For thousands of years, body art in the form of tattooing has been a way of self-expression and, in some cultures, a symbol of societal status. Tattoos can showcase one’s history and experience or cultural and artistic interests. Today, approximately 35% of our country’s adult population has at least one tattoo, a percentage that’s even higher amongst the 25–35-year-old demographic. Despite this, many industries – such as law, healthcare, and finance – are opposed to tattoos in the workplace. With this in mind, I want to share how these strict policies have impacted my professional experience and how I’ve navigated the challenges of being pro-ink.
I’m confident that I’m not alone when I say that I have a personal interest in body art and am in the midst of planning my next piece. With a total of seven tattoos and counting, my body art has always been a concern of mine when applying for jobs or starting at a new company where I haven’t found the courage to ask about their dress code policies. What if they’re not accepting candidates with visible tattoos? How will I be looked at if they know I have ink? What will my manager think? Will it negatively impact the opportunities I receive? That little voice in my head plays over and over, encouraging me to hide my artwork and, in the process, hide a significant part of who I am as a person. Will I be judged based on my appearance and not by my credentials or qualifications? The entire exercise brings me copious amounts of stress.
To me, tattoos are largely a form of self-expression. Each one I add to my body means something unique and is a lifelong gift. Take the seashell tattoo on my thigh, for example. I sat in a chair for almost five hours on my 22nd birthday to get it done as a reminder of my grandma, who passed when I was ten years old. Whenever I look at it, it brings back cherished memories of us searching up and down the East Florida shores to find that perfect shell to take home. On the other hand, I have tattoos for less sentimental reasons. A personal favorite of mine is the R2D2 tattoo on my arm, the newest addition to my collection. It is done in a minimalistic style with clean lines, showing the love I have for the droid from the original Star Wars trilogy. A common question I’m asked when showing my ink off is, “Won’t you regret that tattoo once you’re older?” My answer is a simple “no.” It is something that I accepted from the day I decided to do it. Plus, there are options if it’s decided the tattoo is no longer wanted, such as replacing it with a brand new one, as many other tattoo advocates have done. Once a person is passionate about their ink, they’d often rather build on it than remove it altogether.
Throughout my career, I’ve gained the courage to speak up against discrimination or lack of inclusion around tattoos. I know others may also feel like they’re not really being seen at work, like their ink is labeling them as less professional. Like me, they wear long sweaters, shirts, jackets, pants, and other clothing to cover up their art while at work (even in the warmer months). In corporate America, there are generational and cultural differences when it comes to tattoos, and what I have found to be helpful in navigating the challenges of being pro-ink in a professional setting (and in all of life), is to be considerate to those around you. Remember, companies are well within their rights to provide rules on how to dress, act, and look in the office to protect the company’s brand and image. The key for corporations is to balance that control with the fact that employees want to bring their whole selves to work. Finding that balance will attract new and younger employees, many of whom are more likely to be pro-ink and foster a truly inclusive environment.
In closing, I want to wrap up with my quick tips for those who have tattoos (and those who may get them in the future) and are working in a business or professional setting:
For other tattooed folks out there – do you have any tips or tricks in navigating the workplace? I would love to hear about your experience. Feel free to comment!