Terminate the Taboo on Tattoos (and Other Body Modifications)

Julia Brennan

May 7, 2021

I ask you to ponder this question. Is there a negative stigma regarding body modifications in the workplace? The answer, quite simply, is yes. In Western culture, specifically in the North American region, tattooing and piercing are often perceived as unprofessional, and many employers view those with these body modifications as less intelligent, less hard-working, and less reliable than those without them.

Imagine you’re the boss of a successful and reputable business and as your company continues to expand, you begin the hiring process. You have two separate interviews lined up, and both applicants seem sufficiently qualified to fulfill the duties of the position being offered. The first candidate who comes in presents themselves well in regards to traditional physical appearance, but is lacking in terms of presentation skills and experience. The second candidate checks all of the boxes in terms of presentation skills, ambition, creativity etc., however, you notice they have several visible tattoos and body piercings. You interpret this as unprofessional and uncouth and fear that their appearance will impact your reputation as an establishment. Therefore you hire the first candidate, even though they are not as promising as your other option. Why?


To begin, we must first have an understanding of what body modification is. A body modification can be summed up as the intentional alteration of one’s physical appearance. The spectrum regarding body modifications is quite diverse, but the ones referred to most often are tattoos and body piercings. Tattoos are known as permanent ink markings made on the skin, while piercings are defined as small holes intentionally created in the skin for the insertion of jewelry. These were believed to originate at about the same time, around 5,000 years ago. Historically, both tattoos and piercings were utilized specifically for cultural purposes. For example, naval piercings in Ancient Egypt were used to signify one’s social status, for if they possessed one they were considered high ranking. It is clear from even this small sample that body modifications have maintained cultural importance throughout the globe for an impressive period of time.

Today, the necessity for body modifications has changed quite drastically. Tattoos and piercings are still a salient element in many cultures; however, this is no longer the only reason for having one. Tattoos and piercings, especially in Western culture, have become a form of self-expression for those who look to obtain them. For some, body modifications offer a form of comfort and closure in an outlet unique to any other. For instance, when a loved one passes, it is common for someone to get a tattoo in honor of them. This provides the recipient of the tattoo with a constant reminder that a part of that loved one is and always will be with them. Oftentimes body modifications can also be associated with the process of maturing, and individuals will get them as a token of newfound adulthood. Another reason an individual may look to obtain a body modification in today’s society is to physically express their love of art. While these examples vary drastically, they all have one critical component in common; the expression of individuality. Body modifications provide an outlet by which people can communicate to the world something special about themselves and their journeys through life.


So I ask you to ponder this question. Is there a negative stigma regarding body modifications in the workplace? The answer, quite simply, is yes. In Western culture, specifically in the North American region, tattooing and piercing are often perceived as unprofessional, and many employers view those with these body modifications as less intelligent, less hard-working, and less reliable than those without them. According to a study performed by Dr. Nancy Swanger, published in the book International Guide of Hospitality Management, an astounding 87 percent of the subjects who were surveyed disclosed that their body modifications were perceived in a negative connotation by their respective employers. In relation, a survey published by, Patients Guide, divulged that over 40 percent of their subjects received a laser tattoo removal because of their jobs. A final study concerning 8 female subjects performed by the University of Calgary found, startlingly, that all of those involved were negatively impacted in the workplace surrounding a stigma regarding their body modifications.

The root cause behind these negative assumptions likely stems from the largely Christian denomination found in the North American region. In the Old Testament, there is a verse that was interpreted in such a manner that tattoos or other intentional body modifications were seen as sins. Sinners in the Christian religion are viewed as people who retain bad morals and a poor reputation among their peers. Upon deeper review, it was found that this idea may have been a misinterpretation of the text. While there is still much debate among the Christian community about whether this verse refers to body modifications, or holds any true influence, one thing is clear. There is no cut and dry information in Christian texts in which God finds body modification a sin. Unfortunately, based on the fact that the North American Region is and was predominantly Christian, as society developed it took these falsified values and incorporated them into the business world. Over time these values were solidified as the standards in regards to business formality, and it is for this reason that they stand today.

Considering the United States is founded on the principles regarding a division of church and state, this should not be the case. We should not be forced to meet standards of values of a religion in a sect in life that is completely unrelated. Additionally, there is a great portion of the United States that does not practice the Christian faith, and therefore should not have to abide by customs contradicting their own faiths in the workplace. This is both discriminatory and disrespectful to minorities. Without any malintentions created by those in possession of body modifications, there is no valid reason for which we as a culture should regard them in a negative light. We should not only accept them, but celebrate them. Body modifications have the ability to empower, to comfort, to keep tradition alive. They have the power to bring people closer together, as they extend a vulnerable piece of one’s personality through their appearance. Therefore it is time we change our ways and stop the harmful stigma against body modifications, and instead celebrate the outlet they provide for the expression of one’s inner self.