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The “tattoo debate” is not a new one. It refers to whether a tattoo can be defined as artwork, or whether people’s often negative perception of them is in fact understandable. It divides much of the population; most people have a view of tattoos and quite simply it’s either a like or a dislike for them, tacky or classy, cool or lame. However this an outdated notion; it is far more complicated than that as in this internet-driven world tattoos and the subsequent perception of the are not only more accessible, but have also recently been the cause of national debate. A story about a tattooed teacher who got fired has recently done the rounds on social media and in the national newspapers. Realistically the debate points the finger at visible tattoos and leads us to ask whether having a tattoo on clear display is career suicide or does the corporate world need to wake up and in the immortal words of The Eagles, “Get Over It?”
The problem that people perceive tattoos employers have with tattoos is often based upon the employers own opinion. However, it is not necessarily the employers opinion that matters but what the customer will think. Only last month Starbucks lifted their ban on visible tattoos for their baristas, and yet British Airways won’t even interview anyone with a tattoo that won’t be concealed by their uniform. These are two very different companies with clearly situated outlooks on tattoos, but they in fact very similar aims: pleasing the customer. Starbucks is all about the customer as an individual, hence the terribly un-British custom of first name terms with complete strangers. Allowing their baristas to show off their tattoos alludes to a sense of informality. Their tag line, “it’s personal”, would seem to contradict itself if they made a fuss about anyone with a tattoo; it would be just a bit of a blunder for Starbucks to forgo celebrating diversity, individuality, freedom of expression along with your pumpkin spice. Yet anyone can see that BA are hardly a pillar for individuality. Maybe it’s old fashioned, and maybe one day they will have to change. But right now their slightly stuffy image oozes middle class, a thorny rose wrapped around the air hostess calf, apparently doesn’t.
Unfortunately the general view on tattoos is still somewhat dated; the more visible the tattoo is, the more unsavoury it is. Top and bottom if it, people are going to judge, that can’t be argued. However as we live in a more progressive world I will argue that people are not so much judging the tattoo itself, but more where it is and what it is. Exhibit A, Cheryl Cole’s well- documented rose tattoo which covers her entire backside: subtle it isn’t, tacky it is. Let’s not ever start on Tulisa’s “lucky you” tattoo just above her crotch. It is not the actual tattoo that is the problem, but rather the conscious decision to have something incredibly tacky and borderline obscene permanently inked onto their skin.
Of course we can flip this argument on its head and say that is one of the beauties of tattoos: their uniqueness. Many people het tattoos to mark a significant event, period of person within their life and many tattoos carry huge significance, even if they are obscure. We’ve all seen Jennifer Aniston’s tribute to her beloved dog “Norman”, and Johnny Depp’s somewhat strikinly eccentric inked tributes to his kids. Penelope Cruz has three tiny numbers on her ankle that no one knows the meaning of, but it’s clearly something deeply personal and meaningful to her like so many tattoos are to their owner. Tattoos have the potential to be as beautiful as they do tacky and it is human nature to judge them and employers are no exception to that.
Perhaps I’m being presumptuous but feel I can offer a slightly balanced option as I myself have recently got a tattoo… and I am also studying for a Management degree. It is because of this I can say that image is image, regardless of who agrees with it. Company’s create an image for themselves that can make or break them,. Just look at M&S desperately trying to claw their way out of the crevasse of the perceived middle aged market they’ve been stuck in for decades; hiring young, beautiful, famous people to show how cool and rad they actually are. Sometimes company’s have no choice but to make decisions based on appearance. Personally, I saw an epic cat tattoo on someones hand and was transfixed by it, it was cute and quirky and I kind of wanted it myself. Her tattoo was amazing and she was lovely, but hypothetically would I employ her for a corporate job, probably not.
Tattoos can be a beautiful way to show off your personality. But to some people, they might be ugly and cheap, and a source of hilarious ridicule. Just ask the guy who had “plan ahead” tattooed on his hands, but started the second word on his index finger not thumb- think about it! To a degree, given the clear stigma attached to a tattoo and the evident disdain from the corporate world it may seem logical to say don’t get one, or if you really must, get one that you can hide. However, you also have to ask yourself if you really want to work somewhere that will stigmatise you for your body art. Ultimately, a tattoo might mean as much to you as your career.