Anti-tattoo discrimination?

A front page headline recently read: “Parents face discrimination” with a half page photograph of a young tattooed couple posing back to back with their arms crossed. As I read on I was expecting horrible tales of their inability to find work, or rent an apartment, or that they had been the victims of some attack, but it was more a story of them getting in his words, “cold shoulders and hairy eyeballs” from people in the community. In fact, he said “I can’t pinpoint anything specifically.” Is that discrimination?

When the nurses in Ottawa were told to cover up their tattoos, that was discrimination. When the OPP tried to get members to cover their tattoos, that was discrimination. (By the way, labour arbitrators ruled there was no justification to order them to cover their tattoos or remove their piercings).

According to the University of Western Ontario’s website, discrimination is “differential treatment based on a personal characteristic which has an adverse impact on an individual or group. Examples of personal characteristics include race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status or disability.”

While tattoos are a personal characteristic, they are a characteristic that is chosen. We don’t choose our race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, and/or disability. I wonder then, if being the recipient of differential treatment when it is a characteristic you can control, can be called discrimination? I suppose it depends on the treatment.

The Sophie Lancaster Foundation was founded in memory of a 20-year-old student who was kicked to death in England for being a goth. This month, her attackers were handed life sentences as the crime was dealt with as a hate crime, creating a welcome precedent. The judges’ comment: “This was a hate crime against these completely harmless people targeted because their appearance was different to yours.”

On the flip side, if the differential treatment is people looking at you funny, or making the occasional ignorant comment… welcome to society.

If teenagers (or adults) choose to wear their jeans around their knees, people are going to treat them differently. If they tattoo their neck or other visible parts, some people are going to react perhaps even unconsciously, with their body language. People fear “different” and “extremes.” So while it is not right to treat people differently for the way they look, we also have to remember that some people dress the way they do because they want to be treated differently.

The man quoted in the article recognized that “being heavily tattooed has a price, regardless if your home is the big city or hinterland.” He even calls his and his wife’s tattoos “job stoppers” as they are “ink that goes outside clothing lines” yet he says they have had no impact on his job prospects. If you know that your highly visible tattoos could limit job prospects, or get you some odd looks and you choose to get them anyhow, you at least are facing facts that some people are ignoramuses.

My sister ran a tattoo and piercing shop in Ottawa, and was Ottawa’s first body piercer in fact.

If I judge people with tattoos it is based on the quality of the ink they have chosen to adorn themselves with, not for the fact that they have tattoos.

Art is personal and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If you ink your skin and it’s visible, some people are going to like it and some people won’t, the same way that some people like Picasso and others prefer Monet.

Ironically, I think that my sister’s friends judged me more than I judged them. They jokingly, and sometimes more stingingly, called me “Barbie.” I was being judged for being blond and leggy and conforming to the establishment’s beauty ideal I suppose. While they happily pointed out that I was different from them, I wouldn’t call it discrimination, even when it hurt my feelings.

Obviously, it would be ideal if people didn’t judge, comment, act, or react negatively based on others’ appearance. But until then, let’s focus the discussion on the more egregious discrimination that exists in our community as opposed to being too concerned about sideways glances that a couple gets for choosing to present themselves to the world in a certain manner.

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