Are Tattoos Professional?

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Kaitlin Shaw, Archie Batra

YES

Tattoos – often something your mother does not want to see pop up on your skin over the years. Permanently inking various designs onto your body is sometimes seen as controversial but, with the changing winds of our millennial era and a larger acceptance of self-expression, I believe it’s time to shake off the prejudice surrounding tattoos and starting seeing people for people – i.e. not solely their appearance, but their personalities, skills, and positive attributes.  

For starters, I want to make one thing clear: I do not, and will never, support offensive or inappropriate tattoos. Any skin modifications that are racist, homophobic, sexist, explicit etc should not be visibly allowed in the workplace. Not only do they have the potential to threaten co-workers, but I am of the opinion that bigoted views should be kept (quietly, please) to oneself. There is no circumstance in which offensive tattoos should be given a pass for the purpose of self-expression or “art,” for being closed-minded is not a form of individualism – it just shows the world that you aren’t a particularly lovely human.  

That aside, I fully stand by the acceptance of non-offensive tattoos in both professional and social life. Having nine tattoos myself, I take huge pride in my own body art, but I also appreciate that of others. For me, tattoos are simply another means of self-expression. Just like having a fringe, choosing to wear a certain style of fashion, having multiple piercings, or painting your nails, permanent body art is simply another outlet through which to say, “this is me; take it or leave it.” Self-acceptance is a hugely important thing, and I believe self-expression comes hand-in-hand with it. The ability to express oneself often leads to better feelings of security and confidence, which ultimately provides a happier quality of life alongside it. To deny people of self-expression is to take away an aspect of their beautiful, multi-faceted personality, and that is not okay.  

Additionally, the idea that tattoos make someone unprofessional is ridiculous – since when have we judged people on their appearance as a means of defining their strengths? I am of the opinion that if, hypothetically, two graduates (one with tattoos and one without) went for a graduate banking job and the individual with the tattoos performed better in the interview, they should automatically get the job. Performance in a job, or at university, should be judged on talent, charisma and effort, not by the way people look. To do so is to diminish people, to push them into a box in which their personal attributes are not appreciated. Not only is this discriminatory, but also very behind the times; in a world where body art is being seen more and more on young people, employers will simply have to start accepting that many talented up-and-coming individuals may have body art.  

Tattoos should also be appreciated in terms of their “people skills.” To explain, body art can be a huge conversation opener. Many individuals with tattoos enjoy sharing stories about their body art or recommending good artists for future ink, which often leads to lasting friendships and connections. The ability to share a part of yourself with another person is very special, and I personally can attest to this – not only have I made friends through mutual meanings behind tattoos, but I have also made friends with tattoo artists and artists alike. For an introvert like myself, this is a wonderful thing. Not only does it allow me to easily converse with people about a topic I am passionate about, but it has opened up many facets of life I didn’t believe possible; from getting tattoos while people I love are with me to connecting with people online, having body art can make you a more social, confident human being. For professional work/university life, this can be a brilliant attribute. Social connections-wise, having tattoos can make you a very well-rounded, understanding person, which is incredibly useful for the professional world. 

It’s safe to say that this will always be a controversial issue, but my hope is that over the years this dialogue calmly lessens. To see the world through a limited, old-fashioned lens of “employees/students must look X way to function Y way” is incredibly limiting. Not only to the individual, but to the company/institution itself. It is sad to think of how many people have been rejected from jobs or frowned upon during their studies due to their tattoos, or thought of as automatically “stupid,” “reckless” or “trashy.” The truth is, very simply, that talent and skill comes from within – when we start realising this, the working world could be a much happier place. Until then, ink away.

NO

I know that this opinion will not make me any friends in Studentville (and I will try and be diplomatic about it), but I’ve never really understood the appeal of tattoos, and it’s certainly not something I’d ever consider inflicting upon myself. I know that opinions are changing, and that having a tattoo nowadays is certainly less controversial than it would have been 50 years ago, but still, there’s not a lot that could push me to willingly scar my skin for life. And, as much as I hate to admit it, it’s largely because I think that they’re incredibly unprofessional.  

But firstly, I should probably make it known that I understand and appreciate why some people might get tattoos. Bereavement could drive people to the tattoo parlour, for example, as would other life-changing events; events that maybe mark an individual more than a tattoo ever could. People have also told me that tattoos are instruments of self-expression, and that they form an important part of their identity as a person. Well, okay, that’s fine. I’m not going to prescribe how people should express themselves, or deal with bereavement – but I still maintain that easily visible tattoos are incredibly unprofessional.

They shouldn’t be, you might argue; why should a bit of ink preclude someone from a job that they’re otherwise qualified for? As a meritocrat, I’m inclined to agree, but the unfortunate fact of the matter is that it’s tiny, insignificant, and almost unfair things like a tattoo that often turn the tide of an interview or a job application – especially the kind of job that I imagine a lot of St Andrews graduates go for. One small spelling mistake on a  CV or covering letter, for example, screams of unprofessionalism. The employer will look at it and infer that you’ve not checked your CV properly, that you’re not meticulous enough to work for them, that you can’t spell, and certainly not the kind of person they want to hire. CV, meet bin. The handshake at the interview: two seconds (maybe less) of time that, in the grand scheme of things, is wildly insignificant. But don’t you dare have a limp handshake. Not only are they disgusting (speaking from the receiving end) but the implication is that you’re, well, a bit soft. Application,  meet bin. Can’t be bothered to do your top button up for the interview? Bin. Stumbling over your words? Bin.

Given the plethora of things that can go wrong in any job application (or, indeed, in performing one’s job) I fail to understand why someone would shoot themselves in the foot by having a very visible tattoo on display. There’s just something about it – something I’ll admit to not being able to describe – that’s just a little bit, well, improper. This is of course something that’s probably purely based in prejudice and not in fact, but I doubt the interviewers at our country’s top law firms, businesses, and consultancies particularly care. They’ll probably just  show you the door, even as you argue with them about how bigoted they’re being.  

But, let’s say you’ve managed to smuggle your contraband into a place of work. There’s still the entirely reasonable expectation to conform to the behavioural standards of the workplace. I won’t touch the complexity  of female attire but, for the more competitive jobs, the gents are normally expected to wear a suit and tie. Shirts tucked in, top buttons done up, and the rest. And whether we like it or not, failing to meet these standards is often grounds for someone to lose their job, which is, dare I say, reasonable. If the  company you work for wants to project a certain atmosphere, aura, or je ne sais quoi, then they should be able to. (Especially if their image is linked to the clients that they get.) If your boss doesn’t want her employees having visible tattoos, then that’s what she wants, unfortunately.

Finally, even if you enjoy success in your career with a tattoo on display, there is not guarantee that you’ll like your body art in the future. They probably look amazing now, but you cannot know how you’ll feel about them or they will look when you’re seventy years old, and sitting in your retirement home. It just doesn’t seem worth it. 

I’m not arguing that tattoos can’t hold a special significance to someone; I know enough people to prove that wrong. What I will say, however, is that despite them potentially holding lots of personal significance, they are also very unprofessional. Of course, this is not a golden rule, and there will probably be plenty of people that have tattoos that would argue it’s not impeded their professional life, but I just wouldn’t take the risk. In a world where the odds of finding a rewarding job are already tipped against you, don’t make your chances worse.

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