• 58,926 / 1,368,323
  • 64 / 7,763
  • 58 / 54,892

A Modern Awakening

In the past few years, forms of the body modification culture have been gaining more and more popular attention, but I hesitate to say acceptance. Tattooing and piercing have begun to transcend their rebellious past and come to fruition as artistic expression. However, this does not mean that acceptance has been rampant.

The pop culture influx of tattooing specifically has been reflected in dedicated television series such as Miami Ink, Inked, and more historical perspectives aired on the History and Discovery channels. The popularity of programming such as this reflects a fascination by proponents and enemies alike. It seems likely that the varying attitudes towards tattooing specifically are reflecting a quote from the movie Private Parts on the life of Howard Stern. When asked why people listened to the controversial DJ, fans and foes both replied, "I want to hear what he is going to say next". This fascination and enamor is often reflected by individuals both for and against tattooing and other forms of body modification.  

This trend has also been reflected in the professional world. Businesses are seeing a growing number of applicants with visible body art and/or modifications and are now forced to address company policy issues in the form of dress and appearance that are not as easy as IBM's blue suit and a tie. Many organizations have chosen to be progressive and accepting of the changing nature of personal expression, but the large majority have not. Blatant and overt discrimination against individuals with visible modifications is not likely today, however, more subtle forms such as not getting a return call from interviews seems to be a recurring pattern. Unfortunately, appearance is not discriminatory in and of itself in the business world. However, I argue that it is not the organization that is dictating the appearance of its employees, but rather our culture at large. Organizations reflect the culture in which they exist, and employees are direct representatives and the living face of any organization, thus they are the evaluative components of projected company values when standing face to face with others. To the extent that an individual can be an excellent sales person or teacher has little bearing in the eye of another individual in which impression formation and stereotype activation can guide personal evaluations in a much faster manner than learning an individual's personality or professional credentials.  

We are, unfortunately, not nearly as progressive, accepting, and non-discriminatory as we would like to think. Stereotype generation and impression formation are inherent, subconscious activities that we all engage in. These stereotypes and impressions are largely shaped by the culture in which we are raised, and we are hard pressed to not revert to them when we need a scapegoat for someone who has wronged us or is very different from ourselves.  

It is here that I remove the blame from organizations for the non-acceptance of individuals with tattoos and other body modifications. It is not the organization itself that is dictating the look of the individual which represents it; rather, it is the outside culture in general which projects an eye of acceptance or non-acceptance on individuals through stereotypes. When an individual represents an organization, this impression is directly transferred to the organization and its values. Organizations are thus under pressure to uphold their image in the eyes of everyone else and passes this down to the appearance of their employees. Unfortunately, as research has indicated, stereotype formation is a very fast and often uncontrollable reaction. It is likely that an individual with visible body modifications can have excellent credentials, experience, and formal education trumped by a generated stereotype.  

Our society as a whole could benefit quite a bit from an artistic renaissance of the body modification culture. The historical and culturally inaccurate stereotype of the degenerate is slowly being broken, but is still pervasive. Many media outlets have attempted to do much to foster more acceptance of this culture and a greater understanding of its roots, but often good entertainment is overshadowing a more important message. Shows such as Miami Ink and Inked have done much to display the impressive artistic talent of the individual tattooists, and have also done much to convey the deep personal meaning that tattoos hold for some individuals. Unfortunately, one perspective seems to have fallen to the wayside which would be critical for more widespread acceptance of tattooing especially. An emphasis on artistic expression is key for a more general acceptance within our culture. Many of the stories of the individuals visiting the shops on these shows make for excellent television because of the deep personal messages, but an emphasis could be paid more to the bigger picture of things. Specifically, engaging more testimonial from people who enjoy tattoos as art as opposed to strictly physical manifestations of important life events would start to generalize a more culturally based attraction to tattooing and other body modifications. 

In its second issue published in the winter of 2006, Inked magazine ran a series of editorials on individuals with extensive tattooing with professional careers, dealing with motherhood both in the eyes of children and other adults, and other fascinating personal accounts of dealing with a possible less enthusiastic general public. A myth worth exploding is one that lawyers, doctors, professors, teachers, sales people, parents, and others in highly respected areas do not have tattoos and other modifications. Many do; some quite extensively. Our culture perpetuates stereotype generation and application, and, unfortunately, a PhD is not as visible as a sleeve length tattoo. I do not argue that it takes this professional/modification dichotomy to reflect a respectable trend in the future of body art and modification, but until we begin to experience the loss of archaic stereotyping related to this lifestyle choice, we will perpetuate the primitive and under civilized myth holding popular acceptance back. We are still awaiting a modern cultural renaissance to bring about acceptance, and the widespread realization that skin deep expression can say everything about an individual's personality but nothing about their abilities, professionalism, trustworthiness, credibility, or lack thereof.

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submitted by: Anonymous
on: 24 May 2006
in Culture

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