Editor's note: This article is a part of a head-to-head. Read the other article here.
Tattoos are commonly referred to as “job-stoppers.” The notion refers to employers discriminating against tattooed job-seekers. It can also be applied to other body modifications such as piercings, dyed hair and painted nails. While private entities are afforded more leeway by the law in regards to restricting freedom of expression and speech, discrimination in a professional setting on the basis of appearance is inherently wrong and unproductive.
The number of tattoos I have doesn’t correlate to my ability to do work. Your blue hair doesn’t stop you from attending a meeting. My pierced ears aren’t hindering me from writing this article. Your multi-colored nails don’t affect your productivity. None of it matters. If I can do my job, I can do my job. Just as nobody should be judged by the color of their skin, nobody should be judged by the modifications to their body.
I pierced my ears as soon as I graduated high school. I highlighted my black hair blonde my sophomore year of college. I got my fourth tattoo, which is visible if I wear short sleeves, about two weeks ago. When I pierced my ears, a family member told me some employers may not want to hire a male with pierced ears. I immediately shot back and said I wouldn’t want to work at a place that wouldn’t allow my pierced ears. When I got my first tattoo, somebody told me it’s good I got it in a spot easily covered with a shirt. I responded in a similar manner. I don’t want to work somewhere that discriminates against artwork on my body.
To expand the conversation, let’s consider transgender individuals. Surely the transition from male to female or vice versa is a body modification. Although there is no federal law barring a private entity from discriminating against transgender people, it’s wrong. The law does not always equate to morality or common decency. In 2019, whatever someone decides to do with their body is their own choice and should not define their capacity to work.
However, there are some obvious instances in which someone could be rightfully discriminated against based on the markings on their body. For example, I don’t want to associate with someone who has a swastika tattooed on their face. Nor do I want to pay for goods or services from someone with any form of offensive artwork on their body. Self-expression can include hate, which the First Amendment rightfully protects, but it should not be tolerated.
I graduate this May. I’m applying for internships and graduate school. I worry that some authority figures, especially in a more conservative environment, will think less of me when they see that I wear earrings and have tattoos. This concern should not exist. I should be judged by the content of my resume, not the modifications of my body.
Tattoos are one of the oldest art forms, dating back to over 4,000 years ago. Ancient Egyptians and Indians used them for religious reasons and Filipinos used them to assign societal rankings. Indigenous peoples used piercings and other modifications for a variety of reasons. Throughout history, various modification trends shifted in and out of the mainstream. Once the hippie movement arose in the 60s and 70s, tattoos became common among all classes. Today, about 38 percent of people aged 18 to 29 have a tattoo.
If a workplace was to discriminate against body modifications, it would have to automatically reject a large number of potential employees. Not only would this create a lack of diversity in the workplace, but that company could also fall out of touch with its clients.
Body modifications are a prominent form of self-expression. Self-expression in any unharmful form should be celebrated. That self-expression does not relate to one’s productivity and, therefore, should not be a factor in a professional setting.
James Smith is a 22-year-old mass communication senior from Grand Coteau, Louisiana.