The Mainstream Body Modification Phenomenon: Visible Tattoo and Facial Piercing Acceptance in the Workplace
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With the ever-growing popularity of body modification in mainstream Western culture, questions of its effects on the participating individuals in reference to their hirability and employment status in the modern-day workplace arise. In this particular research, body modifications will be recognized as a relevant form of nonverbal communication. This study will set out to describe the experiences body modified individuals have encountered in the workplace regarding employer reactions to and/or allowances of mainstream visible tattoos and facial piercing. The method of inquiry will be a textual analysis of online data gathered from a collection of lived experiences located on the Facebook group pages: Tattoo Acceptence [sic] in the Workplace and Piercing Acceptance in the Workplace. Maximum variation sampling will be employed to discover data about individuals whose body modifications have not been an issue in the workplace, those whose body modifications have been an issue in the workplace, those who have body modifications but choose to limit their visibility, and those who have fully visible body modifications. Due to the extreme size of these groups, the researcher will attempt to locate 50 body modification participants for each of these sampling variations. The emerging themes will be applied via Jackson's cultural contracts theory to describe the overall essence of the phenomenon.
The Mainstream Body Modification Phenomenon: Visible Tattoo and Facial Piercing Acceptance in the Workplace Crystal Burgoon Communication Department Washburn University Spring 2011 Literature Review Body Modification Participants’ Perspective: Why: Motivations, attitudes, significance, justifications Communicative Value: What the wearer intends to communicate Social Identity Performance We consciously and subconsciously perform our personal identities through our “actions, inactions, verbal expressions and nonverbal expressions” (Vevea, 2008, p. 9). Placement on Body: To reveal or conceal Demographic Statistics: Age, gender, and racial/ethnic identity Fashion Commodity Body modifications have evolved into a contemporary fashion statement and are deemed similar to any other product in a consumer-driven market (Cross, 2008). Observers Perspective: Associated Stereotypes Noted as the signature marks of primitive tribes, bikers, ex-convicts and criminals, gang members, prostitutes, carnival workers, punks/rebels, and sailors (Sanders, 1989; Rosenblat, 1997). Social Deviance In Western culture, tattoos and facial piercings were once signs of countercultures, and to the status quo, they were often a sign of deviant behavior and something only marginal, lower-class individuals would acquire (Rosenblat, 1997). First Impressions “Although, interviewers are expected to avoid biases when evaluating potential employees, they tend to be swayed by nonsubstantive factors, even when they have been prompted to focus on candidates' substantive qualifications instead” (as cited in Seiter & Sandry, 2003, p. 287). Credibility: Perceptions on individual’s sociability, extroversion, competence, composure, character, and trust variables Hirability “Even what may seem like the most trivial of cues (e.g., a tiny earring) can make a difference *in others’ perceptions of you+” (Seiter & Sandry, 2003, p. 295). Attractiveness: Perceptions on the individual’s social, physical, and task variables Nonverbal Communication: “Most respondents agreed that nonverbal communication would influence their interactions with people more than would verbal content” (Graham et al., 1991, p. 59). Organizational Context: “Identity-related constructs and processes have the potential to inform our understanding of organizational behavior” (Hogg & Terry, 2000, p. 135). Cultural Contracts Theory: Jackson (2002) defined cultural contracts “as manifested products of identity negotiation during communication with others” (p. 362). Jackson (2002) explained cultural contracts theory as a rubric for negotiating cultural identities through the exchange of cultural values and commitments. “Intercultural relationships may or may not be coordinated, depending upon the dynamics involved (such as power, boundaries, cultural loyalty, group identification, maturity, etc.)” (2002, p. 361). Purpose The purpose of this phenomenological study was to describe the experiences for individual employees with visible body modifications in the workplace. The individuals’ experiences are generally defined as the phenomenon of employer reactions to and/or allowances of mainstream visible tattoos and facial piercings on employees in the workplace setting. Mainstream Tattoos: Single, multiple, chest piece, or arm sleeves Mainstream Facial Piercings: Ear (auricle/pinna/cartilage, conch, daith, orbital, rook, tragus, up to 00/10.4mm gauges), Nostril, Eyebrow, or Oral (Monroe lip, labret lower lip, tongue) Question What experiences have body modified individuals encountered in the workplace regarding employer reactions to and/or allowances of mainstream visible tattoos and facial piercings? What does it mean to be an employee with visible body modifications in the workplace? Do participants believe the historical stigmas associated with body modifications affect their employment status or limit their ability to be promoted within the workplace? In the workplace setting, what types of contracts do body modification participants take part in? Do institutions or individual participants seek to manage, contain, and control their differences and/or conflict? Methods Qualitative research method via phenomenological research strategy Textual analysis of online data gathered from the Facebook group pages: Tattoo Acceptence [sic] in the Workplace - 824,000+ group members Piercing Acceptance in the Workplace - 35,000+ group members Bracketing Out Preconceptions: I acknowledged that I held preconceptions that keeping body modifications discrete for an employment interview is imperative, body modifications are not allowed in the professional workplace, that professional employees must hide body modifications when in the workplace setting, and that only certain professions will allow individuals