what is the fundamental difference between these two individuals? Nothing. Obviously this metaphor is not airtight, especially given the considerably more devastating social discrimination and aggression that homosexuals have experienced and still are experiencing, compared to individuals with body modifications. But you get my point.

Employers, and the general public, do not want to confront the conflicting cultural archetypes that our society has constructed, which cause us to look at people and judge them based on their appearance or demeanor. The concept of a lawyer, a teacher or a salesperson with stretched ears or tattooed knuckles conflicts with how we categorize our conceptions of people.

We love to put groups in Venn diagrams: In this instance, professionals on one side, people with body modifications in the other, a blank space in the middle. It is very difficult for us to rid ourselves of the paranoid misconceptions of past generations. But we must ask ourselves what the purposes of these misconceptions are. What do we stand to gain by continuing to allow ourselves and others to discriminate on the basis of physical appearance (and furthermore, by nationality, sexuality, gender or any other factor that is a common basis for discrimination)? We inhibit ourselves by inhibiting our understanding of other people – we prevent ourselves from learning about and benefitting from the unique perspectives of those who are different from us.

Elise Martorano is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]


14 Responses to “Job discrimination based on body modification is outdated”

  1. Genghis Khan on February 21st, 2014 12:19 pm

    A person is born white, or black, or whatever. A person is born male or female. A person is born (to some degree; studies vary) straight or gay. These are not choices, and discrimination against someone because of their birth situation is wrong. Pure and simple.

    A person CHOOSES to modify themselves. Thus, those DECISIONS can be taken as a proxy for their other decision making. You want tats to make you look like a clown, that’s fair game.

    In full disclosure. I have tattoos. One, on my arm, is lower than I like, and tends to peek out when wearing a polo shirt. I regret getting all of them.

  2. Robert on April 15th, 2014 1:45 pm

    It sickens me that our society treats people so horribly simply becuase of the way they choose to decorate their bodies. You would never deny someone a job simply becuase of the color of their shirt, would you? How is that different from someone who chooses to have a facial percing or a tattoo on their arm? You wear a shirt becuase you like they way it looks and you get a tattoo or piericing for the same reason. It does not determine what kind of a person you are and it is sad and pathetic that so many people are ignorant enought to think that it does. Get to know a person and then judge them based on the quality of their character, not on their outward physical appearance. People who judge others for having tattoos and piercings are no better then racists.

  3. Lulu on June 10th, 2014 12:30 pm

    I don’t choose to get modified I HAVE to get modified. It’s not something that I can do without. It makes life livable. Some days it is the only thing that gets me out of bed. Someday it’s the only thing that keeps me moving. If you don’t feel this way consider yourself very lucky. I am compelled to modify myself. pierced, tattooed, cut, scarred, surgically modified. almost as if it were an addiction but it’s not. You’re right, it’s my choice but my choice is what makes me feel better.

    To deny me a job because of these things is the same as if you denied somebody a job because they were on blood pressure medicine, wore glasses, or took antidepressants. These things keep me whole.

  4. Sarah on June 10th, 2014 2:22 pm

    Genghis, you’re correct. We choose to modify ourselves. However, we also choose our religion, yet not joint someone based on that is against discrimination laws as well. How is body modification any different from that? It’s a poor argument in my opinion. You shouldn’t have to hide who you are in the workplace. And if your business is worthy of surviving in this economy customers will keep coming back to it no matter what you look like.

  5. Sarah on June 10th, 2014 2:24 pm

    *not hiring someone
    I have no idea where joint came from haha.

  6. Capt Blacksox on June 10th, 2014 5:11 pm

    While it’s many modify themselves simply for aesthetics, many are also born to modify, driven by some inert drive. Discrimination against body modification is a sad fact of modern society but it does seem to be improving, albeit slowly.

  7. LZ on June 10th, 2014 10:52 pm

    @ Robert
    Actually, yes, you can lose certain jobs for wearing the wrong color shirt – particularly those jobs that require uniforms. I thoroughly dislike a certain color which happened to be the color of a uniform shirt. I hated wearing it…. but wear it I did for almost 10 years because it was a requirement for the job. I had to discipline and eventually fire people who worked under me because they similarly hated the color and thus the shirt and would not wear it. How many people I had to send home – at one point I kept a stock of shirts in my department just for people who would refuse to show up to work in it. They had to change, or go home without pay. It grated against my soul to do it… but hey… if you want the job, you’ll do what you have to do.

