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Tattoo prejudice – What’s the problem?

By 27th March 2016 No Comments
Tattoo prejudice - What's the problem

There are more than 45 million adults in the US who have at least one tattoo. Should we be setting out employment laws to prevent tattoo prejudice or discrimination in the workplace? After all, it’s just skin colour…

According to Statistics Brain Americans are spending over $1.6 billion a year on tattoos and at least 14% of the population already have at least one. In reality this figure is likely to be much higher, however due to tattoo shame and people hiding their ink, the real figure is unknown – just think of all those tattoos on bums. Since the recent resurgence of the tattoo industry as a whole, a great diversity of people now have tattoos (me included) or are involved in the industry in some way. Our next generation, leading by the example of this generation will likely be far less judgemental towards tattoos than our parents and so the tattooing trend is only set to increase over the coming years.

The figures indicate that an increasing number of professionals are entering the workplace, adorned with visible or hidden tattoos. So what effects are their decisions to get inked having on their employability or the employers first perception of them? Let’s take it back to the beginning. Some believe that tattoo prejudice started way back in the 18th century when Captain Cook’s sailors first set eyes on the tattooed ‘Polynesian savages‘ and they quickly took a shine to skin inking. Europeans had already been marking themselves with tattoos before this time, however, it was mainly low-key or limited to small groups such as some Christians who tattooed themselves with a fish symbol. So back then they associated tattoos with tribal based people or sailors and the old fashioned negative stereotype has continued to this day.

Many people (the older generations especially) tend to associate tattoos with criminals, gang members or bikers. In their day (back in the bloody stone age) tattoos were more prevalent in these circles and due to this associated stereotype, that generation tends to look at tattooed people as intellectually or socially inferior. Thankfully, these days tattoos are far more common across a broad spectrum of demographics and especially those aged 20-40. You’re still not likely to see your Nan pop through the door like “hey, I got a tattoo!” but if one of your parents got a tattoo in their 50s or 60s you wouldn’t be totally gobsmacked. It’s becoming, dare I say it, normal.

“My body is my journal and my tattoos are my story.” – Jonny Depp

In the UK and America (I can’t speak for other countries) professional employers will usually overlook tattoos which are covered up in the workplace or maybe small and non-offensive visible tattoos will be accepted in non-customer facing positions. When discussing tattoos, I am leaving offensive tattoos out of the equation, as the reason for the prejudice towards these is understandable. It’s just common sense. The injustice occurs when tattoos which are non-offensive and well crafted still seem to get branded with the same negative stereotype.

I can’t understand how anyone could find a non-offensive and tasteful tattoo on somebody else’s body… offensive. In the same way I may not like a colleague’s hair style, but would I judge them based on their physical appearance? No. I don’t think a hairstyle or a good tattoo changes somebody’s intellect or ability to do their job well. If I was in need of urgent medical care and the doctor who walked in the room had a tattoo, is he or she suddenly less qualified to treat me? No.

In the UK we have laws against workplace discrimination based on things like sex, race, age and disability, but there’s nothing protecting people from tattoo based discrimination; such as the refusal to employ a person based solely on the fact that they have a tattoo. This means that tattooed people and especially those with visible tattoos often feel regretful of getting their tattoos because they are often seen as less employable than somebody without any. Statistics show that 17% of people feel regretful about a tattoo they have and for many (not all of course) of these people the reason is down to employment or other people’s unfair judgement of them.

“Be curious, not judgemental”

I think that unless a tattoo is deemed offensive, distasteful or seriously inappropriate for a reason, then tattoos should be embraced and included in our workplace discrimination laws. We as people and employers seem to modernise quickly in terms of adopting new technology and changing the way we work, however, many are stuck in their ways when it comes to judging people based on their appearance. Are tattoos your cup of tea? No. That’s fine, it’s likely your hairstyle isn’t mine either. But would I judge your ability to do a job based on that dodgy mullet? Definitely not. Employers should think more openly about people with tattoos as they could be missing out on a serious talent pool.

Like with racism and sexism, we know that stereotyping people shows a lack of empathy and intelligence. We as people should know to look past physical appearance and see the person standing in front of us as they are and not what we prejudge them to be. If somebody has chosen to decorate the blank canvas that their skin is, with a tasteful piece of art then I don’t see anything wrong with that.

Oh and that doctor with the tattoos, he might not be in a gang but it looks like he’s a biker afterall… didn’t see that coming!


Tattoo Prejudice and Descrimination

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