The newest generation of professionals are faced with a dilemma when it comes to entering the workforce: visible tattoos and piercings.
Tattoos are often seen as unprofessional by employers, but this narrative is outdated and it is time for what is defined as “professional” to change.
In 2007, CBS reported research at the time that found 23 percent of college students had one to three tattoos, 51 percent were pierced beyond women's ears and 36 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds had tattoos.
There’s a new generation entering the workforce, and the norms are starting to change. People are getting tattoos now more than ever. As of 2014, BBC reported that 40 percent of American households include someone with a tattoo.
People are encouraged to find themselves during their college years and this looks like a wide range of things, from changing clothing styles to hair colors, but this transformative time can result in permanent decisions like getting a tattoo.
Ironically, college also serves as a time to prepare young adults for their career paths, and at the end of it they don’t deserve to find themselves at a crossroads between who they are and the job they wish to have.
With the atmosphere of tattoos and piercings beyond the earlobes being labeled as “unprofessional,” many of these college-educated professionals would find themselves out of work, meaning they had thrown four plus years and thousands of dollars down the drain if they can’t find a job in their area of study.
Now yes, finding a job in their area of study is already hard, but we as a society should not be making it harder by limiting job options to people who have tattoos or piercings. These people are no less professional than someone with no tattoos or piercings, they have just chosen to express themselves through art on their bodies.
And that is just what tattoos are: art. They are a way of an individual expressing themselves on their skin, showing what they love and care about, what they find cool and interesting, who they have loved, who they have lost, and most importantly, who they have been and who they are striving to be.
Tattoos are the living legacy of a person there for the whole world to see, tattoos are their lives laid bare upon their skin. When we as a society realize this and look upon people with tattoos with the respect they deserve for showing us their lives, then we will realize that in some cases these people are more mature and hard-working and professional than people without tattoos.
Piercings are almost the same, just like any other piece of jewelry, piercings are a statement about a person’s taste in style and once again, how a person chooses to express themselves. There are hundreds of different types of piercings out in the world, from earlobes and septums to nipples and eyebrows, a wide range of the body can be pierced and has been over the years.
The same as with tattoos, these piercings can tell a story, an example is the daith piercing, which many individuals have found to relieve chronic migraines after the piercing has been completed. Taking that action to relieve pain for oneself is not unprofessional. In fact, taking care of oneself is probably one of the most professional things someone can do.
One large group of people in particular that often faces discrimination when seeking a job when they have tattoos are educators.
Even in 2020, many school systems in the United States do not allow teachers to have tattoos or to only have a limited number of them. Some schools do allow teaching staff or school leaders to have tattoos, as long as they are not visible.
This is made worse because future educators who are currently in college have to check with schools individually before they even think about getting a tattoo as every school has different rules for tattoos and even piercings and just getting a septum piercing could drastically restrict where they can teach.
This means people think educators with tattoos are less professional and their ability to teach is somehow less than those without tattoos, which makes no sense at all.
There are actually no proven reasons why educators should not have tattoos and how body art can negatively affect children.
In fact, most children do not seem to notice body art or simply find them interesting versus negatively seeing them. This means all of these arguments against teachers having tattoos are based in old rhetoric and not in research or having actually talked with students.
However, against all of this, many educators are continuing to get tattoos. Just look at professors, lecturers and teacher assistants at Iowa State, many of whom have visible tattoos and piercings. These professionals are not treated any differently than their nontattooed counterparts. Now we need to get this kind of view into K-12 schools.
We haven't even gotten in the realm of how tattoos and piercings often have cultural significance to many different marginalized groups within the United States, and if we continue to have this view that these certain practices are “unprofessional,” we will continue to oppress these people and their cultural expressions just because it doesn’t fit into the box of the cisgender straight white perspective.
Examples of how tattoos reflect a cultural significance can be seen in the Native Americans and Polynesians, but these are just two groups of hundreds around the world who rely on tattoos as part of their culture.
Many different cultures embrace tattoos and they can have a lot of meanings symbolizing different accomplishments or parts of someone’s life. To state that someone is unprofessional simply for partaking in their culture is just plain wrong and needs to be stopped.
Detractors may want to bring up some tattoos and piercings just in themselves aren’t professional and we at the Iowa State Daily Editorial Board do agree.
Tattoos showing off violent content and nudity are on the more unprofessional side of things and should be covered up in places of work, especially by educators around young children due to that content often being viewed as not acceptable for children to view.
In that context, we agree some tattoos should be covered up in places of work. However, these should only be based on the content, not the idea of tattoos in general.
On the piercing side, depending on how healed the piercing is, the piercing can be switched out from something that doesn’t quite fit the dress code to something simpler that does. So for example, flashy jewelry can be switched out for more fashionable or stylish pieces that fit within dress code standards for the rest of jewelry.
Even though we agree there are some circumstances where tattoos should be covered or piercings changed, we still believe all tattoos, with the exception of tattoos expressing hate speech, and all piercings should be allowed to be had by those in the workforce and those individuals with tattoos and piercings should not be discriminated against for any reason.
Everyone in the workforce is a working professional and they all deserve to be treated as such, even those with tattoos and piercings.