Tattoos Accepted in the Workplace


Tattoos have been in the news a lot over the last few years mostly in an ongoing debate about being acceptable in the workplace.  Tattoos have not always enjoyed widespread acceptance but today’s tattoo enthusiasts come from every walk of life.  It was once thought that the earliest known tattoos dated back to ancient Egypt and there is a rich history of the tattoo and its place in ancient Polynesian culture but a more recent discovery of the remains of the” Iceman” placed the date of the first known tattoos back more than 5000 years.  The Iceman, discovered in 1991, reportedly had about 57 tattoos.

Historians can only guess at the cultural significance of tattoos that far back in time.  Some believe they may have served as some sort of amulet, protecting woman during childbirth or perhaps, in the Iceman’s case, since some of the patterns mimic modern-day acupuncture patterns, they made have had a medicinal purpose.  It is also believed in these cultures that the designs may have been a way to indicate status or power.

Here in America, a man by the name of Martin Hildebrandt began tattooing sailors in 1846 New York.  In Europe, King Edward VII started something when he got a tattoo before taking the throne.  Then as now, there may have been multiple reasons for getting inked.  Tattoos were considered a sign of loyalty or of belonging to a certain group.  For some they served as a way to honor or commemorate certain people or events.

At that point in American history, tattoos were probably not intended to beautify the body or as a means of self-expression.  In fact, in early 1940s America when tattooing became more prevalent, those with tattoos were often frowned upon as being a bit unsavory in character.  Tattoos were often thought of in association with prisoners, loose women or, as in the case of the famous tattooed lady, in the context of circus or carnival freaks.  Not so much in present day America.

Today tattoos can be found in almost every setting. Young, old, black or white, students, housewives, celebrities and even young urban professionals can be seen sporting tattoos.  Employers who have traditionally enforced strict policies against body art have been forced to take a more lenient approach but there are still some companies that do not believe that tattoos are acceptable or appropriate in the workplace. While some employers believe that credibility is damaged and professionalism diminished at the first sight of body art, there are many others who embrace the ideas of individuality, self-expression and inclusion.

Yet, there appears to be an increase in the number of people undergoing tattoo removal procedures.  The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reported an increase of 43 percent from 2011 to 2012 while the Patient’s Guide, reported that the number of laser tattoo removal procedures climbed 32 percent during that same timeframe.  Even in Australia, it is reported that requests for tattoo removal procedures are up a whopping 300 percent.  It seems that a lot of the candidates for laser tattoo removal procedures, which can cost a lot in both time and money, are citing employment related reasons for the change of heart.

Employers, seeking the best and the brightest, are not necessarily closing the door on tattooed applicants.  At the same time, many are reconsidering the possibility that ink might stink, especially when one is seeking promotion and prestige in the workplace.  It will, to say the least, be interesting to see how tattoos fair in the next few years.  Just when tattoos seem to be gaining more acceptance in the workplace, the tattooed seem to be questioning the ability of body ink to hinder their advancement.

By Constance Spruill



National Geographic


Smithsonian Magazine

Digital Boston

All Business

Daily Telegraph

The Patient’s Guide

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