Millicent Tuesday questions, lobule edition

First of all, an introduction.  At various points in different comment threads, I have referred to a part of my soul that is occupied by an aged British spinster librarian.  She wields an umbrella.  She would fit right in with the ladies who come for tea in “The Ladykillers.”  (The original version.  We shall not speak of the remake.)  She has Strong Opinions.

I have named her Millicent.

Every so often I encounter Some New Thing that brings her roaring to the front of my mind.  And when that happens, I have decided to turn over the occasional Tuesday question to her, so as to provide her with an appropriate outlet.

Next, a disclaimer.  This week Millicent is in a swivet about Some New Thing that young people are doing to their appearance.  If you have done this Thing to your appearance, please understand I’m really, really not making fun or trying to make anyone feel bad.  I just don’t understand it, and it makes me feel old and out of touch and like I should just find a sunny porch to doze off on.  Consider my confusion a sign of incipient decrepitude, not a sign of disrespect to you.

Clear?  Good.  Over you, Millicent.

What have you done to your ears?!??  Why are you stretching them out?  Why are you inserting cylinders of ever-increasing diameter into them?

Is this considered attractive?  It does not strike me as attractive.  I find it off-putting.

Have you considered the distinct possibility that you may reach an age at which you regret having rendered your earlobes as like unto silly putty?  Do you think your decision in this regard may have an impact on those jobs you might be offered in the future?  Does anyone think of these things anymore?  Why does nobody think of these things anymore?

Every time I see ears thus… modified, I am tempted to inquire if the young person did so in order to have a convenient place to store pencils.  It was perplexing enough when people started getting random bits of their faces pierced.  (Really, young lady?  Your cheek?)  But at least those people can remove their metal adornments if they wish.  Once one’s ears have taken on the appearance of a rubber band, can a normal visage be restored without the help of an appropriately-trained surgeon?

Good heavens.  This is all very vexing.  Where is the sherry?  I need to go lie down.”

So there you have it, and along with it this week’s Question(s).  Do other people wonder why Today’s Young People are doing this to themselves, or am I really just old?  And are there trends or fads that make you feel like it’s time to cash in your chips and find out what this “Matlock” you’ve heard all about is like?

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. I’m 32 and wonder what people are doing to themselves with body mods.

    I go back and forth on tattoos. Sometimes I find tattoos on women to be very sexy (including a lot of them). Other times my Milicent kicks in and I think stuff like “What is that going to look like when you are 75?” or “How are you ever going to get a good job if your body looks like that?” The truth is that living in San Francisco allows for a lot of liberalism in this regard. I’ve seen lots of heavily tattooed pre-school and elementary school teachers in this fair city by the Bay. I am not sure that such a thing would fly anywhere else in the country including some other super-Blue cities. Maybe it would be okay in Portland and Seattle.

    I like some non-standard piercings including minor gauge work but not the major stuff like your photographic example.

    Again part of my aversion to extreme body mods is probably Jewish-cultural reasons.

    In general, I have a bit of a reputation for crankiness about some young people things. Better examples include Movember, and Internet memes and macros. I seem like the gene that allows one to appreciate camp and kitsch. Movemeber strongly reminds me of kitsch. Memes and Macros are just overly simplistic (and incorrect) points spread like a virus and in a way to drown out dissent. I find this true even if I generally agree with the politics of an Internet meme.

    Yours truly,

    Future cantankerous Yiddish man of America

    • Nothing makes me feel like a cranky old man than seeing people with tatoos and body piercings.

      But that picture that goes with the opening post? Ewwwww!

      • It means never losing your BlueTooth again!

        Not for me, no.

  2. I admit; I don’t understand the allure of creating large holes in your body that will never return to their original shape or form.

    My daughter got her nose pierced when she was 18, but she spares my feelings by only wearing a minuscule stud when she sees me (it looks like a piece of glitter is stuck on the side of her nose). She’s been in pictures with some of her friends, where the others have had what looks to be piercings the size of kitchen sink washers in their nostrils.

    How the hell they blow their nose with any semblance of normality eludes me.

  3. I’m cool with “normal” piercings and such, but I really don’t like the huge holes in the ears thing either. And I’m a bit put off when someone has so many they look like they fell face-first into a tackle box.

    Try googling “extreme body mods” and be prepared to be freaked out. What some people will do to their genitalia is just horrifying.

      • This is where is comes in handy to be a science fiction reader. “Extreme body mod” means being outfitted to breath methane and ammonia so you can explore the surface of Titan without a spacesuit. Period, end of discussion.

    • Yep.

      I dated a guy once that said he was into ‘body modification’.

      I thought, ok, a couple piercings, no big deal.

      Boy, was I naïve.

      Let’s just say – piercing his Johnson was the most ‘normal’ of his mods. He was tattooed and had the head split into two, with piercings on both halves.

      I was like – yeah. I’m not touching that, sorry.

      • He was tattooed and had the head split into two, with piercings on both halves.

        Oh, dear. Ohdearohdearohdear.

        I’m at work. I mustn’t drink sherry at work. I mustn’t go lie down at work. I mustn’t, really. But now I desperately want to.

      • [Stutters]

        The head Of his… his…?


        [Opens and closes mouth in astonishment. Looks away.]



        • You live in California–L.A. area–and this is the first you’ve heard of this?

          I guess that’s what suburbia is for. 😉

          • Ye GODS?!? This is such a rampantly popular personal… let’s just say “body shape” decision that knowledge of it is unavoidable in certain metro areas?

            I lived in Manhattan for six years, one of which was in Chelsea, and I was blessedly ignorant of this… notion, until several minutes ago.

            That’s it. Screw my appointments. I’m taking a nap.

          • When I went to San Francisco, there were postcard racks that had all kinds of stuff to make a guy feel square and/or inadequate.

          • I have thankfully never seen this particular — uh, how shall-we-say — modification in the flesh. However, I remember distinctly the first time I saw a photo of such.

            Yikes and egads.

          • Millicent,

            I wouldn’t say rampantly “popular.” More like rampantly notorious. I’m pretty sure there are only a small number of men willing to endure what it takes to achieve this outcome. I could describe it, but perhaps I shouldn’t. At least not ’til I’m sure you have smelling salts handy and a good clutch on your pearls.

      • head split into two, with piercings on both halves.

        what is this i don’t even

        • I could handle the tattoo, but when he pulled back the foreskin (which had bulges in it from the piercing) I nearly lost my lunch.

          How the FFFK do you urinate when the head isn’t whole? Seriously.

          • There is no part of that combination I would have been able to stomach, but the… voluntary bifurcation would have given me the howling fantods. Hell, even reading about it is giving them to me.

          • I know what you mean. He and I still chat online from time to time, and I get to hear ALL about his latest ‘mod’, tattoo and what-have-you. I’ve told him that I no longer require picture(s) of the latest (not that I ever DID, mind you!)

            I’m curious how the hell he gets through airport screenings since he’s gotten his Jacob’s Ladder piercing(s).

            Knowing him, it’s with a grin when they frisk him or wand him down.

