Today I noticed a group of Facebook pages dedicated to the eradication of what they call “tattoo discrimination.” One page, in particular, was very well composed, with blogs about tattoo discrimination in the workplace, social discrimination, and general gripes about how people with tattoos are treated unfairly in society because of their ink. The site sums up its mission statement by saying that “as tattooing has become more mainstream, we are still not finding work or we are forced to cover up our expressions of art and life. We need an end to the discrimination that we are forced to face on a daily basis.”
As a tattooed person, I don’t feel that way at all. And I know I’m not alone in my sentiments, am I?
Every day, each one of us perceives the people we meet in different ways, and we draw conclusions about them based upon those perceptions. We think things like “that blonde has a great body,” or “the new guy at work really needs to iron his shirt,” or “the waitress has fake fingernails.” Those are all perceptions based entirely upon visual cues made in less than a moment, and we can and do draw conclusions about those people that we see based upon how they present themselves to the world. Why wouldn’t tattoos be a part of that visual perception? More importantly, don’t we as tattooed people accept that and perhaps even want it that way?
When you choose to tattoo your body, you are making a bold choice on a number of levels. First and most immediately, you are choosing to inflict pain and stress upon your body for no medical purpose. Second, you are choosing to incorporate a design in ink onto your body that will remain a part of your body for the rest of your life. Third, you are making an alteration to your body that, if visible to the general public, will be a part of the perception that people form about you. None of these things should be a surprise to anyone who has a tattoo. We recognize them and accept them before even thinking about getting tattooed.
On a personal level, I would love to display my tattoos while I am at work. I would love to get tattoos across my knuckles and on the backs of my hands. However, I work in an extremely traditional profession, and I just don’t see that ever happening. Frankly, I’m not sure I’d want to. It would require such a shift in traditional thinking that it would be the ultimate mark of tattoos’ transition from the outside to the mainstream. I don’t think I want that. More importantly, I recognize that just as I have the right to tattoo my body, my employer has the right to say that I need to cover my tattoos while I am working. I’d never supposed that my rights to get tattooed eclipse my employer’s rights to set out the terms of my employment, and if I did feel that way, I have the option of renegotiating those terms finding other work. Forced “acceptance” of my tattoos in the workplace seems like a ridiculous option to me.
I don’t believe that most tattooed people want a hard and fast halt to tattoo “discrimination,” nor do I believe anything of the kind is possible. Even if workplaces were forced to do away with dress codes that require tattoos to be covered up, that would just scratch the surface of the discrimination perceived by the group with the Myspace page. I don’t want to force anyone to accept me. Either they get me, or they don’t. If they don’t, it’s their loss.