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In America, most businesses claim to be equal opportunity employers. They cannot refuse to give someone a job based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or handicap. However, when it comes to body modification, these same 'equal opportunity' employers will not hire those who are modified and, if they do hire someone, inform them that their modifications have to be removed or covered, as modification is not part of a 'professional' look.
Those who have modifications in areas that are visible, but can be covered (the arm, for example) may be forced to wear more restrictive clothing then their non-modified coworkers.
Discrimination based on modification most often occurs with visible modifications, that is, those visible to people on a regular basis. Typical modifications include tattoos, implants–
objects planted fully under the skin for the purpose of affecting a sculptural change of the surface (Larrat, "Implant") and scarification–creative and artistic application of scars to achieve a spiritually aesthetic look. (Larrat, "Scarification"). An increasing number of people also undergo full body modification to take of the look of an animal, or use their body as a canvas for personal modification projects. Although these individuals are not as large in number as average modified individuals, what they do with their bodies and the discrimination they can face because of their choice to control their body is important.
The argument from many employers against employee modifications is that employees should look uniform, and the comfort of those seeking their business is essential. However, employers should not only consider the comfort of their unmodified clientele, but the comfort of those modified as well. As a modified person, Dan Cole, and employee of Meijer, has experienced discrimination at work first hand, and has seen that his presence in his place of employment is a comfort to modified guest. One day, Dan noticed that a man with his ears gauged (stretched) to 2.5 inches couldn't get help getting into the DVD case because other employees ignored his requests for help. The man noticed Dan and said, "Thank God I finally found someone that will help me." While Dan was helping the customer, they both noticed the employees at the one hour photo booth (directly across from the DVD case) making rude comments about the man's appearance. Another man with his eyebrow, labret (between the lower lip and chin) and septum (area between the two nostrils) pierced walked past other employees to ask Dan to help. Because Dan had his eyebrow pierced and his ears gauged to 0g (8.25 mm), the man thought Dan would be more accepting of him. Both men approached Dan on the correct assumption that someone with modifications would be more willing to assist those with modifications and had more pleasant shopping experiences because of Dan's presence in the store. This being the case, it seems odd that Meijer has a policy against facial piercing (Dan was eventually made to remove his), although to their credit, tattoos and ear piecing are allowed; however Dan has since been told not stretch his ears further or to pierce them anymore. (Cole, "Personal Interview")
Not only does having modified employees help assure the comfort of modified clientele, but it may help foster understanding between those who are modified and those who are not, particularly between employees. When the modified are forced to cover themselves in their place of employment, the message is sent that what they are doing is not normal or professional, and therefore unacceptable. Many already dismiss the modified as miscreants and criminals, and forcing the modified to conform to a standard does nothing but enforce this misconception. If employers were more open to those who are modified, they would find that, in working closely with those who are modified, their employees would be more tolerant. For example, when Dan started working at Meijer at fifteen, he dressed "normally" and had no piercings. People liked him and thought of him as a good kid. When he started getting piercings (of which he now has eight visible, seven on his ears including gauging to 3/ 8 in. and 4g on his lobes, a 10g conch, 8g conch and a custom curved industrial as well as a septum, which he keeps flipped up, but is visible to those who pay attention), other employees who had before looked at the modified as "those weird people"" came to realized that the modified are not bad people. Dan's presence has led to a wider acceptance of customers who enter the store modified by those who would before have been hesitant to interact with modified customers (Cole, "Personal Interview").
As for clientele comfort, those who will dare make contact with the modified tend to ask a few questions and come to the conclusion that the modified aren't that much different from themselves. I have witnessed many conversations between Dan and unmodified customers who ask him questions out of curiosity, or because they'd like to start modifying themselves. Also, when a teenager talks about getting their ears gauged, he tells the risks and mentions how he may have to remove his gauged piercings before completing college to avoid being discriminated against when he starts his career. As a result, customers leave informed, and sometimes even inspired. As for those who are so uncomfortable with modification that they would refuse to talk to a modified person, they could easily make their way to an unmodified employee. In this way, the modified employees are free to do what they want with their bodies; modified clientele have people to interact with that they are comforta ble approaching; the unmodified either gain tolerance and information or go to an unmodified employee, and everyone is happy.
