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Violent, Untrustworthy, and Rebellious: The Misconceptions of Tattoos

Violent, Untrustworthy, and Rebellious: The Misconceptions of Tattoos

Photographed by Quinn McCaffrey of Cassidy Marshall & Devin Ricks

By Jeanie Gould McElhone

Growing up we hear all sorts of anti-tattoo rhetoric. “You’ll never be able to get a job if you get a tattoo,” “Think about how saggy they will look when you age?” or “You’re going to regret that in a few years.”

Negative stereotypes and conceptions about tattoos have been around for decades. People with tattoos were seen as rebellious and were often associated with gangs, drug use and prisons. We were told if we wished to be well respected and successful, having a tattoo would only do the opposite. Have these perceptions on tattooed individuals really changed over the years? Have we become more open about different forms of self-expression? Were our parents and grandparents right that getting a tattoo will doom you for the rest of your life?

According to Susan Lucas’ article called, “Are Piercings and Tattoos in the Workplace still Taboo,” there has been a change in how certain business regard tattoos. Today, making body modifications like tattoos or piercings are more common than ever due to these professional view changes. We have become a more accepting society and by allowing employees to freely express themselves, it allows for a more open work environment. Having a tattoo does not determine one's intelligence, experience or work ethic and not being hired based on how one chooses to express themselves is immoral. Even if there are no laws against this practice, it nonetheless results in an unfair advantage or disadvantage.
There have been several studies done on how people view those with tattoos versus those without.

Kristin Broussard and Helen Harton conducted this study in Vinita Mehta’s article called “Are People with Tattoos Stigmatized” and found some interesting results. The study showed how we view and treat men and woman differently with tattoos. Men with arm tattoos were rated lower than those without, but women tattoos were viewed as stronger than those without. Another surprising finding in this study was that people who also have tattoos STILL have negative perceptions towards those with tattoos. This may have to do with a phenomenon of people judging others more than they judge themselves or because they have an innate predisposition against tattoos.

Even if businesses today are more accepting of it, there is still some resistance in professional settings. Since there is no legal law in the United States prohibiting tattoo-based employment or hiring discrimination, there will always be opposition. It is legal for employers to refuse to accept applicants who have tattoos and even to impose strict dress restrictions that prevent them from being seen in public areas of the workplace; doing so does not violate any employment laws. Considering that every employer has unique personal convictions and a desired "look" that they wish to reflect and represent their brand.

According to Evelyn Sims’ article, “The Inconclusive World of Tattoos in the Workplace,” recent research shows that while just 22% of persons between the ages of 18 and 25 believe tattoos are unprofessional, 63% of people that are aged 60 and older do. This study demonstrates that these preconceptions are more common in older generations and that as newer generations enter the workforce, we might eventually witness an increase in the number of professionals who have prominent tattoos. The same article shows that 70% of children do not care if their caregivers have tattoos. People with tattoos are not scary or dangerous-but the negative conceptions can be. They are merely stereotypes with no supporting evidence. In actuality, tattoos are generally acceptable.

The perception around tattoos has gotten better over the past few years but the conversation around tattoos in the workplace is still considered a taboo. They have become more acceptable at work if they are not offensive. While everyone has their own biases, and everyone subconsciously makes judgments based on the appearances of those around them, it is important to be aware of them. It is safe to say that your grandparents may be wrong, getting that tattoo will not bar you from starting a successful career.

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