          • “How the FFFK do you urinate when the head isn’t whole? Seriously.”

            very carefully, i would imagine.

            i dunno, i had a lot of friends in my late teens and early 20s doing weird stuff to their bodies, so it’s not a particularly big deal to me.

            i hate to use the dreaded “c” word but the line between an ampallang/prince albert/related piercings is kinda thin. you can always take it out (healing later on depends on what gauge you went for).

          • I just have this image (shudder) of him in his 70’s with droopy skin from all the piercings…

          • “i hate to use the dreaded “c” word but the line between an ampallang/prince albert/related piercings is kinda thin. you can always take it out (healing later on depends on what gauge you went for).”

            ugh meant to put in “and circumcision”. maybe add some rush and chronic lyme disease to the mix.

          • Well, he said that the tattoo hurt the worst (gee, ya think?) – and that he used viagra to um… keep things firm for the needle.

    • Warren Ellis used to periodically feature these on his blog, under the header tag “CONAN! WHAT IS BEST IN LIFE?”

      And yes, they are often horrible.

    • The ones I truly boggle at are the “stainless steel boogers”. A small ball in each nostril.


  4. Based on Rod’s description, my inner spinster Edna, whom Millicent never fails to invite for tea, will not be googling “extreme body mods.”

    I am honestly horrified by earlobe things. I don’t notice tattoos or more typical piercings at all. But I have trouble even looking at the picture above. Millicent, really! I never!

    Here are my gripes with young people today:

    The questioning lilt young women use in their voice, so as to make everything they say sound as if it were voiced by an uncertain toddler. This is apparently no bar to success, as I hear it on NPR now in interviews with lawyers and other successful folk, and even the reporters themselves.

    The cocky glee (okay, pun intended) with which young men describe their porn viewing habits. A jokey sort of pride that makes them think it’s a perfectly appropriate topic to discuss freely with a female prof in her late-thirties-totally-not-yet-40. Eight years ago, young men would all intone that porn was Really Sexist, and obviously objectifying women.

    • That questioning lilt fills me with rage. I will do my best to never let my daughters take that on.

      (And to be clear, it fills me with rage in two respects: (1) If you’re not asking a question, don’t ask a question. Confidence! (2) I hate when women take on the worst chauvinistic stereotypes. Anyone who brings such things to my children – man or woman – is getting a tongue lashing.)

    • Well now, Edna. Let’s give the man in the picture credit. He has found some practical value in fenestrating his face. (I suppose he doesn’t use pencils?) Now he can use his pockets for storing other useful items, such as his bottles of thorazine or smelling salts for fainthearted people who’ve seen him for the first time.

    • Rose – the porn thing is interesting. My wife tells me that a few of her friends like to sit around and laugh about how seldom they have sex with their husbands. I know a startling number of men my age and younger with spouses/ longterm partners that have extremely unfulfilled sex lives. The old joke about the wife having a headache every night goes back a long way. I feel like the openess about porn is men finally fighting back. Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know too many youngsters any more.

      • What I usually hear from young, professional couples is that they often work too long and are just too tired at the end of a weeknight to have sex. This goes for men and women.

        This problem might be unique to the Bay Area, New York, and other lands where working hard and doing long hours is seen as a virtue. A lot of Silicon Valley types live in San Francisco and commute down to the Valley every day. This can easily be an 1.5-2 hour commute. A lot of people also live 2 or so hours away in Napa or far East Bay and commute to the City for work.

      • In a world where our privacy diminishes daily, and one in which the consumption of pornography was and in many quarters still is viewed as something shameful, a forthrightness about enjoying porn is (subconsciously perhaps) a form of resistance: I refuse to be made ashamed of my desires.

        The downside to this refusal-to-be-shamed impulse is, if porn and the acts depicted in it do not have a degree of naughtiness about them, they become less fun.

      • “Men fighting back”…
        So. Many.Things.Wrong. with this.

        If a couple has an unfulfilling sex life, it’s their job to deal with it. TOGETHER.

        Yes, conveying a “I am not satisfied” is soemthing. But by doing that, inc ombination with “I’m getting better results from staring at hawt chicks onlien”??

        God that’s a problem. It’s a step in the wrong direction.

        I’d say something different if I really thought these guys were saying, “Why don’t you try some too? We’ll find something you like, to get you in the mood…”

        • I should be clear. I have no problem with peers talking about porn. I mean my students.

          • It does seem like a rather odd thing to talk about with a teacher.
            I wonder if the comments you received earlier (on how porn was sexist) were more evidence of a guy treating you as “available young woman.”

          • I have no problem with peers talking about porn.

            For instance, the Marquis de Sade.

          • I’ve been wondering on this. I conclude it’s the replacement for the ‘smoked so much,’ and the ‘drank so much’ stories of my youth. We didn’t have porn so readily available. Today, the excesses of inebriation are somewhat frowned upon; particularly if one has to drive a car, and access is older.

            Just a guess, though.

            I do wonder: are we talking female students? Or is this talk gendered male?

          • My young male students (18-23) brag about their porn watching habits. I do not wish to know this about them.

            It’s not as totally crazy as it sounds since I teach ethics, and treating people as a mere means, etc., comes up. But the pride and joy and vividness of their descriptions is a little alarming for class discussion, I find.

          • Starting at a bachelor party a few years back, my friends and I now host an annual Porn Summit. I won’t elaborate much more than that, but I will say that we don’t do it in front of our professors.

          • you should probably include something in the syllabus. though it’d be a bit awkward to word, it’s gotta be less awkward than “hey teach, i watched hella porn last night.” or whatever form this takes.

    • “Eight years ago, young men would all intone that porn was Really Sexist, and obviously objectifying women.”

      Really? I went to undergrad a bit before this and graduated in 2002. I went to a school that did not admit men until the late 1960s and was still largely female. I don’t remember ever hearing a guy talk like this. Nor did they talk like the bro-dudes you mention above but I think most of us watched porn. There was a porn server on the school’s intra-net (along with many dedicated to ripped music, this was pre-Napster). An erotica magazine was also started my junior year.

      The 2nd Wave all porn is really sexist sounds more like a product of the 1980s and 90s to me. I don’t think it is a widely held belief among men and women of my age and younger.

      It is probably futile to wish porn eradicated. There has and will always be porn. I’ve seen ancient Roman porn among the ruins of Pompeii. There is also ancient Roman porn at the British Museum. I’ve seen porn that worked as anti-Catholic propaganda during the 30 Years’ War and to support the French Revolution.

    • The cocky glee (okay, pun intended) with which young men describe their porn viewing habits.

      Wouldn’t you want to be appointed to the Supreme Court in your early forties?

        • A.) It took me a few minutes to get this.

          B.) Remember when you were a kid and the worst irrational fear you had was Sino-pranksters adulterating your Coke?

  5. I do hope you find a nice sunny porch, Millie/Russ/non-pseudonym.*

    *Question: If Russell Saunders is your pseudonym, does that mean that Millicent is actually the pseudonym of your inner spinster librarian?

    • The Better Half can verify that I’m probably the only still-shy-of-forty-thanks-very-much man in the world who visits someone in an upscale assisted living facility and thinks “I could be very happy here.”