Unfortunately, this is not how the system works, and with our own military denouncing piercing, the prospects for modification acceptance don't look good. A rule is now being enforced in the army that bans"attaching, affixing, or displaying objects, articles, jewelry, or ornamentation to or through the skin while in uniform, in civilian clothes while on duty, or in civilian clothes off duty in any military installation or other places under Army control." This rule overrides the former policy that men were allowed to wear earrings, although women are still allowed to wear earrings while in civilian clothes, and may wear approved earrings while in uniform (U.S. Army, "AR670-1).
The air force, too, imposed a similar policy. In January of 2003, the air force prohibited body "mutilation," which includes split tongues. This directly affected one airman who chooses to remain anonymous. Originally, he'd decided to have his tongue forked because "it was a way to move forward spiritually," he believed it to be reversible, it healed quickly with little risk of complication, and it was easily hidden. (Unless he deliberately showed someone his tongue or they looked at in just the right light, it was unnoticeable.) No one knew about his modification until he told a roommate who told someone higher in command, and finally it blew out of proportion. At the time, there was no rule banning heavy modifications, and the man couldn't be discharged because of it. Then came the new rule. The man expected to be grandfathered (allowed to keep his modification since he'd been in service before the ban was imposed) as those who had tattoos had been before the ban on tattoos. However, this was not done, and his options were to quit or to have a painful reversal of his split tongue. He said, "I feel that because I was just a single airman the military didn't take grandfathering my case seriously." It being his goal to "do his 20 years and retire at 37," he agreed to have the forked tongue reversed. Two months later, after an extremely painful surgery and healing time, he cannot feel his tongue. He offers advice to those who want modifications I'd tell them to stay away from military. If you get modification after enter the military then you'll be in violation of rules and regulations. If you're modified before the military, they probably won't let you into the service anyway (Larrat, "Modified.").
However, despite government discrimination against the modified, there are some businesses that welcome, and in fact encourage employees to express themselves through modification. One such business is the web site developer, Habanero. Like most businesses that accept modifications, Habanero requires that the modifications be tasteful, meaning that profanity, nudity, drug related, racist and sexist modifications are prohibited. Other than this, however, the company is company is very open and accepting of modifications. Said Habanero's human resource administrator Charisa Matheson, "We have a lot of really creative types...We are looking for people who like to express themselves. (Hudson, "Body Art")" Of course, there is the option for those with steady hands and a love of body modification to become tattoo artists, piercers, or other modification artists. As tattoo artist Giovanni points out, "Tattooing and piercing now has brought a lot of artists to the foreground. Since you can't make money doing visual art anymore, body art has become an outlet for a lot more real creative artists. (Ross, "Body Art")."
But what about those who aren't fortunate enough to work in a field where creativity with body art is encouraged? Those for whom body modification is part of their religious belief have the law on their side. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides that title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits religious discrimination while hiring, firing, and other conditions of employment (U.S. EOEC "Facts"). There is even a relatively new Church, established in 2000 in which body modification is an integral, and in fact, essential part of life. This is the Church of Body Modification, based in Phoenix, Arizona. The COBM's mission statement says it is "an interfaith Church whose members practice an assortment of ancient body modification rites which we believe are essential to our spiritual salvation." The members believe that they are strengthening their bonds between mind, body, and soul through their practice of body modification (COBM, "Mission").
In its FAQs pages, the COBM's website answers the question whether being a member of the Church will save one from being fired for visible modifications. Although the church is relatively new and cannot afford to send legal representation, if it can be proven that the employee was released because of modifications, they are under protection of the United States against religious discrimination, and the Church will do everything in its power to support the individual. However, it cautions that someone cannot join their church after being fired just to get their job back, stating, "If you don't believe in the spiritual aspect, we cannot ethically offer you protection under the Church. (COBM "FAQ")."
The argument that modification can be religious became widely recognized in October of 2001 when Kimberly M. Cloutier was fired from Costco Wholesale Corp. She filed a $2 million lawsuit against her former employers on the basis that her piercings are worn as a symbol of her faith and is a way to unite her mind, body, and soul. Her argument for religious discrimination is strengthened by the fact that "any sincerely held religious beliefs don't need to be approved by an established church," although Cloutier does belong to the Church of Body Modification (Goldberg, "Suit").
