Tattoos and piercings have become extremely popular in today’s culture, from movie stars to bikers, all the way down to the common retail employee. Tattoos range from small to large, easily covered to unavoidable, and piercings range from the classic earlobe piercing to stretched ears, and all the way throughout the body. Tattoos and piercings can be considered painful to obtain, and can even cause irritation or infections. So then, why are people getting them, and why are they so popular? Tattoos and piercings, which are a type of body modification, can be categorized as a form of expression of one’s identity, of being a member of a group, or a symbol of an important event or loved one (Carmen, 134). Today’s society is one focused on individuality and self-expression, and body modification has become one of the most effective ways to promote this – even in the workplace.
But, so what? Why should we care about who has tattoos and piercings? Body modification is everywhere today and effects almost everyone. Even if you personally don’t have a tattoo or piercing, I bet you know people who do. Tattoos and piercings are a mark of individualism, which is highly praised in today’s culture. They represent uniqueness, as each person’s tattoo or piercing is meaningful to that person and usually is a part of representing their own identity (Carmen, 134).
Even though body modification is a popular trend today, it is not a new concept. Tattoos and piercings date back to nearly 6,000 years ago (Jones, 103). The “Iceman,” the 5,300-year-old frozen body discovered in the mountains of Northern Italy, displayed his own markings on his body (Cronin, 380), and even statues portray Buddha with his stretched ears (McDowell). Tattoos and piercings have a deeper roots and a stronger foundation of meaning in cultures across the world than how they are viewed today in our society. Body modification has many different purposes throughout cultures old and new. For some cultures, being able to withstand the pain of receiving a tattoo or piercing marked the transition into adulthood. Body modification was also practiced religiously. The Mayan’s would pierce their tongues and genitals during religious rituals while other groups would pierce themselves to reach an altered state of consciousness (Carmen, 138).
Although you won’t walk down the street and witness piercing rituals going on anymore, what you will notice is that many of the people you pass by on your way to work tend to have more than just the classic earlobe piercing and most likely have at least one tattoo. What I mean by this is that people want to be more than just another number, another employee, or another “robot,” they want to be a person – with a life, feelings, and stories. Tattoos and piercings allow people to express their identities. This has been advertised over and over again to society and expressing individuality is being carried over into the workplace.
“My older generation might see little elegance in ‘full sleeve tattoos,’ but people who enjoy displaying body art do, for me, just evoke fond boyhood memories of the captivating sideshows at carnival midways,” says Garry Burke (“Evoking memories of carnivals.”). As long as twenty or so years ago, piercings and tattoos would be considered that of bikers, sailors, and soldiers. The period between World War I and World War II was known as “The Golden Age of Tattooing,” because many servicemen were getting tattoos as a reminder or dedication to their country or a loved one, such as a wife, girlfriend, or mother (Carmen, 139), however tattoos were not considered to be appropriate among the average citizen and neither were piercings except for women’s earlobes.
Nowadays, however, body modification is becoming more and more popular with the younger generation, which means more people who are going in to the workplace have tattoos and piercings. This means that in the future, the employers who hire employees and decide whether or not body modification is appropriate or not will be the ones who are pierced and tattooed (Elzweig, 14).
In conclusion, tattoos and piercings in the workplace are nothing more than a step in the direction of an emerging culture driven by individualism. There is nothing new about tattoos, piercings, and stretched earlobes – the practice has been around for thousands of years. What is different is the meaning and motivations behind these body modifications. Today’s culture is one of individuality and many people feel that tattoos and piercings allow for a better expression of oneself. Throughout the years, the opinions on body modifications have evolved and have slowly become more acceptable. I feel that in the future, the very people who have these modifications will be in the positions of those who, now, look down on and discriminate against such practices.