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The Unspoken System of Privilege and Inequality


I’m not going to argue that the systems of privilege and inequality presented in our textbook are not valid or unimportant. Rather, the recognition of such systems is extremely important. However, there is one such system that was not so much as mentioned: the biases held by society against tattooed and pierced individuals. You might argue that this is not a true system of privilege and inequality like those discussed in the textbook—after all, people choose to get tattooed and/or pierced; people don’t choose their gender, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, or their age. While this is true, it doesn’t mean that they don’t experience prejudices like these other groups do.

Let’s imagine for a moment that you are looking for a job. You turn in an application and get called for an interview. While getting dressed for the interview, what do you think about? Do you have to worry about not even being considered for the job because you’re applying for a position that isn’t typical for your gender (e.g. a man working as a nurse)? Do you wonder if you won’t get the job simply because of your skin color or even your age? Do you worry about having to hide your sexual orientation and acting “straight”? None of these possible aspects about you actually affect your ability to do well at your job, yet every single one could affect your potential employer’s decision to hire you. The same goes for if you have tattoos and/or piercings.

You may be thinking ‘But people choose to get tattooed and pierced, so it’s their own fault if they can’t get a job.’ Maybe you’re right, but let’s look at another way people choose to alter their bodies: plastic surgery.

Some have a negative opinion about plastic surgery, believing it makes a person fake, but why do people get plastic surgery? The answer: because they want to feel better about themselves. Sure, they may have gotten the surgery because society pressured them with unrealistic beauty ideals, but they ultimately get the procedure done for themselves. They don’t like some certain aspect about themselves, so they change it. Someone deciding to get a tattoo or piercing may not explicitly dislike the area they are getting tattooed or pierced, but the reason for getting one of these two things done is fundamentally the same: to help them look like how they want to look. Yet each scenario (getting plastic surgery vs getting tattooed or pierced) is met by very different responses.

Let’s return to the hypothetical job interview. If you’ve gotten plastic surgery, you don’t have to worry about being denied the job because of your appearance, in fact, you might actually be more likely to get the job because you now more closely match the beauty ideal presented by society. However, if you’ve gotten tattoos and/or piercings, you can almost guarantee that your interviewer will take that into consideration when deciding whether or not to hire you, even if only subconsciously. It has absolutely nothing to do with how qualified you are for the job or how good of an employee you might be; just like in the cases presented in our textbook (gender, skin color, sexual orientation, age, etc.), it solely has to do with appearances.

[image found on the Facebook page “Tattoo acceptance in the workplace.”]


  1. jsegrist says:

    As a person with a significant amount of tattoos on visible parts of my body, I can agree with this 100%. I get treated far differently when my tattoos are visible than when they’re not. It doesn’t only occur in the workplace either. People approach you differently when they realize you’re tattooed. People with tattoos, in my experience, are seen as bad people and are treated like such by a lot of people.

  2. meerkat93 says:

    This is an excellent point. Discrimination against tattooed people makes me angry even though I do not have any tattoos myself. My mother has a tattoo on her leg commemorating her brother, who passed away suddenly a few years ago, and while it is not very big, it is bright and noticeable whenever she wears pants that do not cover her ankle completely (shorts, skirts, capris, etc.). She is currently in school to be a Nurse’s Aid and when she goes to job interviews she is careful to wear long pants. Employers tend to discriminate and see tattoos as “trashy” or a sign that the person is unqualified, and that is just as baseless and illogical as saying a person cannot be a Nurse’s Aid because she is black, or lesbian, or old. When my mother sits in class learning about how to care for people, the ink in her skin does not impair her brain.

  3. rghannam says:

    I guess it all depends, most things are situational. Say you have a tattoo or multiple tattoos that intrigues the person doing the interview, or somehow that person is able to connect to the art on your body. Even people without tattoos, piercings, that are considered beautiful and have outstanding credentials worry about not getting the position they’re applying for. I think tattoos and piercings may hinder your chances or they could be very beneficial. It’s funny though because these things represent one way that you express yourself, and it also shows that you’re a little bit different and perhaps more unique than the people who wouldn’t dare to “ruin” their body. Most people don’t get tattoos because of jobs, I had a friend who was worried about it because he was getting a tattoo on his forearm, which would be visible without a long sleeved dress shirt. He decided to go along with it, afterward he ended up doing his entire body and his mindset changed to “if they’re going to discriminate against something like this, I don’t want to be working for them.”

    When we see musicians or professional athletes with tattoos, we think it’s the norm for them to have and that comes along with that job title. When an oldschool elderly woman goes to the doctors, I highly doubt she’d want to see ink on the physician, no matter how beautiful it is.

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