On Piercings, Tongue Rings, and Looking Scary

Flickr by zebrasquares

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s column is about respecting yourself and thinking about the future when considering the latest trends.

I have always been fascinated by nose rings. What happens when you have a cold and your nose starts to run? And what about tongue rings: wouldn’t piercing your tongue seriously hurt? Perhaps that’s the point: certain piercings prove you’re impervious to pain.

People have always tried to distinguish themselves from the crowd by appearing tough. Some are incensed with society and its conformity, and so they want to do something totally different.

They can call it conformity if they want, but I call it respect. Dressing appropriately shows respect for yourself, and respect for others. When you respect yourself, you dress like you want people to get to know you, not like you’re trying to scare them away. And when you respect others, you dress to encourage conversation. Don a costume, on the other hand, and you’re implicitly saying, “I’m going my own way.” They may say it’s about self-expression, but I often wonder if it’s about hiding. Wear a costume, and people talk about the costume and the image, rather than about what’s underneath.

And what is it that the nose rings, and the eyebrow rings, and the death-dyed hair say? They announce, “I’m tough. I don’t care what you think. I want to scare you a little.” Then, when people don’t accept you, you have a ready-made excuse: the rest of us are uptight and judgmental. You can continue to reject “the culture” and opt out, because we’ve rejected you first.

But let’s fast forward a few years and see how that plays out. It’s one thing to deliberately dress like an anti-social idealist when one is young. Eventually, though, you’re going to need money to pay for an apartment, and food, and just life. And you can’t get a job looking scary.

Who in their right mind is going to hire someone who looks Goth to be a receptionist? Or a sales clerk in any shop that caters to those over twenty? Or a server in a restaurant? Nobody, because these are businesses, and in business, it’s never a good idea to scare your customers away. Even government jobs will be closed to you; I’m sorry, but no kindergarten teacher can have skulls tattooed all over her arms.

Part of what concerns me about this whole trend, though, is that the young people who dress to make themselves virtually unemployable also tend to come from less than ideal circumstances. While there are exceptions, in general, kids from stable middle class families don’t tend to do this. And that makes me really sad, because I want to be a society which champions opportunity for all, not one that sticks some people in lower classes permanently.

So here’s some tough love for you: if you’ve come from a rough background, you start out with several strikes against you. But the vast majority of us want you to succeed; we do not want you to fail. We are not against you. But you’ve got to decide to help yourself.

So respect yourself! Dress appropriately. It doesn’t have to be boring or conventional, but it should be appropriate. Don’t scare people with hardware or make-up, and don’t make people uncomfortable by wearing tight clothing or showing a ton of cleavage. And for pity’s sake, pull up your pants.

You may hate society, but if that’s true, then why don’t you beat us at our own game? The best revenge is success. Why not set out to succeed and change the rules yourself?

It’s your right to make your own statement with how you dress. But I’d think twice before dressing in such a way as to scuttle all your options. You’re worth more than that. Please believe it, and dress accordingly.

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