    And yes, it was all legal and does not mean there is a violation of rights. The shirt and its color was clearly stated as a requirement.

  8. Deborah on August 27th, 2014 3:16 pm

    Saying it is okay to discriminate against people in the work place for religion, beliefs, social group ( rich, median, poor, whatever), sexuality, body modification, skin color, accent or anything of the nature of people lives and how they live is quite frankly, stupid in my opinion, and will probably cause the company to loose customers and potential great employees. Its none of your business how your employees are living their lives as long as they follow company rules about dress code, how to do their jobs, and the law. Anything outside of that, is unacceptable and a intrusion of privacy that people deserve and have rights too. It is not unprofessional to have body modification. What IS unprofessional is judging someone on outwards appearances verses their qualifications and skill sets.

    if you disagree, thats fine, but you dont need to project how you believe to other people of the nature that you disagree with, its rude and disrespectful. I have never seen a human with a tattoo and plugs tell someone without them that they are stupid and ugly for having no body modifications.
    Most of us understand that, the people who continue to do it, set back human beings from finding true balance between government, companies and freedoms of the people.

  9. Anto on October 14th, 2014 11:45 am

    Yes, certainly shirt color was one of the worst example one can make, as it can be easily changed, especially if you wear an uniform, maybe Robert would have probably meant eyecolor, but ok, that can’t be changed and it’s not chosen (not fully convinced by this criteria, Sarah egregiously disclosed why), but discriminating because you think something is not acceptable, something it can’t be easily changed like dress or makeup, like haircuts, for example, it starts to become very invasive as dress policy, because it carries well outside the work hour, demean yourself.
    I mean only strictly appearence related should be able to select based on whatever visual characteristic or detail, like modeling and moviemaking, obviously in this case it wouldn’t be discrimination to need a white woman and asking her to have long hair or cutting hers for the part, it’s not because of race prejudice but because of the story needed.
    I think all other cases of jobs can’t be reduced to an affair of the enterpreuner, as they have a public function, however private the goals of the profit maker are, they regulate the social inclusions. Exceeding visual requirements that can’t be changed becomes discrimination, whatever the excuses are, because then once upon a time hiring black would have meant more probability (or fear thereof) of losing customers because of their prejudices.
    I could go on.

  10. Deja on October 19th, 2014 9:00 pm

    For the people who are against body modifications in the work place, I’ve made an audio essay from my stand point of view as to why I think it shouldn’t matter when it comes to getting hired. Here’s the link to my audio essay: Check it out if you like. Thank you.

  11. John Dunes on November 9th, 2014 5:01 pm

    I think as long as the employee have the choice to modify themselves, the employer have the right to hire who ever fit their best interest. Religion is not a choice, often people are born into their religion and grew with it. Uniform are needed to show the client how professional are you. Meaning you cannot wear a tank top to Wall street, or wear just your underwear to school and teach. If there is no restriction upon any of these, you are to expect a teacher wearing short short, tank top, tattoo cover, multiple piercing, to school and teaches because that how they express themselves, discrimination are to put thing in order, you want a uniformed, appealing employee, professional looking, to make good first impression on new customer, and maintain trust with recurring customer. Society must function this way, if you do not want to be judge, then DON’T GET TATTOO, simple as that.
    Thank You

  12. riss on November 19th, 2015 5:19 pm

    why should i be discriminated against or judged for my choices? and what i want to do. i don’t choose not to talk to people because they do their hair a certain way or wear polo shirts. same should go for people who dye their hair and have a sleeve of tattoos. plain and simple. i’m probably about half most of you people on here. this is a great article i am happy i came across it

  13. riss on November 19th, 2015 5:20 pm

    *half the age of*

  14. tortilini on April 6th, 2016 12:46 am

    Incompatible behavior, alcoholism, stupidity, insane body modification, drug abuse etc are sometimes used by someones to avoid working. Those people tend being fed by social welfare in some european countries. They get money, in order not to make any crimes for there abuses. Maybe that is ok.

    Well, some few jobs are compatible with extreme body modification or extreme tattoos, where people can express there modification as kind of art, if they see it like this.

    don’t blame those, who take their right not to choose the extreme ones. nobody would trust a doctor, a layer etc. if they look that strange. if you understand this, than you can make your right choice, where you want to go tomorrow! 🙂

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