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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


“Tattoos acceptable at work, but only secret ones”

Scary portrait tattoos aside (seriously, do you realize how much that face is going to age with you?), tattoos are fascinating. Spare me the “”but your body is a temple!”” bullshit. Tattoos can be elaborate works of art, monuments memorializing a person or moment, a personal and permanent sign of your dedication. Nothing about your body is less sacred just because it’s got a little color on it.

With that said, unless you’re serving me my coffee, I will judge you for being visibly tattooed. If I don’t know you have a tattoo, there isn’t an issue. But, whether you have one or several, the moment I see your “”body art”” showing, I start making assumptions about your youth, your lifestyle, how responsible you are.

I don’t know why I, and others (including your potential employers), do that. I don’t know what defines professionalism, or why being able to see tattoos feel so offensive in jobs that pay above minimum wage.  

It’s possible that there really isn’t a reason for it. There is no good reason why a barista can be obviously inked and a lawyer cannot be. It’s just the way things are.

A survey commissioned by York College of Pennsylvania’s Center for Professional Excellence in 2009 asked human resources professionals and business leaders about what traits were considered professional and how well recent college graduates practiced professionalism. The survey found that “”there is a widely held sentiment that not all college graduates are displaying professionalism upon entering the work force.”” More than 37 percent of the 500 people surveyed responded that less than half of recent graduates hired exhibited professionalism in their first year of employment.

Traits that respondents noted as “”unprofessional”” included “”appearance, which includes attire, tattoos and piercings.””

Imagine you walk into a job interview with the Chinese character on your arm showing. Never mind that you’re not absolutely sure it means what you think it means, since you can’t read Chinese. Imagine what the interviewer is thinking.

There’s nothing inappropriate or wrong with your tattoo. You shouldn’t feel ashamed because you have one when it’s not of a vulgar image or a word that I’m not supposed to print here. But regardless of how innocent or sweet or completely inoffensive it is, it’s not right.

Corporations, particularly ones that require their employees to make a good impression on the general public, are perfectly within their legal rights to impose dress codes. These appearance policies are acceptable as long as they aren’t based on gender, race, age or religion, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. So, your employer can dictate anything from whether you wear jeans or slacks, collared button-downs or T-shirts, to the length of your hair or the location of your piercings and tattoos. There is no First Amendment privilege for being able to walk around your office with an image of a snake on your forearm or a rose on your ankle.

As body art becomes more common and widely accepted, perhaps these policies will become more relaxed and people will figure out that what’s on your body is not on theirs. But until then, it’s best to remember to keep some things to yourself.

This isn’t a diatribe against all tattoos. What you keep private is your business, and what the general public and your employer don’t know won’t hurt them. They’re certainly not the ones being repeatedly poked by a needle. Just keep it discreet.

Have your fun. Get a tattoo of your favorite quote or lyric (just check for typos), your astrological sign (hope it doesn’t change), your butterfly or anchor or Chinese symbols. Just keep it covered, unless you want to remember that I like my coffee iced, with lots of cream and not so much sugar.

— Kristina Bui is the opinions editor of the Daily Wildcat. She can be reached at

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