      Millicent is her real name. Such is the courage of her convictions that she sees no need to hide behind some silly pseudonym, and considers me lily-livered for using one.

      • Millicent! You know Edna wants to join you in the assisted facility!

        • True. And nothing would fill Millicent’s heart with greater joy than to spend her twilight years in the room adjoining Edna’s, wherein they while away the time playing cards, making fun of the idiots on television, and complaining nonspecifically.

      • We were looking at possible places for my mom, should she need one (she doesn’t and hopefully won’t) and we saw one that made me and my wife say “When can we move in?”

  6. I have a theory that people who do extreme body modifications are more content than you and I, because they have intentionally limited their future options in life.

    Me, I am always going to be thinking things like, “I could have been a lawyer. I could STILL be a lawyer, if I’d just get off my lazy butt and get it done…boy, am I lazy.” Questioning oneself; regretting the choices not taken…stress and self-loathing at the way my character flaws have resulted in my current state.

    That guy with the full-face tattoo, or earlobes that look like old fanbelts? He KNOWS he will never be a lawyer. It’s not even an option any longer, so he doesn’t need to worry about it. He has intentionally eliminated 50% of his future choices, in favor of ones (barista; bartender; Discovery Channel reality show star) that are more congruent with the personality of someone who would do such a thing in the first place.

    Ergo, increased contentment and happiness.

    • That makes as much sense as any theory I can come up with. Strong work.

      Unrelatedly, I know I should know who your Gravatar is. It is driving me bananas. I give up.

      • Thanks!

        This also could be related (not just the shirt, but the character that inspired it):

        The current gravatar is of John Button, who at the time of the photo was a retired English sailor living in Rye. But you probably recognize him from this.

        Always loved that photo, it is one of the great old man faces (John Noble has one, too, and at the local Irish pub they have a poster of famous Irish authors that is a treasure trove of them).

        • Hey Doc, the comment to which this one is a reply is stuck in moderation, even though I only used two links –

          • Oh, I like the Cure well enough. (I know I’ve mentioned this in comments before, but back in ninth grade I got into a protracted argument with my friend Audrey about whether the Cure [her pick] or the B-52s [mine] were cooler. We reached a peaceful resolution by agreeing that both groups were infinitely, infinitely cooler than the New Kids on the Block.) I didn’t listen to them enough to know the image right off the bat, just enough to know I’d seen it before.

          • Based on overall body of work, I’d have to side with Audrey (though the way Smith keeps on flogging that dead horse, Stones-style, just tarnishes what by all rights should be a nearly-unimpeachable great pop-music historic creative run, again Stones-style).

            But I’ll go to the wall for “Rock Lobster” (my 3-yr old’s fav. song, BTW, though lately he is also loving The Ramones) as one of THE great rock or dance songs of the last 35 years. The guitar work is stellar. Hell, that whole first record is great.

            Here are the B-52’s just tearing it up in an ATL cafe in 1978:


          • The B-52s are simply more my style. The Cure is a little bit too morose for my taste, which is probably why “Friday I’m in Love” is my favorite song of theirs. Plus, as a gay teenager living smack in the middle of the Bible Belt in Reagan’s America, the B-52s were one of the first glimmers I got that there was a different, more welcoming world waiting for me somewhere. (Which is why if I ever really do meet Kate Pierson I’ll probably start blubbering.)

          • Mighty Boosh: Goth Juice… The most powerful hairspray known to man. Made from the tears of Robert Smith.

          • I prefer his take on home renovations.

            It’s too bad he’s made himself such a punchline; he really was a great songwriter, an innovative producer, no slouch as a guitarist, and an interesting singer (if not technically adept). Had he hung it up after Disintegration he’d be justly recognized as more than just a cult figure (admittedly, one of the largest cults in the music world).

          • I never really gave Bloodflowers a chance. Maybe I will. Heck, even Wish had a few good tracks on there.

            RE: Disintegration, I personally see Cure peaking one album earlier, with Kiss Me (x3)…but there’s no denying that Disintegration is a complete album, with a unified mood and flow and deep deep SOUND; and nobody could call it a sell-out, half those tracks were like 8-minute-long dirges, so there’s no way they were getting on the radio. So I have no issue with people who do want to call Disintegration their peak.

            (But really, their peak was Kiss Me, followed by Head On The Door, followed by the debut; and the singles comps SOAB/SATS & Japanese Whispers are pretty much untouchable. He was really varied in his pop songwriting, and I prefer that aspect over the unified same-y moroseness that has come to comprise the totality of their popular image) 🙂

    • I agree to a certain extent. I think a lot of them would say they are opting-out of the upper-middle class professional world.

      Of course, I’ve known many an undergrad who also ranted against consumerism and being a corporate sheep. Around 30 or so, these people often discover that they too want nice things.

      • many an undergrad who also ranted against consumerism and being a corporate sheep. Around 30 or so, these people often discover that they too want nice things.

        In college a good friend of mine and I used to tell people that we were starting a commune, but that “nobody better touch my stuff”.

        • Heh.

          I would also say that your remark above depends. People with dyed hair and body mods might never become lawyers at fancy firms but there are plenty of body-moded lawyers in the Bay Area. They tend to work a bit more scruffy though and focus on non-profits that help the poor or they are public defenders or they work at smaller firms. I had quite a few classmates in law school with a fair bit of tattoos.

          They can also probably get jobs in the tech industry. Though the people with body-mods in the tech industry that I know tend to be women. I have set to see a body-moded guy with a good tech job.

          Then a few lucky ones are very financially successful in creative fields and artisnal products. See Mast Brothers chocolate as an example.

          Perhaps the Bay Area, Portland, and Seattle just skew everything to be more left and tolerant than anywhere else.

          • If it wasn’t clear from the original comment and my usual foolishness around here, my theory is at least partially (though not totally – research has shown that increased choices can result in increased stress, as we agonize over the rightness of each choice; so intentional limitation or preclusion could be psychologically beneficial to some) split-tongue-in-pierced-cheek.

      • Still not a corporate sheep.
        I buy things like I’m rich (which, I’ll admit, you gotta know quants to get).

    • I have a theory that people who do extreme body modifications are more content than you and I, because they have intentionally limited their future options in life.

      Interesting, and not the MN variant.

      Back in the day, Bennett Cerf, Dr. Seuss’s editor at Random House, bet Seuss that he couldn’t write a good children’s story using just a 50-word vocabulary. Green Eggs and Ham settled the bet.

      My husband plays improvisational jazz, teaches music/computer-music technology. I’m a fiber artist. We’re always talking about the ways and methods of creativity. One, and one of the most effective, is self-limitation; I only have two colors; I can only play the black notes on the piano, I can only use five ingredients in this recipe, etc. Putting limits on the creative process can help unlock creativity.

      So your suggestion that outrageous piercings (and many tattoos, which give me the willies) have such an impact on life by creating future limitations may have some merit.

      Difference being, I can opt to use three or ten colors tomorrow; to only use the notes in a pentatonic scale instead of just the white keys, I can write without using ‘is’ as a verb instead of just 50 words.

      But how to unhole the earlobe?

