by Jess Howard
Covering the body with tattoos has been a tradition among multiple socio-economic groups for centuries. From identification to decoration, the act of adorning the skin with ink is in no way novel or unique. Day to day it is incredibly common to see tattoos on people of all ages, from the first tattoo immediately after the 18th birthday, to the person in their mid forties with an exquisite and elaborate full sleeve. In short, ink is everywhere.
Yet the stigma attached to visual tattoos in the work place shows minimal chance of disappearing. When I started my first ‘proper’ job, I was told that tattoos were not allowed to be visible, and even today, ten pieces of ink later, I find myself wearing long sleeves to interviews and asking if my potential employer would like me to cover them up. Even I, a woman who has long loved body art in all of its forms, assume that the stigma is still attached.
In short, ink is everywhere.
Now I’m not disputing that some tattoos may indeed be inappropriate for a working environment. Having F**K YOU tattooed across your forehead doesn’t necessarily send across the right impression for certain job roles. But even in examples such as these, society should have reached a stage where it is understood that appearances have absolutely no influence on skill and capability.
I have never found myself personally singled out because of my tattoos (I was 17 when I was first employed, and not lucky enough to be able to convincingly steal someone’s ID to be inked pre-18) but I do have a multitude of relatively disfiguring scars on my forearms due to my cyclical dalliances with self harm. On one occasion I was even asked to cover my arms for work, a request that I don’t think I have ever really gotten over. They are both examples of changing skin’s appearance, so why is one allowed and one not?
The difference between how the visual is considered across multiple discourses has always fascinated me. When I first joined university I was infuriated at the number of assignments I had that involved me staring at a 300 year old pot, or a stick thought to date back thousands of years. What do I care about old pots? I would ask. My interests reside predominantly in fine art, and at the time particularly in regards to installation. It took me until the second semester of my first year to realise that, regardless of time period, medium or practitioner, the visual can always be considered through an artistic perspective.
appearances have absolutely no influence on skill and capability
Last month I questioned why nudity in pornography is often considered obscene, whilst nudity in art has been historically praised. What is it about the two that makes them different? Is it the context, the medium, or perhaps even the practitioner themselves? Presently, even after 4 years of studying for an art history degree, I am unable to answer these questions with hard evidence or a concrete answer.
With body art, I feel that the tattoo artist is rarely an influence in whether or not a tattoo is judged or admired. Obviously, there are different levels of skill and style throughout the body art world, but overall I have found the opinion to be universal throughout my own tattoos. Either way, regardless of how anyone of any age decides to decorate or adorn their body, it should be understood and accepted that this in no way affects their character or ability. It is time for the dated opinion that body art should be covered up in the work place to disappear.