Tattoos & Stereotypes: The Workplace

Tattoo Acceptance

Judging a person based on their tattoos is not different then judging a person on their skin colour, gender, or sexual orientation.

Roughly 14 percent of Americans have tattoos and the majority of them have heard at some point, “you will never find a job…” or “you better cover that up for the interview…”. However, as times change has the perception of tattoos in the workplace? 

In this modern era there is a trending push for workplace diversity. “Equal Opportunity Employers” attempt to include individuals from a variety of backgrounds, ethnicity, sexual orientations, abilities etc. Yet, why do so many individuals feel the need to cover up their tattoos, or forgo getting one all together?

The reason, body image and modification are still viewed as social taboos. 

When recently filling out applications for scholarships I was asked questions pertaining to my abilities, disabilities, sexual orientation and heritage so I would be better matched to the appropriate scholarships. Interestingly enough, I was asked a very limited amount of questions regarding my GPA and academic history. I acknowledge this was only an initial screening process but I found the process very superficial and image orientated. So there I was checking boxes here and selecting ones there, then I was asked if I was a member of the LGBT community.

Does that REALLY matter?

Apparently it does.

Once again, it helps find “special” scholarships geared to the LGBT community.

I checked “Yes”

But while I’m clicking boxes I couldn’t help but think what about other individuals. By simply clicking “Yes” I immediately stigmatized myself. But what about  individuals with tattoos that face discrimination everyday, especially in the workplace, why isn’t there a “special” box for them? 

The point being, society still discriminates against individuals with tattoos, ultimately creating inequality, yet gives them no “special” treatment in comparison to other oppressed individuals.  

Tattoo Stereotype

Many hiring managers have repeatedly said it’s not what they think of tattoos/piercings it’s what the consumers and general public think. Despite the attempts at equal opportunity, the employers equal hiring strategy can become futile, due to a society that prides ourselves on “first impressions”. 

According to, a June 2012 survey by Captivate, a digital media firm, found that various age groups have diverging views on acceptable workplace appearance. Participants over the age of 50 were far more likely to find tattoos distracting than those in the 35-49 age range. A study released in 2010 by the Pew Research Center notes that 70 percent of those between 18- and 29-years of age who have tattoos, decided to conceal their body ink under clothing.


However, is success completely reliant on appearance, it appears so. According to the

A male manager said seeing a tattoo would ‘subconsciously stop’ him hiring the applicant, while another said ‘tattoos are the first thing they [fellow recruiters] talk about when the person has gone out of the door.’

One woman manager simply said ‘they make a person look dirty’, the British Sociological Association conference on work, employment and society in Warwick was told.

Dr Timming explained: ‘Respondents expressed concern that visibly tattooed workers may be perceived by customers to be abhorrent, repugnant, unsavoury and untidy. 

‘It was surmised that customers might project a negative service experience based on stereotypes that tattooed people are thugs and druggies.’

Tattoos and Stereotypes: What Can Be Done?

Tattoo Stereotype


It’s human nature to normalize what we have become accustom too. It’s also easier to trust what we know and avoid/fear what we don’t. While acknowledging this human characteristic we need to keep an open mind and begin to trust the “unknown”. As a society we need to stop associating tattoos with negative perceptions and images.

Employers who are engaged in equal opportunity hiring can be the driving force behind changing these negative stereotypes. Leading by example and hiring individuals with visible tattoos can assist in breaking social barriers that hinder the abilities of people with tattoos. If we want equality we must support equality, in all shapes and forms.

Don’t forget every tattoo has a story and with every story there’s an individual behind that tattoo who would most likely love to tell it. Tattoos have meaning, yes not everyone will agree, but for the people who have tattoos they are beautiful works of art and should be respected. After all you wouldn’t judge someone based on their skin colour, age, or sex would you?

Tattoos are no different. 





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