      • RE: limitations sparking creativity in art – I am trying to get together some posts sort of tangentially-related to this over at JB’s place. If I can ever get them coherent, I would be curious on your take as an artist.

        • Hmm.

          Here’s a game.

          I’m thinking of something.

          Now you think of something, too.

          Now, tell me what you thought of.

          (this is a family appropriate game.)

  7. My career plan was to be an archaeologist, working in the field in a setting where no one would care about physical appearance too much. Even with that plan, I was (thankfully) still smart enough to make sure every one of my tattoos can be completely hidden in a professional setting. Now that I have a desk job with a Big Company I am completely baffled at how many kids I see with tattoos in places they could never hide, well before they have chosen a career. There’s a guy that works in my building driving a forklift. Bright kid, going to college and…rocking a neck tattoo. Unbelievable…

    • If I happened to have a tattoo or three, they would be placed so they were only on display if I chose to make them so. If.

      Likewise, if I happened to have pierced my ear a couple of times back in the day, I would have ceased wearing anything in the tiny little holes on a regular basis years ago. If.

      • I had an eyebrow pierced, for a while. I thought it looked OK.

        It was the result of an Afternoon drinking Absinthe with an Australian in Prague, if that gives any context.

        • I enjoy the capitalized alliteration.

          Eyebrow piercing first enjoyed its vogue when I was in medical school. (Tongue piercing, too. And navels.) I’ve had enough time to get used to it that I don’t think too much of such piercings now. The studs stuck smack-dab in the middle of people’s cheeks I will never get used to.

          • The only use for those that I can see is to entertain small children.

            “DO THE THING!!!”

            “Okay, kiddos… someone get me a glass of milk.”

  8. I find piercings quite repulsive. Alas, my hubby thinks they’re super cool and hot to my bafflement and revulsion. I have issued a fatwa to the effect that, while he has the right to do anything to himself he likes, that any pierced body part of his will not be coming anywhere near me. So far he hasn’t gotten any piercings thank Liza!

  9. It was because the previous generation of hipsters did stuff like hairspray their hair into weird shapes or grow out a pinky nail as if it were a cocaine spoon but the first job interview? WHAM. They dress like they’re going to gramma’s.

    A hole in your body large enough to act as storage? Now *THAT* is authentic!

  10. I am of two minds on this…

    Personally, I have no interest in piercings or tattoos. I often say that I spend most of my days actively avoiding impaling myself with sharp objects; the idea of doing so voluntarily is odd to me. There is also nothing I feel so passionate about to get put permanently on or in my body.

    However, I bristle at a lot of the stigma attached to folks who pursue these ends. Seriously? Who cares. It is there body. I realize folks might assign the label of “poor judgement” to it, often predicated on the notion that they will not get hired looking that way so choosing to look that way is evidence of such. But ya know what? How they look shouldn’t impact their getting hired. I refuse to submit to that as acceptable. You can’t refuse to hire ugly people or blonde haired people, so why should you be able to refuse to hire people who have different aesthetic values as you?

    • Have you seen the Wells Fargo bank in San Francisco?

      Some businesses trade on basically nothing except trust.

    • I agree with your second paragraph.

      This does raise the issue of employment discrimination though. Do you think employers are wrong (morally and ethically) to not hire a person with unhidable tattoos or body modifications? Suppose a law firm that specializes in trusts in estates is looking at two candidates for an associate position. One is completely clean-shaven, conservative in attire. The other has tattoos that cannot be hidden even by a full-suit. Is it wrong not to hire the tattooed person based on their looks? What if the tattooed person has better credentials?

      I am on the fence about this. Generally I am very pro-employee and do not support employer’s being allowed to fire employees for lawful and off-work activities but I buck a little here. Employers have clients and need to convey a message. I can see why someone would be hesitant to use a firm with associates with a punk-rock aesthetic. I’ve had other people fully argue that such things are not any business of an employer.*

      *Usually these were people who liked dyed hair and b0dy mods and at one point and got a scold from an employer.

      • I’ve heard of cases that were decided based on what a woman wore to court. She thought she was wearing her best clothes. The court thought otherwise.

        Had she had competent representation, this might not have been a problem.

        That said, I think I don’t care enough about the “decorum” of the court to say that a person wearing tattoos shouldn’t be a judge.

        • I’ve seen judges ridicule people for how they were dressed in court.

          I’ve also spent some time working with domestic-abuse victim’s advocates, and they often offer advice on how to dress. Simple, frumpy dress with a little lace collar is the best thing to wear. Seriously. I’m 100% certain competent lawyers give similar advice to clients who can afford them.

          • Yes. I don’t remember the actual anecdote… it might have been her actual response to being ridiculed (remember, she was in “her best” clothing) that cost her dearly.

            But there was a definite disconnect betweenw hat the judge thought she ought to wear, and what she thought was “dressing sharp for the judge, who youw ant to impress”

      • Let me put on my “part owner of a professional concern” hat.

        Like it or not, your business has an image to promote. It is pointless to wish otherwise. In fact, most business go out of their way to promote their desired image as vigorously as possible. People choose to give their custom to businesses whose image congrues with what they are looking for in terms of goods or services.

        People who have chosen to tattoo or pierce themselves in ways that notably transgress certain established norms of professional appearance are rendering themselves unsuitable for visible employment in my office. (They might still find work in the back office, however.) Ugly people aren’t that way because they choose to be, and changing one’s hair color (within certain options found in nature) is within established norms of professional appearance. Stretching out your earlobes? Not so much. Maybe it will be banal in ten years, but for now it is off-putting. It transmits an image, and one willingly chosen, that is out of keeping with the one we want our patients and their parents to associate with our practice.

        As I alluded to in another comment upthread, I double-pierced my ear years and years ago. I enjoyed the mildly transgressive feeling that decision gave me, something something gender norms and all that. And as a medical student, resident and fellow working with certain patient populations in big cities, I could get away with it.

        When I became an attending physician, I took the studs out and rarely put them back in because it is of paramount importance that I gain the trust of my patients’ parents. I imagine most of them wouldn’t care if I wore earrings or not, but it will be just out of kilter enough with some parents’ idea of what a pediatrician should look like that I stopped wearing them. They make my job harder to do so than it needs to be. (It doesn’t help that I also look relatively young [though not quite so much as I used to], such that parents often asked how old I was and I had to politely ask colleagues to stop calling me “Doogie.”)

        Image matters. People who radically modify their appearance in highly visible ways are making a statement about themselves. It is their right to do so. But the image they choose to convey is contrary to the sober, reliable one people want for their kids’ medical providers. So we wouldn’t hire someone who had modified their bodies thusly.

        • Russell,

          I understand the practical realities of that. And I agree that most people who choose extreme body mod aren’t necessarily doing so because of a specific aesthetic preference, but often because of a broader “counter-culture” effort. If extreme body mod was the norm, they might be the one in tuxedoes.

