Dear Prudence

Help! I Told My Niece to Hide Her Tattoos and Piercings at Work. Am I Body-Shaming Her?

Dear Prudence answers more of your questions—only for Slate Plus members.

Mallory Ortberg.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Sam Breach.

Every week, Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.

Q. Piercings and a job: I just think this is so bizarre, and I want an outsider’s opinion, so I hope you answer.

My niece recently got her septum pierced. I’m not one for piercings or tattoos, but it’s her body and her choice; it makes no difference to me. She also has several visible tattoos and multiple ear piercings. The trouble started a few weeks ago when she asked me to recommend her for a job at the hospital where I work. She’s a nice girl, so I said I would. But I warned her that the hospital has a very strict appearance policy. If she got hired she’d have to take all but one set of ear piercings out, cover her tattoos, and somehow cover up the septum piercing.

Apparently what I said was interpreted as “mean and vicious.” She and her parents won’t speak to me and are posting on Facebook about how I “body-shamed” her. I tried to defend myself but just got slammed for my efforts, so I unfriended all of them. In doing so, they claim that I was “showing I knew I was in the wrong.”

I’m totally at a loss here. Honestly, all I wanted to do was give my niece a heads up that if she showed up for an interview with visible tattoos and multiple piercings it might affect her chances of getting the job, and that she’d have to compromise her freedom of expression while on the clock.

You are young. Can you tell me if I’m out of line and how to make things better (whether I was out of line or not)? Thanks.

A: I’ll take you at your word and assume you didn’t disparage her appearance or say, “Be sure to cover up your disgusting tattoos, you monster.” You informed your niece of the dress code at the hospital she’s interested in working at. That is not body-shaming. Disengaging from an online feud is not the same thing as an admission of wrongdoing, and it’s more than a little immature that your niece dragged her parents into her temper tantrum. You’re not out of line, and it’s not incumbent upon you to make things better. You politely acknowledged the reality of your workplace, and she threw a fit. Too bad for her.