Sunday, November 23, 2008

Body Mods for the Smart Professional

After reading several very depressing articles on BMEzine ( regarding body mods and the need to “grow up”, I felt I needed to say something. Both articles had the common thread of heavily modded people needing to retire piercings and/or have tattoos removed to survive in the workplace. These were obviously people who did not give a lot of thought to how their choices would affect their futures. Just like impulse buying, impulse modding is not a good idea.

I’m 23 years old, just starting out in my career, and I’m modded. I have 8 holes in my ears and no one even bats an eye. In fact, I often have to point out my piercings for people to even notice them. I have two lobes, a rook, and a tragus done on each ear. So how, you ask, can people not notice? First of all, most of my jewelry is pink. It blends almost seamlessly with the color of my ears. Even with my hair pulled back, people don’t even take a second look. That was the first smart choice. Not all piercing studios will have pink or light colored jewelry on hand, but it can often be ordered online and autoclaved when you arrive. Just be sure you have the proper gauge and the jewelry is up to ASTM standards. Secondly, my holes are the same size they were when I got them pierced. Stretching a piercing is asking for trouble from a hiring standpoint. Big, gaping holes just aren’t attractive and extremely distracting. A little bit of stretching can work, if you do it right. If you can fit a pencil through the hole, it’s probably too big. In the two articles I read, having abnormally large holes were problematic for both people. While a lot of people like the non permanent aspect of piercings, once you stretch them, your committing yourself to that size. Most stretching can’t be reversed without surgery. Moral of the story, think before you stretch.

As for nose piercings, which are wildly popular among the 18-22 female set, there are ways to be smart about those as well. I have fair skin and freckles, so it was no big deal to find a stud that mimicked a freckle. If you’re not so fortunate as to have freckles, there are two other options. You can try to match your skin tone, which may or may not be successful. A better option would be to get the piercing with enough time to heal it fully and invest in some high quality retainers. This would mean getting the piercing 3-5 months before you would be seriously seeking employment to ensure proper healing. Then you can switch it out with something more showy as necessary.

That’s pretty much where “acceptable” piercings end. Other facial piercings like lips and eyebrows will probably cause problems. If you’re facing the prospect of working in an office, you’ll probably have to retire it or find a retainer. It’s a sad commentary, but the world hasn’t evolved far enough to look beyond a piece of jewelry in someone’s face. However, there’s still plenty of piercings that you can have and not have to worry about in the office.

Tattoos, on the other hand, can be a bit more problematic. I have 8 tattoos, one of which is a large piece on my left forearm. The easiest solution is to wear long sleeves. Since my office, and most offices for that matter, are cold no matter what time of year, it’s not hard for most people to wear long sleeves every day. Make up is an option for smaller pieces, but you run the risk of it rubbing off on your clothes and being difficult to get out. When you’re picking out placement for a tattoo, think about how easily it can be covered. Be flexible on the placement because it will make your life easier in the long run.

The best piece of advice I ever heard regarding tattoos was bring a work shirt with you. For most of us, it’s a long sleeved button down shirt. The shirt can act as a guide for where to place your tattoo. I’m planning on getting two sparrows on my chest / collarbone area and I’ll be bringing a button down shirt with me as a guide for placement. Then you can set your mind at ease that your art won’t be peeking out at the wrong moment. There are also plenty of places that can be covered with no effort like thighs, sides, and the back.

Feet and ankles can be a little tricky if you’re not sure where to start. The easiest solution I’ve found is simply wearing pants. If the pants fit properly, they cover my feet up to the tops of my shoes. Most womens’ dress pants are already tailored to be longer to accommodate wearing high heels. If you aren’t a pants person or just looking for a little more variety, tights are another option. I love wearing tights in the winter. I can still wear skirts and not worry about my kneecaps freezing off. A black or brown pair of tights will camouflage pretty much anything. I have a text tattoo on the top of my left foot and a small one on the inside of my right ankle. Both are rendered invisible by the tights. A third option, but mostly for fall and winter, are tall boots. Either flat or with a heel, they’re a great stylish option that also covers anything on your feet and calves. I love my tall boots and they make it absolutely no effort to conceal my ink.

You don’t have to give up piercings and laser off tattoos to make it in the workplace. You just have to be smart about it. These two original authors obviously gave no thought to how their decisions would affect them. If you give it some thought and come up with a plan to keep everybody happy, there’s no need to worry that you’ll have to sacrifice something in order to move ahead. Ideally, attitudes will begin to change and modded people won’t be seen as “alternative”, “immature” or just plain “weird”. Though, there are worse things out there than being “weird”.

As always, this is just general advice that I've found works really well in practice. As always, it's up to you to find out what works best for your situation.

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