Melody Hensley is deciding whether or not to get a nose piercing. Like you do with all grave decisions about body modification, she asked friends on a social media service what people thought.
Turns out that a number of people in the freethought community have some decidedly backward views on the matter — not that, at this point, you should be surprised that we as a group are prone to every one of the foibles of society as a whole. In this specific case, not just as a matter of giving their opinion of “yes” or “no”, or making some lame joke about it. I’m talking full-on body modification shaming, occasionally veering straight into body-shaming, the likes of which I almost never see leveled at men.
Melody is the Executive Director for CFI-DC. As such, she’s in a unique position, where she might be called upon to be the spokesperson for an event or series of events, like she was for Women In Secularism, the annual conference for which she’s largely responsible. She clarified that she was thinking of a side stud, not a septum piercing or ring. People were still put out, apparently. What should have been a simple matter of opinion became a splash-damagey cavalcade of judgmentalism.
I can almost understand why someone might want to project an image of austere and socially-acceptable conservatism by having the least offensive people available present the opinions of the group as a whole, though I strongly disagree with the reasoning behind it. The first and most blatant such exhortation, in response to Melody’s yes/no question:
ABSOLUTELY NOT!. Un-professional. Not the image CFI wants. Please don’t.
If a tasteful nose stud is even noticeable, and you’re in a situation where it’s not called for, it’s fairly easy to remove. The hole will even heal over if you decide it’s not for you. This opinion inexorably ties her image with her ability to do her job despite how easy a modification it is to revert — it suggests that people won’t ever take her seriously as a leader of the movement if she happens to do something that signals a visible nonconformity. It is a terrible argument from consequences and an ethnocentrist view that I’m slightly surprised to hear from a community that prides itself on rationality. From a practical standpoint, your only concerns should be: a) do you want to add maintenance of this new modification to your daily routine, and b) does the modification help you achieve a body presentation that you’d like to have? The identical rationales should be used for choosing a hairstyle, or choosing a mode of dress, with only the added consequence of the fact that this modification adds some slightly more significant complication to your routine initially, including having the procedure itself done. The same could be said of getting your hair cut or obtaining the clothing, though.
But some people couldn’t help but go beyond their simple personal opinions, beyond discussion of the practicalities, and tried to convince her one way or the other. Some of the yes-votes were focused on discussing how sexy they personally find that sort of modification, as though whether or not a particular stranger finding you sexy is an argument for doing it; and they generalized about the population at large in a way that might be uncomfortable. Most of the no-votes included such generalizations as well:
No offense to the pierced girls, but you’re too classy.
I’m sure none of the pierced girls thought being called un-classy was out of line and they all took no offense.
We all have our hang-ups. We all have our little quirks with regard to what sort of person or what characteristics a person might express that are not necessarily attractive to them. For instance, I, personally, don’t much like obviously-fake breasts, but I would not judge someone for getting them and being proud of them. If such a modification makes you happy, if it corrects a flaw you perceive in your personal body image, more power to you.
As long as you don’t universalize the statement, expressing your personal opinion isn’t normally problematic if you can do so carefully, avoiding splash damage in the process. The major problems come not with expressing unpopular opinions, but with the way you express them, and how those opinions reflect on you. As Jodi said in the aftermath of this, “If you’re talking about judging people’s bodies, and what they choose to do with it, I am definitely going to judge your character and feel no guilt about it.”
There’s nothing wrong whatsoever with judging people for their behaviours. Judging people for their choices in self-expression, though, is needlessly damaging to self-esteem and perpetuates a number of problematic ideas pervasive in our culture. Ideas that should be challenged, because they’re needlessly damaging and enforce a sort of dogmatic conformity. Ideas that a movement for rationality should be capable of dissecting and correctly deeming unworthy.
If you’re already on the vanguard of a social justice movement like CFI purports to be, your presentation is secondary — people will lash out at the thought of fixing the privileged position religion and superstition has in our society whether the person suggesting that there’s an imbalance is a white male dressed in a suit and tie, or a woman of color with tattoos and piercings. In some ways, it’s easier to find out who’s just there to hold their position of privilege and aren’t actually interested in honest interlocution, and exclude them from the conversation if they’re fixated on your appearance instead of your words.