Mikalah Lake is a student at Old Dominion University pursuing a B.S. in Women’s Studies with a minor in Psychology. Causes that are particularly important to her are women’s rights, environmental awareness, leadership, civic duty, and mental health awareness. After completing her B.S. degree, her dream is to pursue a Master of Public Health Education degree at Eastern Virginia Medical School.

When most people discuss getting a piercing, tattoo, or other type of body modification with their family members, those individuals may hear a range of remarks about how it’s unprofessional, a decision to live with for the rest of your life, or how it’s damaging the temple that your body is supposed to be. It may seem like a light issue that isn’t worth mentioning, but body modification can result in severe discrimination from potential employers and society as a whole. According to USA Today, “38 percent of young people ages 18 to 29 have at least one tattoo,” with “an alarming 29% of people with and without tattoos believing that there’s a link between tattoos and deviant behavior” (Newman 2017). Tattoos are just one way that body modification occurs though; if you think about it, tanning, plastic surgery, teeth whitening, calf implants, foot binding, hair dying, and nail painting all fall within this category. Some jobs are focused entirely on one’s appearance, so modification like tanning, breast augmentation, and hair/nail color changes are encouraged. People can be rewarded in the entertainment, beauty and artistic spheres for their individuality through body modification. There are currently no laws prohibiting discrimination based on people with visible tattoos, piercings, dyed hair, etc. (Haddaway 2015). With no protections in place and an increasing number of people hoping to promote their individuality, how can we fix this daunting issue?

The National Association of Colleges and Employers lists that 23.6% of employers look for ‘creativity’ in twenty-somethings as a trait on their resumes (Job Outlook 2016). Having the courage to express your individuality through scarification, piercing, or implants could also show employers that you are a risk-taker. In big business, companies need employees that are willing to step out of their comfort zones at the benefit of the company. Meek employees can be a real detriment long-term. Additionally, there’s now a non-theistic religion devoted to showing the relationship between mind, body and soul called the Church of Body Modification (Netter 2010). People are becoming more attuned to the idea of body modification being used as a healing process, and churches like this one help defend in cases of discrimination based upon this art form. In instances like Kendra Behringer’s, an employer threw out her resume in front of her because she has 22 piercings (Clarke 2010). Behringer started a petition to end workplace discrimination as a result. Not only are cases of resumes being completely thrown out or employers not giving potential candidates the time of day with visible modifications major issues, but the dirty looks and avoidance that a vast majority of society gives heavily modified individuals are causes worth changing.

Take the case of the EEOC vs. Red Robin Gourmet Burgers in 2005; Red Robin would not allow employee Edward Rangel to display his Kemetic tattoos on his wrists. Because the tattoos were religious and Red Robin refused to allow him to display them, Red Robin had to pay Rangel $150,000 in damages and make significant policy changes (www.mcguirewoods.com, 2008). Rangel did not get these tattoos purely as a way to show off his individuality, but rather as part of his spiritual journey. Another case of discrimination based off of religious body modification was that of Cloutier vs. Costco in 2001 because of facial piercings including her ears and eyebrows. Costco changed their piercing policy after a few years of her working in the delicatessen department, but she felt discriminated against, as she had joined the aforementioned Church of Body Modification (www.jacksonlewis.com, 2015). Ultimately, Cloutier lost because Costco gave her the opportunity to cover her facial piercings with a band-aid or clear retainer, but her religious affiliation instructed her otherwise. In addition to piercings and tattoos causing legal uproar, scarification is prohibited in certain states as well. Kansas and New Jersey prohibit this form of body modification altogether (Baker-White and Parks 2014).  Luckily, there are multitudes of individuals fighting at the local and state level for legislation changes regarding body art. In Arkansas, bill SB387 and SB388 were introduced in 2013 to increase standards in body art and extreme body modification (Black 2014).  Misty Forsberg, a piercer and scarification artist from Fort Smith, Arkansas built relationships with local legislators to fight for this cause and ultimately changed the communication patterns with other artists to legislators in a positive manner as a result.

Body modification falls in the category of taboo topics to bring up in a myriad of communities still, but there is hope for people that are willing to speak up for this cause. The amount of individuals who have modifications such as piercings, tattoos, scarification, tongue splitting, teeth sharpening, augmentation of the breasts or calves and lesser-known ones like dermal implants is on the rise. Employers can change the conservative, constricting policies in order to make way for creative employees or suffer from exclusion of potential change agents. Considering that there is now a religion for body modification that has been legitimized in recent years, employers must take a glimpse at themselves to see if it’s worth being sued over discrimination based on changes to bodies. Art comes in a plethora of forms and body modification may be what modernizes our understanding of individuality.

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Works Cited

Baker-White, Andy, and Kim Parks. “Statutes and Regulatory Information: Scarification Laws Summary.” Www.networkforphl.org, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 13 Feb. 2014, www.networkforphl.org/_asset/vgntsm/State_Scarification_Laws_Summary.pdf.

Black, Coyote. “Tag Archives: Scarification.” BME Tattoo Piercing and Body Modification News, 24 Feb. 2014, news.bme.com/tag/scarification/.

Clarke, Katrina. “Woman with 22 Visible Piercings Seeks End to Workplace Dress Code Discrimination.” National Post, 16 June 2014, nationalpost.com/news/canada/woman-with-22-visible-piercings-seeks-end-to-workplace-dress-code-discrimination.

“Court Upholds Retailer’s Dress Code Despite Employee’s Body Piercing Beliefs.” Jackson Lewis, 1 June 2015, www.jacksonlewis.com/resources-publication/court-upholds-retailers-dress-code-despite-employees-body-piercing-beliefs.

Haddaway, Amanda. “Hiring Discrimination Against Tattoos And Piercings.” Work It Daily, 11 Mar. 2015, www.workitdaily.com/hiring-discrimination-tattoos-piercings/.

Job Outlook 2016: The Attributes Employers Want to See on New College Graduates’ Resumes, www.naceweb.org/career-development/trends-and-predictions/job-outlook-2016-attributes-employers-want-to-see-on-new-college-graduates-resumes/.

“Legal Alert.” McGuireWoods, 14 Feb. 2008, www.mcguirewoods.com/Client-Resources/Alerts/2008/2/Crossed-When-Religion-and-Dress-Code-Policies-Intersect.aspx.

Netter, Sarah. “Student’s Body Modification Religion Questioned After Nose Piercing Controversy.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 16 Sept. 2010, abcnews.go.com/US/students-body-modification-religion-questioned-nose-piercing-controversy/story?id=11645847.

Newman, Meredith. “Report: More Young People Have Tattoos and Piercings than Ever Before.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 20 Sept. 2017, www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/09/20/young-people-tattoos-and-piercings-report/686360001/.

Mikalah Lake is a student at Old Dominion University pursuing a B.S. in Women’s Studies with a minor in Psychology. Causes that are particularly important to her are women’s rights, environmental awareness, leadership, civic duty, and mental health awareness. After completing her B.S. degree, her dream is to pursue a Master of Public Health Education degree at Eastern Virginia Medical School.