Tattoos and the Workplace: Where Did the Taboo Come From?
Even Moms and Dads get the rap for making the same kind of judgments, but do they really need to?
I might be overstepping a line somewhere, but I’m going to go ahead and write this anyways. I should probably preface that I do not have any tattoos myself, but I find this an interesting discussion that should be addressed a bit better than it has been in the past.
This may not be a common opinion but I believe first impressions usually do the trick when it comes to hiring someone. It can be nicely paired with a sweet smile, great first-impression attitude and a little bit of personal touch. You might not necessarily be the best person for the job, but the truth is, all you really need to do is convince the person on the other side of the table to like you enough to want to work with you. This is probably how probation periods eventually became a thing, after all.
I recently heard from a friend of mine who worked for a coffee shop that he had to wear bandages around his wrist into work every day in order to hide a tennis ball-sized tattoo of his cat. He had a few other tattoos as well, but they could be easily hidden under a nice collared shirt and slacks. Yet, the employee policy was: no visible tattoos at the workplace. The realization that my friend had to conceal a beautiful image that didn’t scare anyone, wasn’t distracting and didn’t harm anyone just to live through a day of spilt coffee and milk on his bandages seemed unreasonable at best. So, what exactly was the argument here?
Our vastly strange human history tells of gang members and criminal characters who told stories and built a persona inking their skin. Their trials and tribulations became their art. Yet, what they don’t know is that by doing this, the tattoo ‘trend’ became violent, and tattoos became taboo. Stories about death and destruction, life underground and the usual nasty undoing of human life, if you will. If you had a tattoo, you were deemed scary and with that ‘scary’ title came the assumptions that you were related to gangs or gang activity, or you were simply on the wrong side of the dice and that was just who you were.
And much like society’s opinion on the racial discussion, tattoos are stuck in the past and are unable to pull themselves out of the stereotype that only horrible, dangerous people walk into tattoo shops in the first place. And while it might make more sense not to hire the guy with the skull tattoo on his neck, or maybe a naked girl plastered on the side of his head, society continues to put people with harmless cat tattoos and quotes about life in the same hurtful category.
The other day a girlfriend of mine made a comment about how she would love to date a guy with tattoos. She described an image of a tall man with a beanie and a nicely trimmed beard, with tattoos all down his arms and a plaid shirt rolled up just below his elbows. Just the simple verbal description of a man gave me an image too, whether similar to hers or not, and the general assessment was that he was probably pretty harmless. But, I bet he probably had trouble trying to pick up a corporate job, too.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I feel like tattoos don’t really mean what they used to mean, but we as the children of today are still having a hard time differentiating between harmful and harmless. Our generation today is slowly coming around to the arts, and at the very tip of it all we face the struggle of rejection and refusal at the hands of our unknowing tattoo artists. Nowadays, tattoos are a way of expression, a channel to showcase art and emotions we as navigate through the troubled waters of society. We share a little bit of ourselves without having to say anything at all! Not to mention, tattoos are icebreakers that create dialogue and encourage conversation. Tattoos unite human beings with every aspect of life, both the good and the bad in a collage of milestones and memories that cannot possibly be shared through a simple conversation.
I hope that employers will eventually figure out that tattoos are not, in fact, scaring away their customers, but interacting and connecting them instead. Perhaps if the general tattoo policy of the world were more lenient, more employers would avoid scaring away great employees.
- D. J.