As many of you know, blogging isn’t my only job. I also work in retail. The store I work for has relatively strict policies on how employees must present themselves at work. I have to wear a uniform at all times, I’m not allowed to dye my hair any ‘extreme’ colours, facial piercings are not allowed, and employees are not supposed to have visible tattoos.
It should come as no surprise to you that strict dress codes get up my nose. I don’t like being told what to wear. However, I do need to earn a bit of cash to pay for important things like bills and food, so I can suck it up and wear my darn uniform. In my mind, uniforms make sense: they send a message to the customer about which people in the shop actually work there, and often the garments that are required serve safety as well as aesthetic purposes.
While I can understand the utility of a uniform, I despise dress codes that exclude things like unnatural hair colours, piercings and tattoos.
It makes perfect sense to me why an employee should be required to wear closed-toed shoes, or have their hair tied back when working with food. These rules are in place to keep the employee safe, and to make sure that they do their job properly. I am yet to see an instance where a person’s tattoos have impaired their ability to carry out their duties. The fact that a person has hot-pink hair doesn’t make them less capable of performing well at their job than a person with mousy-brown hair. Body modification in all it’s forms has become extremely common, and there are all kinds of people who decorate themselves with body art. An armload of tattoos doesn’t mean that you’re outgoing; I know plenty of extremely shy women who are festooned with tatts. Similarly, having coloured hair doesn’t make you raucous or lewd. Some of the most polite, ambitious and well-educated people I know have some kind of body modification. They are the type of people that you’d employ in a heartbeat.
So why is it that employees continue to discriminate against people with tattoos, coloured hair or body piercings? I had one employer tell me that it ‘makes the customers uncomfortable’. Apparently, a lot of customers have a problem being served by a person with a tattoo, even if that person does an awesome job. So, isn’t refusing to hire a person with tattoos simply pandering to that prejudice? To me, that’s like saying, “Oh, we have a lot of customers who are racist, so we won’t hire anyone with a foreign accent”. By allowing that prejudice to inform the decisions you make, you’re sending the message that it’s O.K to behave like a bigot.
And why is it that some body modifications are alright, but not others? For example, why isn’t there a company policy banning employees who are positively orange from over-tanning? Why can a woman with bleached-blonde hair come to work without being hassled, but the woman with blue hair can’t? Is it because they’re more mainstream? Why are these things O.K, but tattoos and piercings are still frowned upon in the workplace?
In a lot of cases, the way we present ourselves is a form of self-expression. A person might get a tattoo because it represents something that is significant to them, or they might dye their hair their favourite colour because it makes them smile. The way we decorate our bodies says something about who we are, and by saying “you can’t come to work dressed like that’, what employers are really saying is “we don’t want someone like you working here”. That’s never a nice thing to hear.
I think that employers need to re-evaluate the message that they’re sending with their employee presentation codes. By refusing to allow people with certain body modifications to enter employment, they’re discriminating against these people. They’re making an assumption, based on the way a person looks, that they’re not right for that job. And in many cases, that assumption will be totally wrong. Refusing to employ people that look a certain way is perpetuating the cycle of prejudice against people who are different from the norm. I think we need to start paying more attention to the person behind the tattoos, and focusing less on knee-jerk judgements based on the way a person looks.
Do you think that workplaces should have strict dress codes? Have you even been refused a job because of the way you looked?
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