Body Art as a Protected Class: Yes or No?

Should those with body modifications be protected by law against discrimination? Or does that cheapen what it means to be a protected class?

Recently, petitions advocating the elevation of body modifications to a protected class have stormed the internet. Though having dyed blue hair has no bearing on ability in the workplace and shouldn’t negate possessing a qualified skill-set, amending a federal law isn’t the way to create equality in the job market.

Thankfully, activism can manifest in many ways.

Protected classes are the people anti-discrimination laws are built around; being part of a protected class means legal protection from employers who refuse to hire or promote someone because they are member of a certain societal subset. As it stands, such discrimination against people with body modifications is legal, as is enforcing a dress code that forbids such modifications in the workplace.

Current laws protect employees from discrimination based on the likes of gender, race, and disability—in other words, from something that is unalienable from who they are. With a few drops of specialty tattoo foundation, body art can be obscured from those who are opposed to it, but people can’t paint over their gender to protect themselves from sexism.

Just as employers still anonymously admit to actively not hiring women who they suspect of being married or having children, making body mods a protected class won’t do much in the way of creating equal opportunity. Unless someone is told they weren’t offered a position specifically because of their being a member of a protected demographic, they have no evidence to present in court and little ability to affect change. Thankfully, activism can manifest in many ways.

Now that tattoos adorn approximately 40 percent of adults under 40, the stigma against them is dwindling. Companies like Apple and Google recognize that jobs that disallow body art can seem like an attack against personhood and creativity, an attempt to make employees part of an unthinking, homogenous mass. Inversely, respecting people as individuals who crave personal expression increases morale and productivity.

Legislation won’t do as much as mass-marketing these examples and the research accompanying them; as more people permanently accessorize their bodies, and as more employers are encouraged to value employees for what makes them unique as well as for their professional aptitude, the less likely it is that body modifications will prevent qualified talent from finding positions to excel in.

—Taylor Kirby

Getting tattoos and piercings has become a large part of popular culture and is more acceptable than in the past, but hiring discrimination is still a painful fact of life for individuals who choose to decorate their bodies. Having a protected class would ensure that this discrimination comes to end, once and for all.

Rules should adjust to social and societal advancements.

Just as one should not to be judged based on their age, gender, sexual preference, mental or physical disabilities, and race, one should not be judged on the fact that they have tattoos or piercings. There needs to be lawful protection.For a young person to go into a job interview and to be denied employment for no other reason other than that they have tattoos or piercings, although this reason may be more covert, makes a huge impact on an individual’s self esteem and confidence.

By denying employment based on physical appearance, a business is not only participating in discrimination, but they could potentially be neglecting a huge asset to their company if that individual had been hired. This happens regularly in the professional world, and their should be preventative measures in place.

The prejudice against individuals with tattoos and piercings partially stems from more conservative individuals, and also the association with gangs and other stereotypes. An individual going to an interview with a piercing or a tattoo may not be affiliated with these negative stereotypes. Twenty-first century body art has instead become an immense part of self expression.

The discrimination against those with tattoos and piercings is not to the same extreme of discrimination against race or gender, but it undeniably happens. Employers do have their right to establish a dress code that their employees must follow, but not under judgmental pretenses.

The issue with these outdated ultimatums is the fact that tattoos and piercings are becoming more and more popular among Americans. Rules and legislation should adjust to social and societal advancements to accommodate a growing subculture that has become a large part of popular culture, as well as self expression.

—Sarai Nissan

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