          But I still object on two accounts…

          1.) Does being “counter-culture” in this way actually demonstrate anything about this person’s ability to be a sober, realiable medical provider? If you were to evaluate doctors with body mod and doctors without, do you think you’d find a demonstrable difference in there performance? My hunch is that you would not. Which does not change people’s *perceptions*, which is what you allude to when discussing “image”. But how will we ever overcome issues of “imaging” with all of its latent stereotyping and prejudice and the like if we continue to cave to it? Elsewhere we discussed the appropriateness of well-kempt dreadlocks on men of color. A commenter (I forgot who) indicated he would never hire one because of the “image” it projects. But well-kempt dreadlocks within the African-American community is no different than well-kempt long hair on a white man, something I possess. But the perception from the outside is often vastly different. So, we’ve now set up a two-tiered system where one subset of the population can indulge in certain aethestic preferences that the other can not. Is that acceptable? If it is not, then where do we draw the line?
          2.) Along similar lines, imagine you had patients who just hated Arabs. Or blacks. Or women. Or red heads. Or men with long hair. They just did not see them as “sober, reliable… medical providers”. Would you refuse to hire them to? Why or why not?

          Don’t get me wrong… I get the *realities* of the situation. But I don’t have to like them nor cower to them. And, of course I say this knowing I’m probably going to cut my hair and shave my beard before my next job interview… I mean, I’m not stupid :-).

          • In a nutshell, I think folks should have the same opportunities available to them regardless of how they choose to look. I do not object to (though I dislike) dress codes provided they only deal with that which is alterable about a person. So you can’t not hire the guy with blue hair because of his blue hair, but you can insist that he does not have blue hair while at work. But you can’t really enforce a “no visible tattoos” policy else you risk making a 50-year-old who got a hand tattoo when he was 20 unemployable.

          • 1) I would, without hesitation, hire a man with well-kept dreadlocks. Because well-kept dreadlocks are perfectly in keeping with norms of professional appearance for African-American people.

            People who modify their bodies in a radical and visible way are knowing doing so in a manner that transgresses those norms. I happen to believe said transgressive quality is what lends this kind of behavior its appeal. And that’s all well and good. But if one chooses to modify one’s body in such a manner, one of the obvious consequences is that it forecloses certain options for which conformity to those norms is a requirement.

            2) I would not alter my hiring in any way to please people with racial, religious, gender, etc etc etc prejudices. But again, people who modify their bodies are engaging in a wholly voluntary behavior that places them knowingly out of the mainstream. The various populations in question are not in equivalent in this regard. A more apt comparison in my estimation would be whether or not I would hire someone to answer the phone whose preferred greeting was “what do you want?” and had a penchant for swearing. Does he have the right to speak that way? Sure, just not in the capacity of my employee.

            People make choices. Certain choices have consequences. The choice to elongate one’s earlobes is one such.

          • On the other hand, race, etc. is not a choice. The question is whether extreme body mod is a relevant difference such that would justify different treatment.

            These people have chosen to appear as something that they know is off-putting to other people. The off-putting-ness is not due to racial insensitivity, a la dreadlocks. It is general. That they have chosen to do this does tell me about how they work with other people, how they want to be seen by other people. It tells me they go into the world with an attitude of either a) I like this look and I don’t care enough about whether anyone is off-put to do differently, or b) I do not fit in with cultural norms, or c) I expect you to take me as I am even if I do something socially unacceptable. All of those suggest to me something possibly not ideally team-work suited. Also it suggests that they value getting the body mod over a job. Which is not the priority I would want in a worker.

          • I did not read Russell’s comment before making mine. Are we in fact one person?

          • I see what you’re saying…

            Regarding 1), I’m glad that you recognize that as the norm, but a vast number of folks don’t. They assume every black guy with dreads is Lil’ John, who would actually make a model employee for most folks based on what I saw of him on “The Celebrity Apprentice”, but, ya know, somethingsomething rappers.

            Regarding 2), I understand that many folks who indulge in body mod are doing so to be deliberately transgressive, as you state. There is often more to their decision than a simple aesthetic preference. Their unwillingness to adhere to aesthetic norms often correlates with an unwillingness to adhere to other norms. I myself am guilty of this to some degree… I’m a bit of a rabblerouser who likes to challenge the status quo, but I know my limits and don’t care enough about being different to ever go that far. But I think if someone shows up with stretched earlobes but otherwise presents himself as a perfectly willing and able employee, he should be given the same opportunity that his non-stretched-earlobe peers would. If you had two such folks of equal quality, I wouldn’t objected to using the size of their earlobes as a tiebreaker. But if there is a difference in quality in favor of the earlobed feller, I would hope you wouldn’t let that stand in your way.

            If the earlobed guy came in all, “F the man! I am who I am and will do what I want!”, well, his earlobes would probably the least of your worries.

          • “These people have chosen to appear as something that they know is off-putting to other people.”

            Can you know this for a fact? Or is it based on assumption and stereotype?

            I don’t doubt that many, perhaps even MOST folks indulging in body mod are doing precisely that, which will likely be reflected elsewhere in their personality and work qualifications. But some people might just think, “That looks really cool!” Should they be penalized as such, especially if they prove themselves fully capable and competent?

            I am woefully ignorant of trends. I don’t know if long hair is in or out. I know now that beards are quite “in”. I indulge in both looks largely because I think they look cool but, moreso, because I’m lazy and hate shaving and getting haircuts. I keep both well-kempt enough but do get “shaggy” at times. It would be easy to look at me, especially when dressed down, and assume I am being deliberately provacative. But I’m not. And I’ve succeeded in spite of this because I have demonstrable talent. And, yes, I realize that hair/beard is different than other body mods.

          • And, if nothing else, while y’all have inner spinsters, I clearly have some sort of inner biker. I think well-done sleeve tattoos look awesome. But I don’t have the balls to get one. But am jealous when I see guys who have it done well.

          • Ergh…

            I attribute my callous use of the phrase “…have the balls…” to said inner biker. My apologies.

          • 1) I think it should be obvious by now that Rose and I are pretty much the same person. Hence the whole “best friend I ever had” thing, etc etc etc.

            2) I wouldn’t go so far as to say with certainty that the transgressive nature of such body modifications are the only reason people do them, or the main one for everyone. But the modifications are nonetheless transgressive, and people who obtain them must most certainly know this. That is in conflict with obtaining certain jobs, where it is necessary to communicate sobriety, probity and prudence. Certain body modifications will disconcert and drive away patients/clients/customers, and people who obtain them surely know this. If they choose to get them anyway, implicit in that decision is the loss of a certain kind of employment. (And if they’re not savvy enough to appreciate this, they’re not smart enough to work for me anyhow.)

          • But it becomes self-fulfilling at that point…

            We only associate body mods with weirds and not doctors because we see weirdos with them and not doctors. Thus, we shouldn’t hire body modded folks to be doctors because people with think of them as weirdos. Thus we never see body modded folks as doctors and the assumption goes unchallenged.

          • Well, if a body mod doctor would like to apply in the event of an open position at our practice and make an affirmative case for him/herself, I promise to give him/her a fair hearing. Same for any front desk personnel, etc.

