The Huffington Post reported that in 2014, 36 percent of Americans ages 18-25 had at least one tattoo, and that the inking industry was the 6th fastest-growing industry in the nation. With body art, including piercings, becoming more popular, the stigma that “only bad kids have tattoos” is fading, opening more employment options and social interactions than ever before. This is a good thing.
Those of us who are of the inked/pierced/body-modification persuasion receive grief from all across the board over our body art, sometimes from within our own community. There is the backlash from employers to contend with, who either flat out do not want to hire someone with body mods/tattoos or insist that they be removed or covered up, depending on their particular field of employment. Then there are the tattoo purists who cling to the notion that only individuals who function outside the bounds of normal society are worthy of tattoos, and your average Joe is just a trend-hopping sheep. Finally, there are people who still genuinely believe that if you have body art, a unique hair color or style or piercings, you are a walking offense and deserve to, at best, be shunned and, at worst, publicly humiliated. Over the past 20 years or so, though, things have gotten better for us, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.
Understanding What You Fear
Unfortunately, support for discriminating against those who embrace body art is still widely accepted, for numerous reasons by society. With an increase in its popularity, though, employers, civil associations and the population in general are starting to see things in a different light. Canadian-born conservationist David Suzuki once stated that “humanity will not protect that which we fear or do not understand,” a concept that reaches far beyond tattoo acceptance, but still applies. Individuals from all walks of life are now sporting ink, so society is now interacting with these tattooed citizens, whether they want to or not. Stigmas and prejudices are slipping away because of this positive exposure, and more institutions are becoming increasingly tolerant of body art, which has the potential to open greater employment opportunities for those who enjoy this form of expression and help widen client/volunteer bases for businesses and social programs. It’s a win-win situation.
An additional benefit to an increase in tattoo popularity is the new regulations and health standards now required by law for parlors. Complain about the new laws all you want, but us old-school kids who have been getting tattooed for decades, remember the days when you walked into a parlor, picked your tat and got inked no questions asked? Questions as in “Wait, is that a new needle?” or “Why is there blood on this chair?” or “Shouldn’t you be wearing gloves?” were never asked because you didn’t really think to ask. Times have changed, and some level of regulation on industries is a good thing. So socially we are seeing new avenues open, but employment? That is a horse of a different color, one that has ethical challenges not openly being addressed.
As reported by USA Today, a survey conducted in 2014 by CareerBuilder revealed that only 31 percent of HR managers stated that visible tattoos could have a negative impact on an individual getting hired, with bad breath being cited as a greater employment hindrance during an interview. Employers are slowly changing with the times and adapting to the shift in societal norms, which is reshaping the employment landscape, which is great. However, if it is illegal to discriminate against a person because of their chosen religion, a religion which some employees might find offensive or threatening, why is it still ethical to discriminate against body art? Both are choices, both have consequences that the individual accepts and understands, but only one is protected. Discrimination against anyone is unethical unless the individual is simply unqualified for the position, be it a paid position or volunteer. So while we work toward equality, in all aspects of life, we have to remember that equality means tolerance. You may not agree with someone’s life choice, but you have no right to deprive someone of their dignity or right to pursue happiness because of it.
Diana Marsh is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.