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Freedom of Expression at School

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Aditi Mittal, Reporter

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People use tattoos, piercings, and other forms of body art as a way to express themselves and showcase their creativity. However, in today’s schools and workplaces, visible tattoos and excessive piercings are often viewed as unprofessional.

Minors in California are not legally permitted to get tattoos in professional shops and need parental permission to get body piercings of any kind. Despite these restrictions, underage students–at least those at public schools–have many opportunities to display their originality, for example, through hair color, makeup, temporary tattoos, and approved piercings.

Unfortunately, most private high schools, especially Catholic schools, in the Bay Area forbid visible tattoos, unnatural hair colors, and piercings beyond earrings and subtle nose studs for girls. Are these rules reasonable, or are they violating students’ freedom of expression?

The Catholic Church does not explicitly condemn tattoos and body piercings, and modern analysis of the Bible finds that these forms of body art are not ‘sinful.’ Regardless, the Bible does tell us to take care of our bodies. This includes making decisions about body art that are respectful towards ourselves. In this view, body art restrictions imposed by schools are actually beneficial for us, as they prevent us from making rash decisions and eventually regretting a tattoo or piercing when we are older.

Additionally, while the California state laws forbid professional tattoo artists from catering to minors and require parental consent for piercings, motivated teens can acquire them using alternative methods that are far less sterile and safe. School rules provide an additional obstacle to minors wishing to pursue these more dangerous options.

On the other hand, within legal boundaries, students should be able to express themselves creatively. Putting tattoos aside, if a teenager gets a parentally approved piercing, she should be able to wear it without fear of criticism or backlash. Similarly, many youths use vibrant hair color and makeup as ways to achieve personal artistic style. Schools should not curb individual style because doing so may restrict the creative capacity of the person.

A common argument made against striking forms of body art at schools is that they are physically distracting for an educational environment. While schools should regulate potential disturbances, there are far more apparent distractions than nose rings and pink dip-dyed hair, the most prominent being, of course, iPads.

The school administration has the right to control what students wear during school hours, and with good reason. But, as tattoos and piercings are becoming more common among the youth population, perhaps Pres should start being more lenient in their policy. Suddenly allowing every type of tattoo, piercing or hair color is drastic and unrealistic, but the process can start off small. For example, temporary tattoos are very popular these days, so shouldn’t we be able to show off cool body ink that only lasts for a week?

But additionally, physical forms of expression should be chosen prudently by students and considered based on long term consequences. People must use good judgment and be respectful of their own bodies and others when making decisions about body art. While massive tattoos and many face piercings may draw attention at school, appropriately chosen tattoos and piercings will not likely distract students from focusing in class. Thus, if these factors are taken into account, schools should not hold back students from showcasing their originality.

A possible progressive, yet still controlled, change in school policy is for the administration to started expanding their list of approved forms of body art. They should allow temporary tattoos, small tattoos, and modest face piercings, as long as they are chosen with care, while still banning tattoo sleeves, totally vibrant hair color, and a dozen nose piercings.

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