            Assuming they are otherwise fully qualified, I would then bring up their conspicuous body modification and 1) what their reasoning was in choosing to modify their bodies thusly, and 2) how they might go about communicating sobriety, probity, prudence to our patient population in spite of a notably transgressive and conspicuous body modification. If he/she can make a sound case for him/herself, perhaps I would voice support for hiring him/her. But that would have to be a compelling case indeed to compensate for a chosen appearance that would disconcert a great many of our patients and/or their parents.

            [Edited to add: I once knew an emergency medicine resident at a VERY prestigious program who dressed in a manner in keeping with his peers while on the job (which means, basically, scrubs) but showed up for their holiday party in very transgressive attire. Didn’t bother me in the slightest. But that, in and of itself, demonstrates an ability to judge contextual propriety, which is a necessary quality in anyone I would choose to hire.]

      • ND,

        What if a firm had clients who didn’t want to deal with Muslim associates? Or black associates? Or liberal associates? Or fat women?

        • You are talking about issues that are directly related to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and easier to trace from a standpoint of discriminatory animus.

          I don’t think this is an easy issue. You bring up very valid points but different businesses want to convey different viewpoints and this is where appearance comes in.

          Places like Bars might be perfect examples. Bars have themes of the obvious and non-obvious variety. You have wine bars, dive bars, cocktail bars, relaxed, sports, elegance, arty, loud, biker, etc. A Biker bar is going to want a different looking bartender or server than the fancy wine bar in the financial district (probably). Like wise, ACE Hotel is different than Marriot is different than Motel 8 is different than the Four Seasons. Different looks, desired type of client and therefore what the staff looks like. ACE Hotel goes for an arty-bohemian look with a younger clientelle and does have hipster looking staff.

        • I also agree with the distinctions Rose made. There is difference between discrimination on innate things that a person cannot control (and I include weight in this to a certain extent) and purposeful things like the picture example above.

          • Is religion controllable? Political philosophy? Sexual orientation?

            I actually think we get into tricky areas when we attempt to draw a line between mutable and immutable characteristics. The person who is prone to getting extreme body art may have no control over that impulse. He DOES have control over when he satiates that drive, but probably not over whether he possesses the drive itself. How is this different then sexuality? Okay, we accept that gay men don’t choose to be gay. But they do choose to pursue those sexual drives, right?

            I hope those who know me here know I don’t say any of this to disparage LGBTQ folks. Rather, I’m trying to point out the inherent stickiness of the notion of “choice” when dealing with identity. Essentially, we are saying that certain aspects of identity ought to be respected, tolerated, or celebrated and others not so much.

          • How entitled are you to this $X/hr or $Y,000/year?

            More or less entitled than I am to ask you to wear a shirt with buttons and a collar?

          • Birth religion is not controllable and you can probably make a colorable argument that in some religions it is once a member always a member. Judaism and its weird ethno-religious-cultural-possibly racial mix bag is the prime example of this. A person might not consider themselves Jewish but could still be on bunt end of anti-Semitism.

            Political philosophy is more tricky. Some of it seems to be innate or driven by family but people obviously change their politics.

            I do not believe that sexual orientation is completely controllable and it probably largely is not. Hence my opposition to treatment therapies. They are useless and cause misery, depression, and suicide.

          • Jay,

            I am not sure what your point is.

            I believe that there is a human right in a living wage but that employers do have a right to dictate office appearance within reason*. I might prefer to work for an officer that is casual or business casual but if my ER wants a shirt and tie, so be it.

            *This should not be done in a discriminatory manner. Asking for a button down shirt is fine. Saying no sneakers is fine unless someone has a bona fide medical condition. Allowing a Christian Cross but not a Yarmulke or headscraf is religious discrimination and wrong. Requiring women to wear makeup, jewlery, skirts and stockings only is also wrong and should be prohibited.

          • But do people wake up one day and say, “I’m going to be a conservative?” Or do you think there is something innate that makes conservative ideology uniquely appealing to these people.

            I am actually really curious to see a study that compares people’s political ideologies and the sports teams they root for. Certain teams have certain personalities that seem to correlate with how different ideologies present themselves or with whom those ideologies most resonate. I wonder if, for instance, liberals who want to work for the oppressed are more likely to root for underdog teams. And, if so, does this point to something innate.

            Even if some of it is “nurture”, that is still largely out of the individual’s control. Why are some people naturally rebellious? And why is that not “protected”?

            I realize I’m getting way out there but, hey, I’m way out there! I want a goddamn sleeve tattoo!

          • Kazzy,

            The sports question is interesting and hard to answer because most of it is also geographic and most places don’t have two professional teams for one sport. The best study would probably be done in New York as a comparison between Mets v. Yankees, Giants v. Jets, and now Nicks v. Nets. FWIW, I often semi-jokingly call the Yankees, the Republicans of Baseball and I hate the Yankees and strongly identify as a partisan Democrat. The fanbase for the Yankees also seems less diverse to me and more from the conservative sections of New York like Staten Island and the few remaining white-ethnic enclaves in the Bronx (which often elect Republicans to the state legislature and are the only places in NYC to do so).

            For the other question, people also go from conservative to liberal. There are probably too many factors in play to come up with a satisfying reason about switches in politics or a grand theory.

          • Please understand, I’m trying to run a respectable Widget company here. When people walk through the front door, the first person that they are going to see is you.

            I’d rather their first thought be something like “that’s a snappy receptionist” instead of something like “that person has green and pink checkerboard hair”.

          • Jay,

            Why can’t it be both? And how will it ever be both if the checkerboard-haird kid get never gets to show his chops as a snappy receptionist?

          • When my potential distributors come walking into my office, I’d much rather talk about my widgets than my receptionist.

            If you want to run Weirdo Widgets, knock yourself out.

          • What if they want to come in and talk about that receptionist that’s just so… so… so… BLACK! Or, fine, let’s not do the racism thing… what if they want to talk about how buxom the new female receptionist is? Or wispy the new male one is? Etc.

          • Kazzy, more seriously, I know that I work in an industry that makes allowances for certain eccentricities. I can get away with this beard, for example.

            Heck, IT makes for all kinds of allowances for all kinds of folks. I know a guy in Seattle who dyed his hair weekly and thought that black fingernails were still a fashion statement… and he went into interviews with hair du jour and, sigh, black fingernails. His code compiled.

            Here in town, there’s a used bookstore called Bookman that hires people based on their knowledge and passion for books… and, in some of their ads, they come out and say that sometimes this comes into conflict with their patience levels and customer service skills. If you want someone who knows 1960’s Science Fiction back to front, you can’t always hire someone who suffers fools gladly. Well, they’ve incorporated abuse into their ambiance. It works for them.

            However, there are a lot of companies out there that, if they interview five people for any given position, will have five people to choose from. There are a number of silly things that they might use to disqualify someone and, yes, presentation is one of those silly things.

            How you choose to present yourself to a prospective employer communicates a great deal… like it or not. And there are a *LOT* of prospective employers who see showing up looking like you just left CBGB’s as a sign that they won’t be able to ask you to do the tasks they hired you for.

