I’m getting pretty sick of wearing winter clothes during the summer. But my work requires me to cover up more than everyone else. According to NBC, 40% of Americans are tattooed. Criminals and sailors are not the only ones frequenting the tattoo shops, but does our culture still hold a bad vibe about people with tattoos? Many people’s workplaces require visible tattoos to be covered. I know that in my field (education) tattoos are very rarely allowed to be visible when school is in session. The food industry seems to be pretty lenient but schools and businesses still uphold the “professional” dress code that prohibits visible tattoos.
As of 1991, the discovery of Otzi the ice man dates tattooing back 5000 years. Tattoos decorate out human history and its use and meanings differ across the globe. For example, 2400 years ago in the pazyrk culture, tattoos were thought to have magical, decorative, and social status displaying purposes. In Japan, tattoos were found on 3000 year old (or older) mummies and are thought to have magical and religious meaning.
The history of tattoos and its different interpretations are crucial to our modern day beliefs of tattoos. The history of tattooing reminds us that beliefs on tattoos are strictly based in social and cultural construct, not in fact. Tattoos have been used for so many different reasons, such as a protector of health, a sign of leadership, a symbol of strength, and many other things. So, in modern America, why does our culture hold a negative view of tattoos and force our tattooed citizens to conceal their tattoos in many workplaces?
Being forced to conceal my tattoos is affecting me more and more as I get older. All of my tattoos are emotional, personal and important to me. They tell stories that make me who I am. As an educator, I feel the restrictions on my attire based on my ink is offensive. Leadership, other teachers and, yes, even students make me feel as if I should feel ashamed for having decorated my own body. Kids have thrown snarky “nice tattoo” comments my way, as if to embarrass or insult me. This is something they have learned from our culture. The dress code and the negative stigma against tattoos requires that I hide who I am, so that I may appear “professional.” As if the real me isn’t professional, intelligent and passionate. My chance as an educator to show children that I am all of those things and tattooed, is taken from me. Professional, tattooed people everywhere aren’t given the chance to change that negative view because they are forced to hide. Doctors feel as if it’s necessary to strategically place their tattoos in places that scrubs cover, so that they can avoid the judgement of patients. Young and intelligent college students have trouble finding a job because, despite their awesome resume, a business can’t afford having a worker with visible tattoos.
I may be biased, but tattooed people deserve some respect. They choose to put their stories, experiences, and emotions on the outside, where everyone can see. Everyone can judge. We choose to be vulnerable to those judgements because it means that much to us. We want to decorate our own bodies with things that mean a lot to us or even just beautiful images. Tattoos strike conversations with people we may not otherwise talk to. Tattoos give us the chance to share our stories. If that’s not strength, I don’t know what is.
Tattooing is expression and it’s on our bodies. My qualifications for a career should be based on my experience and my intellect, not my body. We can’t change peoples views on tattoos if we can’t show them.
Feature Image: Denise Krebs