Come on, admit it, we all do it to some degree. As much as we would all like to believe ourselves to be well informed, open-minded and non-judgemental, sometimes we can’t help but judge a book by it’s cover. That’s not to say that we ever intend to. Sometimes these judgements are programmed into us before we are old enough to exert any control over it. As small children we learn by example from our parents. We pick up on all sorts of things, from a fear of spiders to racist attitudes, and everything in between. These things we pick up on become reinforced through repetition, soon becoming part of our template for the world as we see it. So as much as we intend to be open-minded, we do pre-judge. It is a lightning-fast reaction, neuron-to-neuron, at the sub or unconscious level. Conscious perception, and the common-sense reasoning that goes with it, reacts much slower and loses the race. It is probably important to state here that this is my best educated guess, as a recent Cognitive Neuroscience graduate. I am far from being an expert.
This subject came up in a recent discussion with my counsellor. I was talking about my post-graduation job hunting mission, and questioning whether or not my various ‘body modifications’ might hinder me. So lets start at the top and work down. I am a caucasian girl with locs, so stereotype-wise that usually puts me in the hippy category. Now I don’t mind this so much since part of the reason I got locs was to embrace my inner hippy just a little bit. Bit since hippies are typically associated with smoking weed, being unwashed, and free love etc, this may not go over so well in the job market. When I was wishing to connect with my ‘inner hippy’, I was thinking more of embracing nature and free thinking, rather than the negative connotations. I can tie my hair up very neatly though, so I have no intention of cutting or unpicking my locs in the foreseeable future.
Then we move down my anatomy to my lip piercing. If I am going to a rock bar or a gig, I may put my chunky lip ring in. I like it, it’s fun, and I don’t think it’s hurting anybody (although getting the piercing done did smart a little bit). When I am working, including my present part-time job as a first aider, I wear the smallest, plainest stud that I have, only to keep the piercing hole in tact.
This seems like a happy medium. My employer would prefer that I had never got the piercing at all, but as it doesn’t violate any health and safety requirements of the job, it seems to be just about acceptable. I suspect the reason he dislikes it is because it doesn’t look ‘professional’. And so I was thinking about what ‘professional’ really means. It’s a big question, and we haven’t even got to my tattoos yet…
My tattoos were all acquired with the benefit of foresight and common sense. I am able to cover them with a long-sleeved blouse, so that’s fine. I will definitely do this for job interviews. But then it leads me to wonder, if I don’t declare them up front, it is wrong of me to get them out in the office at a later date?
I suppose this will greatly depend on the type of role I am in, and how my new employer feels about tattoos. Mine are in no way offensive, no swear words etc. They just probably don’t scream ‘corporate grown-up’ in the house.
So what the average perception of a professional image is remains the big question. My counsellor asked me to think about how I would feel if I was in a courtroom and the judge had a facial piercing. Or if my GP had lots of tattoos. And I must admit, my considered response belies my gut reaction. Of course, once I have thought about it, the idea of a tattooed GP makes me very happy. Seeing more people in respected professions, openly sporting their body modifications, would be a big step forward towards general acceptance of a modern style in the modern world. But my gut reaction, my neuron-to-neuron impulse, probably based on my unconsciously learned view of the world, says “argh this tattooed doctor is strange”. I totally disappoint myself to feel this way, but it’s the honest truth. Thankfully the gut reaction is only for an instant, then conscious common sense takes over.
I didn’t get my modifications to fulfil a stereotype, or to be a rebel without a cause. I got them because I really like them. I want to express myself, but I am also very happy to compromise. I can tone things down for the workplace. I just don’t want to completely forgo all personal style, and become a cardboard cutout, like an iStock image. Writing this down has helped me to think about my own situation a little clearer. I don’t want to take out my piercing or cut my hair for a job interview. I want to be accepted as I am. Any employer that only sees a stereotype is probably not a person that I would enjoy working for. But I also don’t want to limit myself by being stubborn about something that is essentially just a tiny piece of removable surgical steel. I plan to attend interviews dressed very smartly, but with style, i.e. not looking like an iStock image. Absolutely no grey, I will be colourful but conservative. The locs will be up tidily, the shirt will cover my tattoos, but I will leave the small piercing stud in place. I will be charming, dazzle them with my knowledge, and then maybe when the time comes for me to ask questions, I could ask the interview panel if they mind my piercing at all? Yes, I think this is the plan.
I will keep you all updated on my progress.