I have 14 tattoos and I’m at the point in my life that I am getting tired of covering them up, especially with the weather getting so warm.
My tattoos are a part of me. They are my art and creativity. They are an outward journal. They are what is important to me. Tattoos are what helps support my family and our future.
So why have I spent so many years covering up my tattoos?
I began getting tattoos at age 19. My first one was on my lower back (as it was unfortunately for many of my age group), and at the time, I felt like a rebel getting it. I can tell you that it certainly did NOT please my parents. While it wasn’t visible, I always ensured that it never “popped out”, especially in professional settings. In my twenties, while I pursued a successful and fulfilling education and career that spans both academic and community sectors, my tattoos took a back seat. Throughout this point in my life and career, I’d still always adhered to the conventional wisdom that there was no place for tattoos in the workplace, and at times, took great lengths to cover up my markings and truthfully believed others should too.
In my thirties, things changed. As adults do, I became more aware of myself, and being tattooed started to become more and more of my visual identity, so began to collect more. My tattoos were and are a part of me that I want to share with the world and who I know and come in contact with. Thus, I’ve stopped covering up my tattoos (most of the time) in order to fight that antiquated ideal of what a professional should look like and hope for a change in perception against tattoos…
This is in defense of tattoos and a plea for the acceptance and professionalization of tattoos in the workplace. It’s an encouragement to my fellow tattooed friends to stop covering up tattoos when the opportunity allows it. Through this, I urge all to reconsider their position on tattoos, and make more room for them in the workplace, and society. Here’s why:
Simply, tattoos are art.
I am the first to admit that tattoo culture doesn’t always have a reputation of pushing out the most tasteful, tactful, or visually pleasing forms of art. Tattoos can often go awry, and too often, tattoo choice and placement can show an error in judgement by the untrained tattoo artist, but mostly the willing canvas. However, tattoos are and can be beautiful when the right artistry, vision and tact are applied. As humans, we spend our days enjoying what is aesthetically beautiful. Our history has shown centuries of appreciation and reverence for the visual arts. Tattoos are an underappreciated art in the mainstream culture of professionalism, and I’m perplexed as to why. Why not use the most beautiful canvas of the human body to create the most beautiful art?
Tattoos are the norm.
While stigmatization of tattooed individuals is alive and well, and thriving at rapid rates, soon there will be no place for it within our society. A study completed in 2010 (6 years ago) stated that while uncommon among the baby-boomer generation (15%), tattoo popularity grew with Generation X (32%) and continued to grow with the Millennials at 38% admitting to having tattoos. In the US, it’s estimated that 42% of adults have tattoos. This number can only be growing. Look around you at any public event or venue (especially in warm months), and you’ll see that tattoos aren’t as uncommon than they once were.
Tattoo stigma and tattoo reality don’t correlate. That’s why it’s a stigma.
My mother is the absolute worst for perpetuating stereotypes of tattooed people. “They look like they smell,” she’ll say, and I’ve not been able to figure out why as I’m yet to find a smelly tattooed person. She has quoted tattoos as being trashy, unprofessional, tough, rough, and everything else negative. This is particularly troubling to me because my partner is an aspiring tattoo artist. I am tattooed. We are both tattooed, and I certainly don’t think we smell, or are trashy, unprofessional, tough, rough and everything else negative. My mom knows this too as she loves us and has always had unconditional love and acceptance. This is the case for SO many individuals and there’s no reason to have this. I know researchers who are educated to the gills that sport full sleeves. I know successful engineers whose ink is one of their most striking visual features. I know communications professionals with well-crafted stories down their arm. I know tattoo artists who are regular citizens like you and me – they do not fit the profile of being rough, partiers, or strange. My partner, for one, likes to spend his time with puppies and usually goes to bed ridiculously early at night in order to get a good sleep, and couldn’t hurt a fly if he tried. There needs to be a loosening of the old-time association between tattoos and the ridiculous idea that tattoos are for rough sailors, motorcycle gangs, and serial killers. Tattoos generally are beautiful outward representations of inner goodness. I hope that my partner and I, as well as all we know who are tattooed, can continue to change old and antiquated perceptions on tattoos dictating character and behavior.
Tattoos mean something to those who get them.
Of my 14 tattoos, 2 of them represent my late father, 5 represent my heritage, 3 represent a love of classic literature, 2 represent my nostalgic ways (especially in music), and the remainder represent traits I value in myself and for my life: freedom, adventure, and exploration. These are the things that I have taken the time (and expense and pain) to ink onto myself permanently to have a permanent place in my life, my character, and what I present to the world. Ask me, and I’ll always tell you what my tattoos mean. Ask others who are tattooed, and I’ll guarantee you’ll also get a satisfying response and a good story. Tattoos allow the whole person to shine through.
Tattoos are a freedom of expression, which is a basic human right.
I don’t know about you, but I value working with individuals and organizations that value diversity, freedom of expression, and the power of individuality. I don’t like to be around judgmental people who may automatically be guilty of some of the ignorant associations for tattooed people mentioned above. What I do understand is that we are currently not in a place where tattoos are always tolerated. I keep an array of blazers around for any business purpose that would require one. However, the freedom of expression is a chartered right to Canadians (and many other of the world’s citizens). As a result, we should be at place within society where in the workplace they are not met with punitive actions, or used as a reason not to hire or engage with someone (aka. discrimination). In a world that demands and needs tolerance for diversity in terms of race, language, country of origin, age, gender and ability, we must also promote tolerance of the freedom of expression that tattoos are for people. I don’t think anyone wants to be around anyone who automatically thinks like my mom in regards to her perception of tattooed people.
As I mentioned, we are not yet at a place in our world – in North America where I am currently, and most important globally – where tattoos are a wholly accepted practice and form of outward expression, but we are getting there. I’m optimistic for tattooed people and the tattoo industry and the wonderful artist who make up it. My employers have always been accepting of my tattoos, knowing that I am able to exercise discretion on how much they are visible with in each context, and in turn, I respect the boundaries of when my tattoos should be out. My mom – well, she’s coming around. She loves me, and she’s proud of me, and she loves my partner and so far has been “cool” about the tattoos her three daughters have been accumulating. I do urge everyone to consider and reconsider their ideas and perceptions on tattoos. Ask people what their tattoos mean. Consider revising workplace policies to accommodate this form of expression. Perhaps maybe you can consider getting some ink yourself. Why not?
I would do my dear partner a great disservice if I didn’t give his work a plug. Levi Moodie is an amazing artist, tattooing as an apprentice at Manson Tattoo in Old East Village, London, Ontario. He has done the majority of my pieces and I love them all couldn’t be more proud of him and the hard work and passion he puts into his craft.