to wear visible body modifications. Sample: 275 participants - Statements from March 2010 - March 2011 Statements from administrator status updates posed as questions, voluntary member comments, and discussion boards Hand coding and classification into the core set of essential themes Sorted through MAXqda 10 computer software program and imported to MS Excel spreadsheets Results Contract Typology Themes: Ready-to-sign contract (assimilation), quasi-completed contract (adaptation), or co-created contract (mutual valuation). Workplace Factors: Body modifications have not been an issue in the workplace Body modifications have been an issue in the workplace Have fully visible body modifications - display them Have body modifications - choose to limit their visibility Have body modifications - mandated by management to cover-up/remove Emergent Sub-themes: Turned Down or Quit job - Due to company policy Won’t do business with anti-body modification companies Non-mainstream - Body modifications outside the mainstream definition Creative Cover - Concealed in unusual ways Placement - Purposely placed to be concealed Bandages - Cover-up method Arm or Wristband/Wrap - Cover-up method Policy Consistency (cross-contractual) Organizational Alignment - Corporate rule not consistent with local practices Gender Standards - Policy variation for men vs. women Hierarchy Standards - Policy variation for management vs. subordinates Policy Changes - Occurring after employment Perceived Stigma (cross-contractual) Derogatory Statements/Negative Connotations - Towards body modified individuals First Impression - Participants conceal until after first impression Quality of Work/Performance - Organization & participant acknowledgement (co-created) Literature Cited Cross, T. (2008). Exploring permanent property: An exploration of the tattoo acquisition in the Midwest. McNair Scholars Journal, 12(1), 15-25. Graham, G.H., Unruh, J., & Jennings, P. (1991). The impact of nonverbal communication in organizations: A survey of perceptions. The Journal of Business Communication, 28(1) Winter, 45-62. Hogg, M.A. & Terry, D.I. (2000). Social identity and self-categorization processes in organizational contexts. Academy of Management Review, 25(1), 121-140. Jackson, R. L. (2002). Cultural contracts theory: Toward an understanding of identity negotiation. Communication Quarterly, 50, 359–367. Rosenblatt, D. (1997). The antisocial skin: Structure, resistance, and “modern primitive” adornment in the United States. Cultural Anthropology, 12(3), 287-334. Sanders, C. R. (1989). Customizing the body: The art and culture of tattooing. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Seiter, J.S. & Sandry, A. (2003). Pierced for success?: The effects of ear and nose piercing on perceptions of job candidates' credibility, attractiveness, and hirability. Communication Research Reports, 20(4) Fall, 287-298. Vevea, N. (2008). Body art: Performing identity through tattoos and piercing. Conference Papers: National Communication Association, p1, 1-26. Discussion The research revealed that body modification participants faced a variety of experiences in the workplace that led to the contracts’ signature or refusal. Ready-to-sign Cultural Contracts: Assimilation Participants have had an issue in the workplace with their body modifications and were mandated by management to cover up or remove their body modifications. Cover-up methods: Clothing choices, bandages, wristbands & watches Extreme weather conditions did not afford apparel leniency Embarrassment due to the excessive negative attention certain cover-up methods produced Playful versions of cover-up to mock employer’s anti-body modification sentiments Non-signature: Participants display their visible body modification while seeking employment from organizations who practice anti-body modification policies Employers willingness to verbally or non-verbally express anti-body modification sentiment Quasi-completed Cultural Contracts: Adaptation Participants whose body modifications had not been an issue for them in the workplace and willingly limit their body modifications visibility. Least common contract Purposefully obscuring tattoos with clothing and substituting visible piercings with clear jewelry retainers or displacing jewelry completely during work Respect based: Courtesy for the employer or other parties Serious consideration made in placement choices for body modifications Code-switching: Between employee liberty and employer mandate Some contracts allow more areas of flexibility, while others were stringent Co-created Cultural Contract: Mutual Valuation Participants whose body modifications had not been an issue for them in the workplace and who display their visible body modifications. Most common contract: Broad array of organizational types & work positions. Quality of Work and Performance: Participant & organization recognition Secure in employment ability and saw no hindrance in employability Organizations’ willingness to accept participants for job performance and overlook their body modifications Mix of mainstream and non-mainstream body modifications had been received well in the workplace Job satisfaction, loyalty, and appreciation towards organizations with lenient policies Conveyed positive feelings towards supervisors Promotion into management positions not handicapped Some detrimental remarks, harassment, or ridicule from other employees about body modifications “Reverse” Ready-to-sign Contract: Refusal of employment from employers with anti-body modification policies Do not engage in business or spend money with organizations that employ anti-body modification policies Cross-contractual Situations: Multiple situations where a lack of policy consistency was demonstrated or participants felt body modification associated stigma in the workplace emerged from all three of the cultural contracts. Policy Consistency Organizational Alignment - Corporate rule not consistent with local practices Gender Standards - Policy variation for men vs. women Hierarchy Standards - Policy variation for management vs. subordinates Policy Changes - Occurring after employment Perceived Stigma Derogatory Statements/Negative Connotations - Towards body modified individuals First Impression - Participants conceal until after first impression