Whether it be a tiny little hidden symbol or an addition to a growing sleeve, tattoos are alluring. The thought of morphing and marking our bodies is exciting, and nowadays, it seems like everyone is doing it.
From celebrities to our favorite fashion bloggers to Miss America contestants, getting tattooed really does seem to be permeating into mainstream culture. And yet, many of us grew up with our parents drilling into our brains that tattoos will hinder job prospects and career advancement.
Maybe it’s time to reevaluate our culture’s values. Is our generation changing the way tattoos are viewed in mainstream culture? Or are we just a part of a fleeting ink fad that we’ll someday regret?
In a 2010 Pew Research Center Report, our generation of “millennials” is described as more liberal, passionate about social progression, self-confident and expressive than our parents’ generation. Nearly 40% of kids in our generation are inked, although 70% of these young people say their tattoos are hidden beneath clothing.
However, it seems that the workplace, for now, is still relatively rigid when it comes to tattoos. According to one study, a candidate applying for a job with visible tattoos is still generally deemed “unsavory” and less favorable compared to candidates without tattoos. Some fields are changing, though, and tattoos are becoming more accepted in firms in which having tattoos makes it easier to bond with younger clients.
“Maybe once people our age are the ones doing the hiring, tattoos won’t matter as much,” says Megan Couch, a junior studying economics at the University of California, Los Angeles. “But for now, the people in charge still care.”
“We must remember that although we–as millennials–have become more accepting of tattoos as a form of self-expression, the upper management of most industries today are still controlled by the elder who do not share our perspective,” says Kitty Lan, a sophomore at Georgetown University studying international affairs. “Therefore, moving up the career chain still depends on the impressions we leave–impressions that often stem from factors other than our skills and talent.”
And these students are right—most older professionals don’t see tattoos as a form of self-expression and don’t understand the use for “ink.”
“If it’s body art, why don’t you just use paint? Something you can get rid of and change?” asks professor George Kazolias, a professional reporter and TV news producer. “I think [tattoos] will hamper you in the professional domain, for sure. I mean, if you have a visible tattoo, you’re not going to get on the TV plateau, and a lot of people will be put off. If you’re going to do interviews with ministers and presidents and you’ve got visible tattoos, I don’t think your editor’s going to send you to do that interview, because that could upset people. I think it would get in the way.”
Kristen Arnold, a professional mediator, also agrees. “My age is still usually upper management and does not understand all the ink or necessity for the ink. Keep it hidden and there will be no room for a negative interpretation.”
By the time our generation is doing the hiring, however, there may be no need to explain the choice to get inked. Many see the recent tattoo trend as a natural evolution, accompanying an era of young people who are much more open to social progression and self-expression.
Professor Nicholas Thomas, author of the book Body Art, says that tattoos are now a part of young peoples’ culture because of a cultural shift towards taking ownership of one’s body and identity. “People have all sorts of surgical interventions, medical and cosmetic. It is even possible to change your gender. This means that we now see our body as something we have a responsibility to design and make. Even something as simple as a fitness routine or a tan indicates this attitude.”
the Lala also interviewed several university students on their tattoo encounters while interning.
Bella Girovich, the former intern for a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C., said that her boss, who was the director of programming for the entire organization, “had a tattoo on her breast. We always talked about how she wanted to get it touched up and researched different tattoo shops and artists around D.C., which honestly came as a shock to me to have these conversations, but I definitely think it is a sign of the times.”
“I’ve worked for a major television network for the past year now and was initially nervous about how my tattoo would reflect on me as a young professional,” says Alexandra Korba, an intern for a major global news and film network. “I realized pretty quickly that my fears were entirely baseless. Many of my colleagues and supervisors have tattoos, and sport them proudly. Albeit, I don’t work for the government or in a medical profession. My office is a very easygoing, creative environment, but I do see more white-collar jobs moving towards acceptance of tattoos as a form of self-expression rather than rebellion.”
We also visited a tattoo parlor in southern California to get a sense of whether the demographics for tattoo customers has changed over the past decades. We spoke with a tattoo artist with 20+ years of experience under his belt. “Each generation, things get more acceptable […] Nowadays, for sure, we see more women than men getting tattooed. And not just small stuff–[woman are] getting the bigger stuff. If you go to any [grocery store] and look at the line, everyone has a tattoo, almost. I think it’s starting to become the majority. The minority is going to be people without tattoos.”
It’s also interesting to note that one of the largest museums in Paris, France, the center of art appreciation and the city where new artistic movements have gained momentum throughout history, is now showcasing an exhibit dedicated solely to tattoos throughout history. The entrance of tattoos into the museum speaks volumes about what people appreciate as “art” nowadays, and tattoos are finally becoming museum-worthy pieces.
Jessica Benne, a junior studying Global Communications at the American University of Paris and a former resident of Munich, Germany, commented on the vastly different international perceptions of tattoos and how the U.S. is far more accepting of tattoo culture. “I think that in different cultures, tattoos are more accepted. For example, in Munich, they’re not accepted. When I see a person with a tattoo in Munich, I would assume they’re from a lower level of education. But in the U.S., I wouldn’t say that–I even wanted a tattoo there.”
It’s apparent that having visible ink is still a gamble in our modern society, especially when it comes to getting a job. There are plenty of anti-discrimination petitions for those who wish to end prejudice against tattoos in the workplace, but the fact is that visible tattoos can still be that breaking factor between getting a job at certain conservative companies.
Some companies like Starbucks and PetSmart are changing their ways, however, slowly but surely responding to this shift in mainstream culture. It seems that our accepting and generally more liberal generation may change the standards for tattoo acceptance in the workplace for the future, especially considering that tattoos are more popular now than ever before.
What do you think? Is our generation changing mainstream culture for good? Are tattoos becoming more commonplace for future mothers, employers, and leaders of the world? Or does does getting a visible tattoo now mean you’re forever destined to fight stereotypes? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.