          • Just to add a little here:

            Medicine (and I imagine law, though Burt or Mark or others can weigh in if they choose) (and, frankly, I imagine education) is, in its way, a very conservative profession. Which isn’t to say that its norms shouldn’t be subject to certain challenges. But alongside those challenges must be a humane understanding that we deal with people, often when they are vulnerable, and that we have an obligation to appear/behave in as reassuring and comforting a manner possible. Hence my decision to eschew my earrings.

          • JB,

            I think that last scenario you describe is fair. If you have roughly equivalent candidates, than other things need to be “tie breakers” and, sure, appearance is a reasonable one. But if someone with body mods are automatically disqualified… that is where I have a problem.


            I get what you’re saying. I’m coming at this with a bit of a unique perspective in that I buck a lot of “norms” within my very specific industry of early childhood education. I hate that people throw up flags about my ability to be nurturing because of my being male and then compound that with the fact that I don’t fit whatever the stereotype of an “acceptable” male preschool teacher is. Generally speaking, I think we are all better served if we are willing to push through stereotypes and assumptions, the doing of which might lead to these stereotypes and assumptions vanishing. I get that the realities of the world don’t always allow for it, but I don’t think we have to perpetuate them as much as we often do.

          • Russell,

            ” But alongside those challenges must be a humane understanding that we deal with people, often when they are vulnerable, and that we have an obligation to appear/behave in as reassuring and comforting a manner possible. ” I absolutely agree with this but I wonder whether that doesn’t sometimes advocate for non-conformist rather than conformist appearance – or at a bare minimum for a diversity of appearances.

            I personally find people with dyed hair, tattoos, multiple piercings, and, yup, even gages, both comforting and reassuring, particularly in medical environments where one of my biggest fears is that I will be judged on superficial appearances and/or shamed. I associate those obviously-not-married-to-aesthetic-conformity folks, particularly the otherwise nattily-put-together ones, with feeling safe and accepted, and with open and tolerant environments – and I feel out of place and nervous if I’m stressed/vulnerable and all the medical professionals look like Stereotypical Figures of Authority or Somebody’s Mom. (I don’t spend much time thinking about these things day to day – but when I’m stressed/deeply vulnerable, boy howdy does it come to the fore!

            Every practice is different of course, and once you go down the road of thinking about appearance at all, you are committed to meeting the norms of your own community… but in a community where the norms ARE strong, aren’t those who feel different and alienated even more likely to feel threatened by them? That one gaged-ear front-office staff person, otherwise cleancut and professional, might be reassuring a lot more teenagers than he/she was alienating parents….

          • Great point, Maribou. Signaling behavior works on a variety of wavelengths. I often find greater comfort in folks who are less professional because I prefer to be less professional or, better said, formal. If they mirror me in certain ways, I think, “Okay… this place gets me.”

            Maybe we should open up Sister of the Holy Freaks hospital…

          • Different settings have different norms. An emergency department is likely to have different standards than a pediatric office, which in turn is likely to have different standards from an outpatient surgery clinic.

            Do I believe we should judge people based solely on their appearance? No. But, once again, certain very outlandish decisions people make about how to present themselves also signal how they feel about norms and their place in relation to them. Part of the bargain is that it precludes employment in settings where normative behavior and appearance are required.

            I have already referenced my decision not to wear little rhinestone studs in my ear any longer. It does not comport with certain parents’ expectations of a pediatrician to do so, at least not where I have practiced since my training ended. I can think that’s unfair or closed-minded, but that won’t change the facts of the matter. If I chose to be even more transgressive of gender norms (say, by wearing lipstick), I would never get a job because no practice wants a provider who’s going to drive patients away.

            We put certain kinds of differences in protected categories because we believe it is wrong to discriminate against people who are different in that way. We include race, gender, religion in that category, and thankfully also sexual orientation in a lot of places. I do not put people who radically modify their bodies in conspicuous ways into this category, because their doing so is both entirely voluntary and deliberately transgressive. It’s not the same as being Muslim or black or a redhead.

          • “I do not put people who radically modify their bodies in conspicuous ways into this category, because their doing so is both entirely voluntary and deliberately transgressive.”

            What I wonder about (and I don’t necessarily expect you to have the answer… I’m just musing) is how “voluntary” the *DESIRE* to be transgressive is. I am tempted to think that this is as ingrained a part of someone’s personality and identity as sexual orientation are. The people I know who indulge in being transgressive did not wake up one day and say, “I’m going to be transgressive. I’m going to challenge norms. I’m going to be counter culture.” They have always FELT that way or been inclined to that way of thinking. They may not have always submitted to those feelings, perhaps controlling or suppressing the urge… but they’ve done it. And all these “expectations of normative behavior” seem to be requiring as much from them.

            But how is that any different than the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality… which is that the urgings themselves are not sin but indulging in them is? Gay folks may not be able to choose whether or not to be gay, but they can certainly choose whether or not to engage in gay relationships and/or gay sex. And we have rightfully realized that they should have the same freedom to indulge this aspect of their personality as straight folks. But there seems to be a line drawn with other aspects of personality, aspects that *MIGHT* be just as hardwired, just as inherent, just as immutable as sexual orientation.

            In much the same way most of our society looks back on our treatment of gay people and says, “Oh man, how wrong we were,” we may one day look back at the counter-cultural members of our society and their treatment and say, “Oh man, how wrong we were.”

            And, again, I’m excluding personality traits, work habits, or ways of socializing that are actually destructive to the professional environment. If you look in the mirror in the morning and think, “Damn the man!” and style your hair into a mohawk but are otherwise fully capable of meeting the requirements of your job, good for you! If you look at a customer in a suit and tie and think, “Damn the man!” and flick the guy off? I wouldn’t object to that person being fired.

            And, again again, I do fully recognize the practical realities of the matter. If I was advising a transgressive person before a job interview, I would tell them to dress as conservatively as possible. I get how it IS. I’m speaking how I’d prefer to see it be.

          • Kazzy,

            How likely is it that people who are short-tempered instead of patient with children want to be? My guess is many would like to be patient with children, but aren’t. Some people don’t want to be rude, but find themselves being rude. Some people really want to be organized, but have ADD. They would choose otherwise for themselves. And therefore, some of these people aren’t suited for jobs that require them to be patient, pleasant, and organized, respectively.

            The question remains: is the factor by which you are judging someone say something about how they will do they job. Also – if they have a certain weakness, what are they doing to overcome it? I’m an ADD type and I work VERY hard to overcome it in order to perform what I have to do. I make schedules with email reminders and check a calendar everyday and star emails, etc. My husband comes off as rude and abrupt, and has to work hard at seeming friendly. We both need to compensate for these to keep our jobs. Say you feel transgressive. Great. There are jobs where that’s welcome (just like there are jobs where being rude or ADD-ish is no biggie). There are doctors’ offices where that’s welcome. I used to go to an office in SoHo where it might have been a prerequisite for the staff. So you can either find a job that welcomes it, or work against the urge to be transgressive to get the job you want.

          • But why are you equating “transgressive” with “weaknesses”? What if it is just a way of being?

            And what if your transgressiveness stops at hair dye or piercings or tattoos?

