Leave millennials alone about their piercings and tattoos

By Sophie Allen

(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 [email protected]