By Shannon Reardon
Conventional wisdom once dictated that if people had tattoos they were either a soldier, a sailor, a biker or some other form of social outcast. In more recent years, this notion has changed: tattoos are now for anyone.
A national survey conducted in 1990 found that 3 percent of respondents had at least one tattoo. In 2012, the Harris poll reported 38 percent of respondents aged 30-39 have one or more tattoos, as well as 30 percent of those who are 25-29, and 22 percent of people 18-24.
“Women often seek tattoos for personal decoration and to feel independent, and men more often get tattoos as a symbol of group identity,” stated Lynda Dickson, Richard L. Dukes, Hilary Smith, and Noel Strapko in their study on the meaning of tattoos for college students.
That same study reports that individuals with tattoos say that the reasons they get their tattoos is to feel more sexy (30 percent), rebellious (25 percent), attractive (21 percent), strong (21 percent), and spiritual (16 percent).
“Tattoos also can be an important feature of affect management through which individuals attempt to overcome emotions of pain, stress, sorrow and loss- such as the death of a loved one-in an active, normative and controlled way,” said Dickson, Dukes, Smith, and Strapko. “Not only can the tattoo serve as a tangible memorial, but also the physical pain of getting the tattoo can help symbolically to exorcise the emotional pain of the loss.”
With the number of tattoos on the rise, experts say that employers may have to consider being more lenient with their policies towards body modifications.
“It can be argued that employers will need to change their hiring practices as the pool of otherwise qualified applicants displays previously unacceptable modifications,” wrote Brian Elzaweig and Donna Peeples in the Society for
Advanced Management Journal. “It should also be recognized that society in general is becoming more accepting of these alterations, so the employer’s argument against hiring or retaining persons with modifications is becoming weak in many cases possibly adverse to the interests of the organizations.”
But if the policies do not change, what happens to the younger generation who have decided to adorn their bodies with colorful imagery?
The U.S. military took a stance against tattoos, for the Marines, as early as 2007, stating that the branches would grandfather in the service members who already had full tattoo sleeves on their arms or legs.
Today, most armed services recruits are to have no more than four tattoos on their arms and legs, and no bigger than their extended hands, though larger tattoos on the torso are acceptable.
The Navy, however, recently updated their policy allowing recruits to have fully sleeved arms and legs, stating that the change was made so that the Navy was able to retain and recruit talented sailors.
Tattoos on the torso are unacceptable if they show through the white Navy uniforms; all branches of military prohibit tattoos on the neck, face, or head, as well as hand tattoos.
Krissy Dimattia, 29, a liberal arts major at DCCC, said she has faced backlash for her body modifications at her job.
Dimattia has roughly 19 tattoos and piercings, and is a part-time supervisor at UPS, which has a policy against visible tattoos and piercings.
“They told me I couldn’t be a lead supervisor because I didn’t look professional, but I’m just as good as everybody else,” she said. “The times are changing. [Tattoos and piercings] will be accepted one day.”
Another company strongly against body modifications is Disney, which is looking for what they call “The Disney Look.”
This particular look, as listed on Disney’s website, focuses on employees looking “clean, natural, and professional,” and avoids the extreme and cutting edge trends, “[which] include, but are not limited to: visible tattoos, brands, body piercings (other than the traditional ear piercing for women), tongue piercing or splitting, tooth filling, earlobe expansion and disfiguring skin implants. Tattoos must be discreetly and completely covered at all times.”
Tattoo artist Fred Patterson, of Tiny Tim’s Boulevard Tattoos in Glenholden, said that work can be a factor for a tattoos placement, but, overall, it depends on the person.
“I had a guy fly in from Tennessee so I could tattoo him, and at first glance you wouldn’t be able to tell he had tattoos,” said Patterson. “He’s an IT guy, he’s very proper looking, but underneath he is covered in tattoos… You can’t always judge a book by its cover.”
Still, Patterson admits that some business people are not accepting of tattoos.
“People in sales, or those who work for a conglomerate, might not get visible tattoos because of how the people they’re working with may react,” he said. “Sometimes you have to look like money to make money.”
Though there are workplaces, such as Disney, that are striving for the “clean and natural look,” there are companies who have begun to rewrite their policies to include those with tattoos.
Wawa, for instance, just recently changed their policy on appearance.
“We want our associates to reflect the communities they’re in, which nowadays, are filled with people who have tattoos and piercings,” said human resources representative, Donna Zageil. “It shows their personalities and diversity.”
Under the new policy, Wawa is allowing their employees to have visible tattoos that are non-offensive; they removed sections dictating gender-specific uniform guidelines created a gender- neutral uniform policy; and regulated all piercing to follow the Food and Drug Administration’s policy for piercings, which prohibits dangling earrings or jewelry with stones, such as diamonds.
According to Zageil, since Wawa has allowed employees to show their tattoos at work, customers were polled about their thoughts, and the company has received no negative feedback.
Whether a company allows tattoos or not, Patterson emphasized the real life implications that come with getting tattoos.
“Tattoos come with a lot of responsibilities,” he said. “You have to be a strong person to get them, because once you cover yourself in tattoos, people will stereotype you for the rest of your life.”