Sep 18, 2014

Pierced and Prejudiced

The Rocky Relationship Between Body Modification and Employment

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Anna Belitskaya | Contributing Writer

The college experience is the time that students explore their creativity, widen their cultural knowledge, and calculate their assets. The world is our oyster and the capital city has a buzzing atmosphere which only enhances the sense of change and novelty of study at third level. It’s the times when, on a normal day out, one can go for three completely different types of coffee, attend an academic talk on ancient forms of contraception and spontaneously get two piercings and a micro dermal. The latter of which this writer has done, more than once. As students will never be as free to experiment with tattoos, piercings, implants and scarification, which are but a few services available today to alter our appearance, but should we have to put our experimentation on hold for fear of the negative impact it will have on our future careers?

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In our parents’ youth the job race was an entirely different mountain to climb: the job market was thriving with a choice of careers, and the qualifications were far easier to obtain. Now, there is a great emphasis placed on our future and the need to become successful, which is often measured by the zeros on your pay check. We are shipped off to offices of various companies to complete work experience in TY. Soon after, school leavers are slotted into columns of college course applicants, driven by a guidance counsellor to chase a career as determined by your ‘ability’ in the eight areas of an aptitude test. This mechanical ‘sorting’ of students’ futures frames them into a system where emigration is Plan A and the average Bachelor’s degree is not enough for a basic office position. We are expected to choose a career for the rest of our lives at an age when some of us can barely boil water, and we must do so for a lifestyle we had never accepted and an appearance untrue to who we are.

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What we were never taught at school is the vast difference between a job and a career, and the fact that we have to get the former in order to pay the bills, whilst simultaneously pursuing the latter. Employers have raised their standards dramatically, and basic jobs with dreadful working conditions are widely sought after by graduates from recognised universities. The competition for work is high and unemployment rates rise constantly to meet it. However, with so many students failing to complete their degree and obtain their qualifications, do the conservative employers really have such a vast supply of interviewees lined up so as to be in a position to judge a potential worker by their appearance, regardless of the little difference it makes in how they carry out their employment duties.

What we were never taught is the vast difference between a job and a career

Many companies issue automatic refusal to a candidate based on the passport sized photograph they attached to their application form, while others can be looser with their staff and judge them by ability rather than appearance. Realistically, a potential employee applying for a chef position will be asked to remove all piercings, whilst a salesperson in a department store with a split tongue and a stretched labret will be rather intimidating to potential customers. Understandable as this is, it is extremely difficult to believe that employers follow their own preaching religiously, as surely there are tattooed business people in the world?

Changing Perceptions

As decades flow into one another, fashion evolves with each coming year, each brave style succeeding the last. From greasy locks of grunge nineties to this year’s flirtation with beards and dip dye, the timed trends are mere passing fancies of our very modern society, like the “No-Makeup Selfies” being replaced by the “MND Ice Bucket Challenge”.

As fashions grow a little more bizarre each year, so too does the perception of tattoos as the lowbrow branding for punks, sailors and convicts loosen. The technology of tattooing and the skills involved are evolving to world class standards, with certified and esteemed artists ready to accommodate every tattooing style explored. Fuelling this is the steady stream of customers – from “college goers to veterans, first timers to experienced, from 18 upwards” Temple Bar’s Dublin Ink.

This also includes many business executives and working professionals

This also includes many business executives and working professionals. On any given day Facebook overflows with personal stories of overcoming illnesses and getting a tattoo to mark that bit of success, and people are covering the scars of their past with beautiful artwork of the present, which, even though it follows them into the future, does not have a right to affect it negatively. The stigma behind body modifications is diffused into walking works of art of all cultures and lifestyles, claiming the stereotype as their own.

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Every year tattoo parlours invite celebrated international guest artists, places with whom are booked up months in advance by body art enthusiasts who put time and research into their future work of inked art, while the resident artists brand numerous tourists with shamrocks and harps on a daily basis. Numerous body modification services such as suspension, neck ringing, ear stretching, tongue splitting, corsetry and ‘elfing’ are available today, each researched and considered by a passionate community of customers. Tattoo artists are challenged to tap into their emotional side to construct concepts with deeper meanings for their customers, as well as to make them look good on the surface. They advise on tattoo placement, cautioning against neck or finger tattoos for first time clients, showing they are not in the business for the cash. Due to this evident devotion to their craft, tattooing has been honoured as the ancient practice it is, rich and vibrant as the patrons who support it.

Our basic human nature seeks to adapt to conditions which we find ourselves surrounded by, and as the gauges of an ear taper, the culture of body modification grows wider and attracts more attention from those virgin to it. Stephen’s Green Wildcat Ink staff believe that “society, in general is becoming less conservative with regards to this industry, which in turn creates a widespread level of acceptance”. Dublin Ink artists hope that “some job areas will adapt to the lifestyle and look past the image they perceive, and understand this as art”. That’s what this is – a lifestyle of art.

The True Measure of a Worker

Numerous practices in the body modification industry date back countless decades and range over a plethora of cultures and ethnicities, while others may be novel and curiously awe-inspiring. And yet it’s ridiculous to think that a well-educated and innovative worker can be made less valuable by the ink on their skin. The ironic double standards lie in blocking people from employment because of a personal choice they made about their own bodies, which makes it impossible for these people to obtain varied experience they would need to make the most of their careers, and all of this is based on a personal choice of an employer.

Despite the evident jibe, tattooing and piercing is more than skin deep and our “selfish generation” will inevitably grow into one utterly colourful bunch of grandparents. As the job market grows more competitive, the focus should be placed on a worker’s’ ability to carry out their professional duties, rather than emphasis being put on their appearance. After all, in most cases your general manager communicates with you via email, and you may be surprised by what they look like on their day off minus the suit. Perhaps one day in the near future we will be part of a workforce of people as colourful and varied as the vibrant spectrum of their CVs and lifestyles.

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