Keep them covered, for now

Tattoo culture and business culture still clash with one another today.
October 31, 2012

Nearly a fourth of the workforce has at least one tattoo. They are a part of our culture, now more than ever. The need to express oneself or stand out through body art is particularly prominent in generations X and Y, as 32-38 percent of young to middle-aged adults report getting inked.

However, there’s a gap between the appreciation of body art and the willingness to show it. More than 70 percent of those with a tattoo do not have it visible for their jobs.

Why? The biggest reason most of us get tattoo is to have that personal brand. On our paths of self-expression and self-identity, tattoos can reinforce our interests and values. Tattoos can also just be pieces of permanent art that we have chosen to “collect” on our bodies. To those who crave ink, a sleeve of tattoos can tell a story. The huge anchor on your left arm doesn’t look scary or inappropriate next to the five-inch skull on your shoulder; it’s art. That being said, the culture of business does not always make way for self-expression. The majority of entry-level positions in the job market interact with the public, and with that, issues arise.

To anyone who is not a tattoo enthusiast, the above tattoos are just that — tattoos. A customer doesn’t care about what our tattoos mean, nor will they be keen on knowing about our personal attachment to them. This means that a tattoo’s content becomes extraneous at best and offensive at worst. Moreover, your tattoo’s presence becomes the signature by which you are known. What was once indicative of a personal journey or artistic impression has since labeled you as “guy with skull and anchor on his left arm.”

Can “guy with skull and anchor on his left arm” translate into “hirable?” It’s not impossible. If the employer is hiring for a position in which body modification is considered a personal characteristic, then it may be fine. If not, the effect of your body modifications is going to be at odds with your chances of being hired.

But is this fair? Shouldn’t an employer care more about an employee’s skills rather than his appearance? Probably, but while one’s body art is representative of personality, an employee is representative of his employer’s principles and values. To most customers, employees are the face of the company. Indeed, in a challenging job world, there is pressure to cover up or even remove body modifications in order to get hired.

In a world where consumers are requesting more ideology from the company’s making of everyday products — think the use of genetically modified organisms or the Chik-fil-A fiasco — body modifications display their own set of values.

Perhaps these negative connotations are slowly changing. After all, the youngest generation has all but fully accepted tattoos. In a survey among U.S. college students, researchers tried to find what the young adult consensus was on the attractiveness of people with tattoos, particularly with young business people. The results showed that very little negativity was expressed about body art and even showed a small number of positive reviews on attractiveness.

With body modification, there is a difference between self-expression and self-categorization. Nonetheless, the future of body modification in the workplace is going to come down to a dynamic consumer culture.

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