            Should effeminate men be expected to conduct themselves wholly different in an environment where such behavior is not as accepted? What about dominant, strong-minded women? There seems to be a certain value judgement you are putting on being transgressive that I am unwilling to. If the guy with the blue hair is the best damn heart surgeon or lawyer or teacher, he should be fired, full stop, as far as I’m concerned.

            If someone’s identity, “voluntary” or otherwise, prohibits them from doing their job, it is fair to factor that into hiring. The city need not hire blind folks as bus drivers no matter how much they want to do the job; sight is a requirement of the job. If the inherent prerequisites of the job do not require naturally colored hair, than hair color shouldn’t matter.

            I worry we are fast approaching or have already reached an impasse. I feel that I understand your and Russell’s position and I respect it as reasonable, though I disagree. I hope that I’ve made my position clear. I’m happy to continue the dialogue but I’m not sure either of us are going to change the other one’s mind. Which is fine. 🙂

            (By the way, I find it interesting that Safari designates “piercings” as an improperly spelled word, as if they are not familiar with “piercing” as a noun. Safari is clearly not welcoming to our pierced friends.)

          • Please understand I only mean weakness relative to a certain job market. I think my ADD has its advantages, as does my husband’s abruptness.

            “Transgressive” is, by definition, someone who enjoys breaking social norms. That is not an inherent weakness. A job that demands respect for social norms, however, is within ethical boundaries not to hire someone who does not wish to respect social norms.

            THe difference between an effeminate man and a transgressive person is relevance to the job description. Effeminacy may be off-putting, but when someone is effeminate, it has nothing to do with whether he wishes to test limits of social norms. If the person were applying to be a bouncer, effeminacy might legitimately play a role, I think. Again, the wish to be transgressive is relevant because the job involves respect for social norms. Transgressiveness is by definition a disrespect for such.

            All right. Edna has had her say. She might also admit that when she was a teenager, she had purple and pink hair and multiple piercings. And was pleased that the local Baskin Robbins saw fit to give her a job.

          • That’s fair, Rose. But if I may ask another question (and I respect if you have had your say)… what if the person does not identify as transgressive, but simply like the aesthetics of blue hair? They are otherwise a completely non-transgressive person. Fair to not hire them? My use of transgressive may not have been as precise as I intended… I don’t necessarily mean people who deliberately and perhaps provocatively flout social norms… I mean people who prefer their preferred aesthetics regardless of social norms.

          • There are things that employers have the leisure to look at when unemployment is 10%.

            This list is much longer than the list of things that employers have the leisure to look at when unemployment is 4.8%.

          • I will begin this with the caveat that there are some jobs where blue hair is perfectly acceptable and/or welcome (indeed, I don’t think it would be much of a barrier to my own) and I think that’s just fina and dandy. I would have no problem hiring my replacement if she had blue hair. If the job norms prohibit blue hair (say, being a lawyer), and assuming (as I do) the preference for blue hair is non-morally-laden (thus different from a preference for a masculine male) and simply Just One of Those Social Things We Expect Like Not Picking Your Nose, then the fact that someone values their hair aesthetics over job norms communicates to me where her value for the job lies. Which is not where I’d want a job candidate’s value for the job to lie.

          • I’m going to nitpick one more time and then give my broader ethos…

            Nitpick: Why is “blue hair” equivalent to “nose picking” on the scale of “Just One of Those Social Things We Expect”? To me, nose picking is frowned upon largely for hygienic reasons. Blue hair? Seems entirely like an aesthetic preference.

            Broader ethos: I am often frustrated by the dogmatic adherence to what are largely subjective social norms. I see no difference between a handshake and a bow when it comes to greeting someone outside of one group of people chose the former and one group chose the latter. I understand that there are historical/social reasons for these choices but those are largely if not wholly in the past (I understand the western custom of shaking hands was borne out of showing that one was unarmed… though recent conversations indicate maybe this is still necessary). And I understand that certain norms need be agreed upon for proper group functioning… there is nothing more awkward than me going for a high five and you going for a fist pump and us ending up in some sort of weird fist grab.
            And what I really LOATHE is when people start attaching value judgements to these largely subjective social norms. Brown hair is not morally better than blue hair, no matter what the preponderance of brown hair is among lawyers or doctors or other highly respected professionals.

            So, yea, I get that norms matter. And are important and sometimes necessary. And that some people deliberately and provocatively flout them, often with full knowledge of what the ramifications are and there should be limited sympathy when they object to these ramifications. And that, fair or not, people are going to judge you based on how you choose to present yourself. But I don’t have to like it. And I certainly don’t have to equate this to moral or other value and worth, the way so many (not you and Russell, but many others) do.

            I’d prefer a society where norms served either a practical or moral purpose; I’m not sure that aesthetic ones really fit into either category.

            Ugh, I hate when I have to get all crunchy hippy dippy liberal. SEE WHAT YOU MADE ME DO?

          • Jaybird,

            That is purely a practical response, which I get, but which doesn’t deal with my broader ethos as outlined in my long-winded post just above.

            Thank goodness for you and I both that we aren’t passionate and zealous about an industry that is less beard friendly. Privilege works in mysterious ways… 🙂

          • Kazzy, I’ve been looking for a job when the unemployment rate was in the fours and I’ve been looking for a job (just in the last few weeks!) when it wasn’t.

            When the rate was in the fours, I was much cockier in the interviews. When I was looking at maybe being unemployed come January, I was doing a mental calculus of when I’d be taking out the clippers and taking the beard back down to a #4. (January 2nd.)

            (Then again, in one of the interviews I had, the opening question was “Other than your beard, what makes you awesome?”)

          • Heh… and how self-affirming was it when that interview asked the question?

            But, first, please lay down on this couch…

            For most job interviews, I take the hair and beard down. Then, once I’m in and made a name for myself, unfrozen caveman look emerges. When people express any consternation, I usually say something along the lines of, “What? I’m the same teacher and guy I was 3 months ago. Why would you think any differently of me now?”

            Which is exactly how Delpit (I’m clearly trying to set a record for frequency of references to her) argues those from outside the culture of power (and those most likely to not follow its norms) should conduct themselves… learn their ways, infiltrate, and change from within.

          • Kazzy, what’s useful about such non-moral norms is exactly this: it signals the people who value maintaining group amity v. people who value individual expression (or individual something or other). Useful information, and my guess for why such non-moral norms evolved.

          • Very fair point, Rose. I definitely err on the side of individuality. I am also somewhat unique in that my friends and I are quite varied in a number of ways but connect on deeper norms. We don’t look the same, talk the same, etc., but we connect very well. So we have both group comity and individuality. But that is rare, as I come to understand it.

            But, yea, I’m rabidly individualist in many ways, in large part because I don’t think being an individual necessarily means you are any less connected, even if the practical reality dictates otherwise.

          • In a nutshell, I don’t think conformity is required for connectivity. It makes it easier, sure, but I think we lose a lot when we conform too much.

          • Right. I don’t disagree. So don’t you learn something from blue hair, too?

          • I chased a girl with purple hair for a while… so maybe I’m biased. Not sure I’ve ever known anyone with blue hair well enough to learn anything from them.

          • Russell, I caught your last comment here on my e-mail feed before you edited it. The original conveyed a somewhat different connotation I should say.

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