on how to look professional but also really, really cool

my dear spoonah,

i come to you in a time of need. like many of my queer comrades, i have the constant issue of having my age drastically underestimated. it has not, to this point, been necessarily a problem so much as an inconvenience. however, i am approaching a point in my career where it is important that i am taken seriously. luckily, most of that depends on community perspective on and ideas about my work, and will not be as affected by my physical appearance as by my ability to propel myself forward into what i am doing.

here’s the problem: i love body modification. i am pretty covered in tattoos, have a facial piercing, and often sport some funky hairdos. my last position required me to remove all facial piercings, but my new job has no such rules. spoonah, i want my lip re-pierced. i want to dye my hair again. i want to wear short sleeves. i, in fact, would like to continue doing these things for presumably a long time. but when is the point in life when i need to stop being creative with my physical appearance and sigh as i don another pair of khakis and adjust my comb-over? are mainstream perspectives on body modification shifting enough that i could potentially enjoy all of these accoutrement and still be taken seriously in my professional life?

please, show me the way, oh spoonah.

yours til the kitchen sinks and niagara falls,
benjamin unbuttoned

dear benjamin unbuttoned,

this is an issue I struggle with myself. personally, my response has been largely to just dress pretty professional all the time (though less so now that I am in school and jeans are par for the course). I have my nose pierced but it’s tiny and most people don’t notice and no one has ever cared. my hair is a normal color again, gone are the studs and patches from my jacket, and the cleavage line has risen dramatically as I’ve gotten into higher echelons of work-life.

in making these kinds of decisions, one of the most important factors is the area you work in. that includes your industry as well as your actual chosen (or desired) profession. there is a rule of thumb that you should dress for the job you want, and not for the one you have. therefore, if you desire to wind up as a director of something, or in some traditionally Business with a capital B job, then I’d say you are probably better off forgoing the visible piercings and wacky hairdos. If your hopes, however, lean more towards something like “director of fun!” or as a camp leader of queermos, or perhaps something that you would be working largely from home at, then by all means. bodymod away.

the other really important factor here is how much you care about bodymod and odd hairstyles and whatnot. is it hard for you to maintain your identity without them (and if so, perhaps that’s an issue to bring up to your therapist)? typically bodymod is an effort to express one’s self to others in a way that is immediate and gratifying and often radical. you might do some thinking about why your expression of self has to come written on the body. are there perhaps other ways you can satisfy that inherent human need of identity expression while still fitting into conforming norms? in bodymod there is also, obviously, a major component of attempting to achieve what we see as the most beautiful/hott/smokin’ self we can be. fashion can often do this, and can be taken off during the week in a way that bodymod cannot. if it’s crucial to you, however, to present yourself as a radical who looks like a radical, then you should consider changing your career plans to fit that.

there are certainly some industries or positions which allow greater flexibility, and I’d say that society as a whole is becoming more accustomed to “alternative realities” of what a professional can look like. and no matter what you do or no matter what age we live in, there will always be someone who doesn’t like your look. that’s a given. the fashion industry, many non-profits, and careers that are more casual in nature (for instance, many home-service jobs) do not have the same level of conformity. currently, however, the higher you go up in any industry, company, or career path…the more likely you’re going to be required to put on a three piece suit.

do not, however, let that totally discourage you. I love wearing suits. I feel great in them, and nothing looks better than feeling great.

farewell & dress well,



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