How often has a medical assistant with a pierced lip prepared you for an exam or procedure? How many times have you seen an office assistant with a row of cartilage and earlobe piercings? When was the last time you met a female doctor or other medical professional with a nostril piercing? These things, which were once unheard of in professional environments, are now becoming a fairly common sight. The vast majority of facial piercings and stretched lobes are still considered unprofessional by many, but times are changing. What was normal 10 years ago is practically old-fashioned now, so who's to say we won't see offices filled to overflowing with sales reps, managers, and other staff members with visible piercings within the next decade?
Body Piercings in History & the Workplace
Science has proven that people have been modifying their bodies with regular and stretched piercings alike for thousands of years--over 5,000 to be exact, as we know from stretched earlobe piercings found on Ötzi the Iceman, one of the oldest mummies ever discovered. It's unlikely that Ötzi was the first person to have his ears pierced and stretched, and he certainly won't be the last. Countless people have pierced themselves for a wide variety of reasons throughout time--for cultural or religious purposes, beautification, denoting status, sexual stimulation, and beyond. More recently, beautification and a desire to show one's individuality have moved to the forefront as two of the main reasons people get pierced, and people's interest in piercings for those reasons and others increases daily. As piercings continue to grow in popularity in the mainstream, a related question grows stronger, too: What body piercings are acceptable in the workplace?
In the not-too-distant past, standard earlobe piercings and the occasional ear cartilage piercing were the only piercings you'd see in a professional work environment. There's been a paradigm shift over the past decade, though, as piercings have gained popularity throughout our culture--among teenagers, parents, celebrities, and even the elderly.
There was a time when I wouldn't have looked twice at the heavily tattooed and pierced staff running record stores, alternative apparel shops, art studios, graphic design shops, and, of course, tattoo and piercing studios. Outside of such alternative environments, though, I would have been surprised to see someone like a doctor, a lawyer or even a store manager with facial piercings. That was in the past, though.
Now I see piercings all the time and take no note of them, but when I stop to think about the ones I've seen recently, it makes me realize that piercings have become so widely popular that it's no longer surprising to see pierced professionals. In the past week alone, I've been helped by a bank teller with a pierced nostril, a bartender at a high-end restaurant with a labret piercing, a grocery store clerk with the entire outer rim of her ear encompassed by rings, a barista wearing septum jewelry, and a store manager with stretched earlobes. Those individuals' piercings never struck me as odd or unprofessional while I was interacting with them, but as I sit here and write about it, I'm shocked--not because of the piercings themselves, but because I only registered the sight of pierced professionals in retrospect. I've become completely desensitized to the sight of most body piercings, just like so many others in our society.
The popularity of piercings in the mainstream--particularly among the celebrities who so many of us look up to and admire--is starting a new trend: the growing acceptance of visible body piercings in the workplace. While not all professions have fully embraced this art form, the writing is on the wall. Body piercings are deemed a little less unprofessional with every day that passes. How is that possible? It's partly due to general public desensitization that's occurring as we see more normal people and celebrities alike with visible piercings, but that can't be the sole reason. It seems that moderation is also part of the key to the slow, quiet infiltration of piercings into the professional world. Think about it like this: When a female employee shows up at work with a tasteful nostril stud or a faux beauty mark that's actually a Monroe piercing, it's often accepted as a subtle enhancement to her natural beauty. If the same woman came in with a row of lip piercings, a septum piercing, a nostril piercing, an eyebrow piercing, and rows of ear piercings, though, it could very likely trigger an uproar--depending on where she works, anyway.
For the time being, "excessive" visible piercings continue to be problematic for people working in most professional environments, particularly if they have face-to-face contact with customers. That could change in the very near future, though. In the meantime, what's a piercing enthusiast to do if they want to keep their piercings and continue working in professional environments? There are at least two options available: (1) Get discreet piercings, like belly button piercings, dermals on your hips or toes, a surface barbell on your chest, or even genital piercings, or (2) invest in piercing retainers for your visible piercings. A well-fitting piercing retainer may not completely hide a facial piercing, but it can make it much more discreet. There are piercing retainers for every piercing type, too, like clear and pink tongue ring retainers for tongue piercings, clear glass nose bones and septum retainers for nose piercings, flesh-tone dermal tops, flesh-colored plugs for stretched lobes, and more.
Here are some of our more popular piercing retainers, to give you an idea of the many options available to you if you need to conceal piercings for work or other occasions:
Picking Employers When Piercings Are an Important Part of You
Many companies today have strict dress code policies that include piercing provisions. However, when you're going in for a job interview, there's no way to know for sure how your piercings may be viewed, so it's always best to play it safe and remove your visible piercings or replace your jewelry with discreet piercing retainers before your interview. If the interview is going well, it's perfectly fine to broach the subject of the company's policy on piercings. Or, you can wait and see if you get the job, then talk to your supervisor about your piercings and what accommodations s/he would like you to make with them. You may find that certain facial piercings are perfectly acceptable, like nostril piercings and all ear piercings, but that you'll need to start wearing piercing retainers regularly to mask any other facial piercings you wish to keep, like septum piercings and eyebrow piercings. The longer you're with the company, the better you'll understand how management may react to you making one of your previously-concealed piercings more visible, so give it time and be respectful with your revelations.
If you'd rather be honest about your piercings from the get-go, that's admirable, but not necessarily the best career move. You could jeopardize your chances of getting a really great job if the human resources person screening you deems you unprofessional and fails to pass your resume onto someone who may not have given your piercings a second thought after interviewing you. If you'd rather not take that chance, but don't want to compromise your beliefs and self image, then look for a job with a company that views body piercings as perfectly-acceptable forms of self-expression. There are plenty of professional jobs where it's okay or even encouraged to have visible piercings. Places like alternative clothing stores, graphic design studios, jewelry suppliers like Painful Pleasures, companies in the music industry, and many others have a more progressive view of piercings than your typical stuffy law office. It may take you a little longer to find your dream job if you narrow your focus to companies with specific policies on body modifications, but it will be well worth it in the end if you can be yourself at work, where you'll spend nearly 50% of your waking hours. After all, why settle for being true to yourself half the time when you can rock your style all day every day?