Quit assuming body modification and self expression in the workplace equals unprofessional employees


Eli Miranda

Many individuals are overlooked in their industry every day due to their preferred forms of self expression.

Braden Moss-Ennis, Opinions Columnist

  In recent years, we’ve seen a rise in the discussion of a variety of occupational issues like the wage gap, sexual harassment in the workplace, and equal opportunities for women and minorities. Another important workplace issue that often gets overlooked is the policies that are established that prohibit self-expression in various forms like tattoos, hair color, hair style, and piercings. 

  Self-expression, or lack thereof, can be important for one’s individuality, confidence, and happiness. Workplaces need to remove these policies, or at least become more lenient toward potential and current employees. 

  “Other nontraditional appearance-altering practices are also prevalent among Gen Nexters: About half (54 percent) have done one or more of the following: gotten a tattoo, dyed their hair an untraditional color, or had a body piercing in a place other than their ear lobe,” the Pew Research Center stated after conducting a survey on Gen Nexters, individuals from the ages of 18 to 25, and tattoos. 

  The research suggests that despite piercing, tattoos, and dyed hair being commonly viewed as nontraditional or taboo among some individuals, they are fairly common among the younger generation. By placing heavy restrictions on these forms of self-expression, establishments are not only harming individuals seeking an income, but they are also preventing themselves from acquiring youthful, willing, and capable workers. 

  Another reason these policies are an issue is because they are not always applied fairly to all individuals, and can often be discriminatory towards others. 

  “In 2013, one woman was even fired from her server job at Hooters because of her blonde highlights. Her manager claimed, ‘Black women don’t have blonde in their hair, so you need to take it out’,” Forbes’ writer Janice Gassam wrote. 

  The argument made by the woman’s employer in this incident was not that her hair color was unnatural, but that the hair color was unnatural for her race. This highlights the unequal application of the policy. Many caucasian women have highlights and they are still considered natural and acceptable in the workplace. In 2015, the woman was awarded $250,000 in a racial discrimination case, according to NBC News’ Elizabeth Chuck. 

  While this particular case highlights discrimination based on race, which is illegal across the United States, discrimination can also be based on appearance alone. 

  “Research reveals that women with this form of body art [tattoos] are perceived as more promiscuous, as being heavy drinkers, less attractive, less caring, less intelligent, and less honest. Moreover, tattooed individuals are particularly vulnerable to workplace discrimination, as it is legal to discriminate for being in violation of company policies concerning appearance,” Dr. Vinita Mehta, clinical psychologist and journalist for Psychology Today, wrote.  

  The simple fact of the matter is that no one can draw these conclusions merely from someone’s appearance, and any of attempt to do so is irresponsible and harmful. One of the main arguments made by individuals who support these policies will argue is that tattoos, unnatural hair color, unique hair styles, and piercings come across as unprofessional. The most important part of being a professional isn’t one’s appearance but one’s work habits. If a person works hard and does their job well, they are a professional. This isn’t to say that tidiness or a dress code shouldn’t be required, but employees should also be able to be themselves.  

  Some people will argue that some tattoos are offensive. There are tattoos that are indeed hateful or inappropriate, which shouldn’t be allowed because they can give people ideas or promote specific messages that aren’t condoned by the business. However, people can get offended at relatively small things too, like the mere fact that an individual has tattoos. Simply put, individuals shouldn’t be punished because someone else doesn’t identify with or like the things they do, and the same can be said with piercings, hair color, and hair style. 

  As long as it isn’t harmful or hateful to others, self-expression should be considered a basic human right, even within the workplace. Let people with sleeves of tattoos, exuberant hair colors, peculiarly-fashioned hair, and lip piercings express themselves as they please. The only thing that matters is their work habits. In all likelihood, they’ll work just as hard as any other employee and be happier because they can finally express themselves freely at work.