I don’t know about you, but I love tattoos. While growing up, my parents stressed the permanence of tattoos and often talked about how many places of work wouldn’t allow them. They were looked at as unprofessional, silly, and even scary. I remember my mom making me promise her that I wouldn’t marry anyone with tattoos when I was little, and it was a scary moment for me when I first told her that I was getting a tattoo with my sister (a small wrist piece that wasn’t scary or silly).
Now that I have six pieces of my own (and am engaged to someone with many more), I’ve started to notice more professional businesses that accept the inevitability of tattoos. Some companies still prefer tattoos be kept hidden as much as possible and while I have my own opinions on that, I can acknowledge that some establishments are more accepting than others. (At least those businesses are slowly moving in the right direction.)
For those of us wondering how this acceptance finally happened (I haven’t been in the workplace long, but this is a huge relief), here are some potential reasons why tattoos are, at last, no longer viewed as “job enders” in many departments.
There’s No Longer an Intense Stigma Surrounding Tattoos
Starting in the 1950s, tattoos were viewed as offensive and rebellious messages that represented wild teenagers, dirty thoughts, and even a low-income status. Of course, at that time, most of those with tattoos were “bad boys” we know from Grease: the slicked-back hair, leather jackets, motorcycle-riding jocks that our mothers would never let us near. This grew to the idea that the only people who would dare have tattoos were thugs, ex-cons, and generally dangerous people that would sooner pummel you than offer a helping hand. There was even a brief ban against tattooing in 1962, where a tattoo was considered a “crime against the person.” Fortunately, just like motorcycles, the stigma towards tattoos has gradually decreased over the years. Today, over 70% of employers say they would hire someone with visible tattoos, which is pretty high praise considering where tattoos started.
There are still some general rules about tattoos in the workplace—like don’t get a swear or slur tattooed on your forehead and other basics of common sense—but overall the idea of professionalism has become less strict over time. Whether this is because new employees are from a younger generation or because looser societal standards have come into play, tattoos are no longer reserved for the scary, the intimidating, or the dumb. (Though I have seen a fair number of tattoos that are, shall we say, less than professionally done. We’re talking spelling errors, inaccurate translations, and just plain bad drawings.)
Tattoos are Actually Helping Science and, for some, Job Prospects
In addition to adding some amazing body art to your skin, tattoos have become a major source of scientific study over the years. Researchers have found a surprising number of benefits to getting a tattoo, like reducing stress over time and “priming” the body’s immune system as each prick of the needle is technically damaging layers of your skin. In some cultures with little access to sterile equipment, tattoos are also used to represent a healthy or “hardened” body. Vaccine researchers have even looked into DNA vaccine delivery through a tattoo, which both cost less and are more accessible. A win-win, in my book.
And depending on the job market you’re interested in, tattoos may even help you get the job. Tattoos are now associated with an edgy and younger look, which is an attractive feature for many marketing industries such as fashion and some technology startups. This means that if you’re really dedicated, tailoring your tattoos to a specific industry may be beneficial (just be careful you don’t go too far; they are permanent, after all).
Tattoos Allow for Self-Expression
Whether it’s visual art like painting or dance, or something more melodic like writing or music, artistic expression has been repeatedly proven to boost self-esteem, mental health, and unique individuality. The same goes for tattoos. The freedom of self-expression is one of the best confidence boosters out there, and improved confidence can go a long way for a lot of people. I have tattoos that represent my hometown, the cities I’ve lived in, and my passion for writing and science, all pieces that make me feel unique and, in a weird way, seen. Maybe you love the beach or video games, or even McDonald's (I will never forget the one tattoo I saw that was simply a McDonald's receipt).
More managers are beginning to realize that self-expression is actually a good thing. Along with tattoos, unnatural hair colors are also becoming more acceptable as well as relaxed dress codes and general office atmospheres. (Heck, “casual Fridays” didn’t become a thing until the 1990s, so the business world has come a pretty far way on tattoos.)
At the end of the day, it’s your body. And while some industries are a little more reluctant to accept visible tattoos, plenty more are realizing that tattoos are simply paintings that you wear every day. They’re not scary, they’re not indicative of any shady past, and they’re absolutely not going anywhere. So if you’ve been debating getting that one tattoo you’ve always wanted, this is your sign. Get tatted and be proud about it.