When I first started practicing law, I wore a white shirt, a suit and tie everyday. That’s what lawyers did. That’s how lawyers looked. I was a very clean cut lawyer, particularly for a criminal defense lawyer.
Some clients made fun of me. “Greenfield, you sleep in a suit?” Ha, ha. My clients were a bunch of cut ups. But the issues today are very different. Very different. Carolyn Elefant writes about a woman who was admonished to remove her tongue stud by a senior partner at her law firm.
“I felt so embarrassed,” recalled Wool, 32, who now works for Dr. Tattoff, a chain of tattoo removal studios. “It made me feel like I’d done something bad.”
Unfortunately, Carolyn takes a noncommittal stance, asking the readers what they think. Does anyone wonder why this woman works for a chain that removes tattoos? Is there a hint there? While Carolyn’s question comes across as neutral, one has to assume that by merely asking the question, her bias is revealed.
The quote above came from an LA Times article, “Better hide the tattoo if you want the job.” The article reflects the impact of today’s flavor of “cool” in the workplace. Unlike Carolyn, however, the article reflects a clear bias in favor of today’s hipiosity.
Nearly 50% of Americans between 21 and 32 have at least one tattoo or a piercing other than in an ear, according to a 2006 study by the University of Chicago and Northwestern University. Men and women alike say their tattoos make them feel sexy and rebellious, a 2003 Harris Poll found, while the unadorned of both genders see body art as unsightly and think those with tattoos and piercings are less intelligent and less attractive
Sexy or rebellious? Well that’s a message I want to send as a lawyer, and receive as a client. After all, who cares if my lawyer is a dope, as long as he’s sexy. There is a message here, but not the one intended by the nice fellow with a half-dozen piercings. It says “I’m self-indulgent and immature.” Put aside the sorry reality that there’s nothing worse than some old tattoo on some saggy old body part that nobody will ever be able to look at without retching at some point in the future. It’s like wearing bell bottom pants in the ’60s, but never being able to take them off. Your judgment will forever be showing. Your poor judgment.
You might be surprised to learn that I don’t really care much for tattoos or piercings. I consider them self-mutilation. While tattoos are just foolish, a few facial piercings will make me gag. I make no apologies about it. I know that people who have them feel compelled to argue how wonderful they are. I would too if I had done something so permanent and foolish, just to try to look somewhat less stupid than I do.
So there’s a cultural divide, and I’m on the old man side of it. I can live with that. Tomorrow, there will be something newer and hipper, and all you 20-somethings with your tats and piercings will be the old farts of the next generation’s day, branded so that no one will ever forget how uncool you are. It all happens in cycles.
As Winston Churchill responded to the woman who told him he was drunk, “I may be, but tomorrow I’ll be sober, and you will still be ugly.” I don’t know what the next fad amongst children will be, but when it comes (and it most assuredly will), you will still have those tattoos and piercings. And they will still be viewed by the rest of us as reflecting lesser intelligence and attractiveness. But hey, if it makes you feel sexy and rebellious, isn’t that really all that matters?