Beauty may only be skin deep, but there are so many ways in which we can beautify the surface, it almost doesn’t matter. We have access to cosmetics, clothes and accessories to make us look smart and professional in at work and make us feel confident, glamorous and dazzling while we play. For many of us, however, this is merely the tip of the iceberg. Since time immemorial people of various different cultures have chosen to use piercings and tattoos to beautify themselves, to commemorate a particular moment or to make a strong statement about themselves, and their beliefs.

There are some cultures, such as the Maori, for whom tattoos are not only a part of their cultural identity, tattoos (especially on the face) have sacred religious significances. Nonetheless, in a lot of the developed world, tattoos (especially those on the face or hands where they cannot be covered by casual clothing) can come under scrutiny by employers. Talk to anyone who’s ever picked up a tattoo apron and they’ll be able to tell you the story of someone who has been reprimanded or even fired by their employer for their tattoos.


Pride and Prejudice


Most employers would say that they want their employees to take pride in their appearance, yet they have a very specific idea of what they mean by pride. Pride implies a sense of cleanliness, smartness and professionalism in one’s appearance, yet however comprehensive an employee may be in this, the fact remains that employers do harbor prejudices against tattoos. In a 2014 survey, a cross section of Canadian employers were asked whether tattoos would affect their decision to hire that person. 77% of employers said that they would, or might be less likely to hire a candidate because of their ink.


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Is it all relative


Different careers and different employees will take very different stances on visible tattoos. Although most employers admit that the presence of tattoos can potentially be an issue, most concede that the issue is complicated by various issues, such as the size of the tattoo, where it is positioned on the body and the content of the image itself. It’s in this last factor that a thorny issue arises. Some images are irrevocably problematic by nature of their presence and can severely prejudice an employer against a candidate. A swastika, for example, tattooed onto a prominent place would be understandably problematic for an employer in the service industry. Even if the candidate in question had no affiliation with the hate filled connotations of the image, the image itself would still be problematic.


Should we think before we ink?


Many people hold the belief that the presence of tattoos shouldn’t be an impediment to their career, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be. Even if employers are absolutely fine with your choice of tattoos, if a loyal customer or important client raises an objection to an image that is visible while you’re at work, this could prove troublesome.

The truth is that while tattoos are becoming increasingly accepted in Western society and prejudice against inked persons is on the wan, there will always be a contingent of people for whom the sight of tattoos is ghastly and offensive.

Perhaps it’s merely a matter of common sense and thinking about the nature of our jobs, the kind of people we’ll come into contact with and how they may perceive us before we enter the tattoo parlour. Or perhaps the onus is on those around us to rethink their perspectives.