We don’t care what you ‘ink’

Tattoos shouldn’t discredit professionalism

Michael Bunce and A.J. Newth

If you have a tattoo, chances are you’ve received plenty of comments on your decision. Do you know you’ll have that for the rest of your life? Are you sure this is something you want? What will you do when it’s time to look for a job?

These questions are very common for young potential employees with tattoos. The both of us use ink to express ourselves, and our tattoos are an important part of our identity. However, many workplaces think otherwise. 

Tattoos are a part of our skin, not our uniforms, so why should we have to conform to an age old stereotype that they are “unprofessional?”

Many employers will immediately rule out candidates who have tattoos before they have a chance to look at the resume. How is it possible that we live in a society that encourages acceptance but not when it comes to body art? 

Our tattoos define who we are as individuals and we refuse to cover up for a company that does not recognize that.

This is why our ink matters.

By Michael Bunce, contributing writer

What do you see when you look at someone with tattoos? Do you immediately make assumptions about them and the type of person they might be? You’re probably not surprised to find out most people do, especially in places of employment. 

For generations, tattoos have been looked down upon and generalized as taboo. Stigmas surrounding tattoos are painfully antiquated and there is simply no room for them in our current day. People get tattoos for an array of reasons, and they should not be viewed differently because of it. 

We live in a world where our acceptance is at an all-time high, so why draw the line at tattoos? To think a completely qualified worker would be turned away from a job because of the ink in their skin is a form of discrimination we don’t talk enough about. According to a survey given to employers by StudyFinds.org, “Overall, 51% said they have knowingly discriminated against a potential employee because of the way they looked. Of those, 43% said they didn’t hire the candidate because of their visible tattoos.” 

Barring any offensive or controversial art, the tattoos on a person’s skin have no effect on a worker’s ability to complete their job, and being seen as unprofessional because of aspects of someone’s physical appearance is ludicrous. Plain and simple, tattoos are art. Forcing people to cover them up does not just shame the artist and the owner of the tattoo, but it is an insult to human creativity. 

Tattoos are put into skin for a reason: the ink is special to the wearer. It could represent something important to the wearer such as a lost loved one or sentimental memory from childhood. It could also be as simple as the wearer wanting to be covered in a stylish art piece. Either way, the person is entitled to do so, and the workplace should have no say. 

Creativity is at the root of all human action, and to stifle it would be a disservice to how far we’ve come as a society. Tattoos do not make us unprofessional, they do not make us worse workers, and they do not make us worse people in any way. It can even be argued they make us better. Each tattoo someone has can be a conversation waiting to happen, an artist’s most prized work or a passionate message to the world. 

The world has not completely caught up with the idea of tattoos, but it’s getting there. Many workplaces are loosening or removing restrictions on tattoos and becoming more inviting to employees who have ink in their skin. The driving force behind this push for acceptance is the understanding of the importance of self-expression. 

The National Institute of Mental Health predicts that 8.4% of all US adults suffer from some level of depression, and a lot of that comes from bottled up emotions. Our tattoos become us, and as a result we can express ourselves through the art in our skin. Tattoos are no longer exclusively for the rebellious crowd who live to defy authority, but for all those who have something they would like to express and keep with them forever. 

I’ll end by saying personally, my parents raised me to stand by my choices and never be ashamed of who I am. As a man with tattoos, I simply would not accept working at a place where my employer required me to cover up a piece of myself that holds so much meaning. I think more vocalization for acceptance, and even some light protest (such as refusing to work for employers who require you to cover up tattoos) is a suitable place to start when striving for acceptance. 

Of course, this is a small thing to fuss over when compared to other types of discrimination people face, but sometimes you must start small to achieve something more. We live in the United States of America, the land of the free, and nobody deserves to be turned away because of how they exercise their free will. The world will eventually catch up, and they will do it one tattoo at a time.

By A.J. Newth, contributing writer

My dad always told me that if I ever got a tattoo, I would be kicked out of the house. However, I came back from my first semester of college with my own tattoo gun and a fresh ink on my finger. Second semester I returned home with one on my thigh and plans for many more.

My dad’s biggest issue with tattoos was that as a woman in business, if they were visible, I would never be able to get a decent job. He makes a solid point, as according to Earth Web, only 35% of companies in 2022 are accepting of tattoos which is shocking considering 46% of the American population has at least one. 

Additionally, 63% of workers 60 and older disapprove of tattoos in an office setting while only 22% of workers ages 18-25 disapprove, so this is clearly a generationally-based stigma. Where did that stereotype come from and why does it exist?

The stereotype surrounding tattoos stems from a long history of ink in correctional facilities, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Tattooing became a popular recreational activity in prisons, and society began to associate tattoos with criminals. However, several studies show that inmates with tattoos feel more positive about their bodies than those without them. 

It’s extremely ironic to think that criminal tattoos have left such a negative connotation on tattooing when in reality prisoners use them to heal their own insecurities. Even so, the association between criminal activity and tattoos is so strong that many villains in modern day media are inked up.

Tattoos have nothing to do with my degree of professionalism and everything to do with my identity. The Wall Street Journal recognizes that some professions are becoming more open to tattoos as a way to bring personality into the office, but this simply isn’t enough for me. I disagree with having to hide part of my identity for the acceptance of my coworkers and competitors. What is the point of decorating my skin if I have to hide it?

According to Forbes, businesses crave younger employees because they bring fresh ideas to the company. But as tattoos grow increasingly popular in newer generations, will ink be the barrier between hiring younger workers? 

Many people choose to get tattoos as a form of self-expression, however this is not the only reason to get inked. Tattoos can be used to represent an important moment in your life or they can be dedicated to a loved one, according to The Guardian. The special part about tattoos is the feeling of connection to a whole community of people with a shared interest. 

Some people use tattoos as a reminder of strength or part of a healing journey, like how, according to Newsweek, a Medusa tattoo represents survivors of sexual assault, or how a semicolon tattoo signifies conquering battles with mental illness. There are plenty of tattoos with deeper meanings that go unknown, according to On Your Journey. Being told to cover up tattoos when they are part of individuals’ stories and struggles is unfair and unjust. 

Although I believe that everyone has the right to their own body and they can choose to decorate it however they want, I also understand that everyone expresses themselves differently, and some may choose tattoos that do not reflect the values of a business. Tattoos represent identity, so if a potential hire is sporting discriminatory or violent tattoos, the decision is simple: don’t hire them. 

So why should my tattoos deem me unprofessional? Why is it that I can have an impeccable resume but still face adversity because of the way I choose to decorate my skin the second I sit down for an interview? I thoroughly believe that this stigma is reversible if we approach it with the same intensity as other discrimination issues in society.

Do not let your work ethic be defined by the way you look. Your abilities are not less than those of someone who’s body is a blank canvas. I can still respect the values of a company while simultaneously honoring who I am through the tattoos I carry with me. Just because I am 2% ink, does not mean I am not 100% capable of success.