Although no decision has been reached regarding the Cloutier case, the progress made for religiously affiliated body modification enthusiasts is promising. But what about the modified for whom modification is aesthetic pleasure, or for whom modification is an adrenaline rush, not a spiritual act, but who are firm in their belief that people should be allowed to do what they want with their bodies?
Perhaps unwittingly, the COBM offers a case for these people as well. They argue that "everyone is modified'" and "there is no such ting as a natural form." To back up this claim, they assert, "Everyone who cuts a haircut, exercises, pierces her ears, gets breast implants, or is circumcised is modified to fit a Western societal image of beauty, so" they argue, "how is a split tongue any different? Why should penis beads seem shocking? Why should an employee be forced to wear long skirts to hide subdermal implants? (Hibbered, "Hook")." The answers to these questions are, respectively, it isn't; they shouldn't be, and he/she shouldn't have to. After all, modifications like tattooing and scarification, which are often the cause of discrimination, are rooted in the same desire as everyday modifications such as hair dying and plastic surgery. This is the desire to change or accentuate a part of the body that, in its present state, is not appealing to its owner. And isn't th at what modification is about in any form–whether the action is for a spiritual purpose, or an aesthetic one–taking ownership of one's body and modifying it to increase the happiness of the individual? I believe that BME editor, Shannon Larratt said it best, "I hold that any act which attempts to restrict consensual activities which do no harm to others takes away from the validity of a free society. (Larratt, "Body Modification")."
When the modified are forced to hide their bodies in places of employment, this discrimination transfers outside the workplace too. Those who see the modified forced to conform at work believe it is acceptable to push conformity off the job as well. By contrast, the more one is exposed to modification, the more one becomes tolerant, and even understanding, of modification and the people who choose to embrace it.
Church of Body Modification. FAQ.
http://www.chruchofbodmod.com/churchpages/faq.html (Accessed 17 April 2003)
Church of Body Modification. Mission Statement.
Cole, Dan. Personal Interview. 10 April 2003
Goldberg, Marla A. "Suit Charges Religious Discrimination Over Eyebrow Piercing."
Religion News Service. 21 October 2001. (Accessed 17 April 2003)
Hibberd, James. "Hook Line and Sinner; a harrowing evening with the church of body modification, where parishioners reclaim their bodies and have gory tug-o-wars–then something goes wrong." Phoenix New Times. 31 May 2001. Online-LexisNexis. (Accessed 17 April 2003)
Hudson, Repps. "Body Art in the Business World: Tattoos, Piercings and Wild Hair Cololors Are More Accepted and in Some Cases Welcomed By Business Owners and HR Managers."
St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 11 June 2001. Online-LexisNexis. (Accessed 17 April 2003)
Larrat, Shannon. Implant Glossary Entry. BME:Body Modification Ezine
http://www.bmezine.com/glossary/, 2000. (Accessed 17 April 2003)
Larrat, Shannon. Scarification Glossary Entry. BME:Body Modification Ezine
http://www.bmezine.com/glossary/, 2000. (Accessed 17 April 2003)
Larrat, Shannon. "Body Modification as Form of Class Consciousness and Class Warfare." BME:Body Modification Ezine. 29 October 2002.
http://www.bmezine.com/news/pubring/20021029.html (Accessed 17 April 2003)
Larrat, Shannon. "A Modified Man in the Air Force." BME:Body Modification Ezine.
10 April 2003 http://www.bmezine.com/news/pubring/20030410.html
(Accessed 17 April 2003)
Ross, John. "Body Art Moves Into Mainstream, Practices Become More Professional."
The Lantern via U-Wire University Wire OH State U. 1 April 2003. LexisNexis.
(Accessed 17 April 2003)
U.S. Amry. "AR670-1:Army Body Piercing Policy."
(Accessed 17 April 2003)
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "Facts About Religious Discrimination." 28 June 2002. http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/fs-relig.html .(Accessed 17 April 2003)
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