Marking Yourself Indelibly

Graffitti on wall
Art on a wall, but you get the picture (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

According to Wikipedia, The first written reference to the word, “tattoo” (or Samoan “Tatau”) appears in the 1769 journal of Joseph Banks, the naturalist aboard Captain Cook‘s ship the HMS Endeavour: “I shall now mention the way they mark themselves indelibly, each of them is so marked by their humor or disposition.”

According to Pew Research, nearly half of 26-40-year-olds (40 percent) and 36 percent of 18-25-year-olds have tattoos today.  Twenty-two percent of 26-40-year-olds and 30 percent of 18-25-year-olds have at least one body piercing. Once associated only with sailors, bikers and people outside the mainstream, it’s now common to see people of all ages and lifestyles sporting body art or a piercing. 

Unfortunately, if you’re in a job search, visible body art ranks just below rancid breath in characteristics that may lose you a job offer.’s survey revealed that piercings, cited by 37 percent of hiring managers, are the top physical attribute that can limit a candidate’s career potential. Bad breath came in next, at 34 percent, with visible tattoos trailing not too far behind at 31 percent. All things being equal, most recruiters will choose a clean cut applicant over one with visible tattoos or piercings.

The exceptions are in companies where staff members don’t have any interaction with the public, or those whose customer base is young or accepting of individual expression through body art. Companies as large (and conservative) as Allstate Insurance and Bank of America stated that they have no polices or restrictions on piercings or body art, but Denny’s will not hire servers with visible tattoos, according to the survey.

One of the issues with tattoos that make them problematic is that you get them at different phases of your life (often in youth) and what was important to you then may no longer be valid. (Case in point: your former girlfriend’s name on your bicep with the words: “together forever.” Oops.) People with troubled history (gangs, incarceration) may obtain tattoos that make that past hard to overcome and that forever become part of their image, no matter how they have turned their lives around.

Of course body art is not just an expression for young people; according to a 2006 Pew research poll, ten percent of Baby Boomers report having at least one tattoo. Despite its growing acceptance in the mainstream, visible tattoos still present an image problem if you want to be taken seriously as a manager or corporate leader.  Even high fashion has its limits. Women’s fashion magazines regularly photoshop body art out of photographs of models and actresses. A recent Megan Fox cover shoot for France’s Grazia Magazine left a tattoo with a quote from Shakespeare (King Lear) visible but erased a Nietzsche quote. I can only image the sleepless nights that Angelina Jolie on the red carpet causes for a photo editor.

Most career experts agree that choosing a spot that can be covered by business clothing makes the most sense of you decide to get a tattoo. Surveys indicate that about 17 percent of people with tattoos decide to get them removed. Removal is expensive and painful; chances are that you’ll wind up with a visible scar in place of your artwork.

Do you have body art that you have to cover for your workplace? Do you think that your company has the right to restrict tattoos and piercings? Where would you draw the line, if it were up to you?  Let me know.


1 thought on “Marking Yourself Indelibly

  1. […] are becoming more mainstream in the workplace, as I wrote in a post in 2012. I’ve written about tattoos for the Times Union – you can read the story […]


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