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Professional Controversy

Olivia Powell gives her take on self expression being viewed as unprofessional


From my first year of college to my second year of university, I have experimented with my hair, going pretty much every colour of the rainbow. I loved being able to express myself in this way, but I was always acutely aware of the fact that there was a time limit on how long I could have colourful hair for; something my parents reminded me of on a regular basis. Likewise, I have been oft reminded that my nose piercing will have to switched from a ring to a stud and any tattoos I get will have to be easily hidden in business dress, lest I never get employed anywhere and die alone in a cardboard box somewhere. Whilst these reminders come from a very much well-meaning place, it still irks me that potential employers would put the fact that someone dresses alternatively over their experience in terms of employment – something based solely on there own personal views and biases. As a result of this, I have kept my hair one colour (blonde) since February of last year.
It has been made abundantly clear to me by many people through the years that when you become employed by someone, you become at least partially the face of their company. However, as part of a generation who are expressing themselves more through their personal appearance more than any other, I simply do not understand why the face of said company has to look a certain way. I understand the use of business attire to a point – it can be important to be able to separate your home and work life, and one way in which this can be achieved is by having a section of your wardrobe dedicated to work attire. In addition, some places of employment (e.g. hospitals) have certain attire rules for hygienic purposes, which is understandable. However, I simply don’t understand why tattoos and alternatively styled hair would be penalised against – they are not unhygienic, nor do they inhibit anyone from doing their job properly. I have often joked about wanting to work for Buzzfeed or some other similar company so I would have the ability to dye my hair and not be penalized for it. It is interesting that there more companies like Buzzfeed – companies that employ mostly Millennials/Gen Xers are far more lax with these ideas of ‘professionalism’, even turning their employees experimenting with their appearances to profit by filming the process and putting it on YouTube. Companies like this promoting self-expression in this way makes me hopeful for the future – perhaps it is the start of businesses being more accepting in terms of personal appearance.
Overall, whilst the professional world comes with a certain degree of professionalism, this definition should include those who dress more alternatively – as long as they follow all other workplace etiquette, there is no need to exclude them based simply on the way they look. Times are changing, and workplaces should accommodate these changes, and recognise that people can choose to express themselves through their appearance, and still be able to be professional at the same time.

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