Contemporary issues

Tattoo taboo: Are professionals being suppressed?

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There are a growing number of people nowadays who want to get tattoos, a plethora of reasons are there but they mostly come down to self-expression. It’s 2016, people should be able to do what they like with their own bodies and their job shouldn’t restrict that.

Self-expression can come in many forms, including piercings and dyed hair, as well as tattoos but there is a stigmatism that these things are not acceptable in “white collar” jobs. Well, to be on show at least.

Take the person who reads you the news at whatever TV station you watch – they probably don’t have tattoos on show, nor will they have any piercings, apart from maybe the odd earing or two, and their hair is likely to be a natural colour.

There are several reasons that there is opposition to tattoos; they are not considered professional, they are stereotyped to be related to danger or crime and they can be distracting. That’s according to Tat2x Blog anyway.

Obviously, other professionals will be more understanding than other when it comes to these forms of self-expression but will there ever be a time when body art will be wholly accepted?

That is something that Liverpool Hope and University of Salford teacher Brian Plumridge hopes for, he said: “Does being ‘smart’ in appearance, as defined in some vague unwritten concept actually matter? I don’t think so. In fact what is ‘acceptable’, and who defined it? The problem is that media organisations like to look for middle ground, so their journalists look okay for everyone.

“The million dollar question is what would I do if I was the chief executive of News Corp? I’d say wear what you like, in fact I’d have a ‘be yourself’ policy. I’d make it a point to say the way our team look and behave is honest and true, just like our product.”

Clearly, there aren’t too many people in the journalism industry as open-minded as Brian but there are people on both sides of the tattoo fence that understand why tattoos are generally covered up.

Joe Redmond, editor of Burnley Today (formerly Bay TV Liverpool), who does have some ink on his arm, said: “I can see why [journalists] are asked to do it. I couldn’t imagine somebody doing a Paxman-style show covered in tattoos or a reporter at local election with neck tattoos.”

Joe goes on to make a good point about tattoos being shown on live TV; there is not currently a mainstream show around that would likely prefer their employees to have body art. An example he offers is “a ‘Wired’ magazine-style TV show because of the image that they have”.

Another idea could be a watershed – as in tattoos are okay after 8 or 9PM – but it still wouldn’t work for organisations like the BBC or Sky. The former Bay TV editor said: “A [tattooed] look with red hair and a nose stud doesn’t look professional one bit and it would, in my opinion, ruin the person’s work. People who don’t have a journalism background would just be commenting on the look rather than the work they’re doing.”

Is covering up tattoos, removing piercings and keeping hair looking natural suppression or is this a necessity? University teacher, Mr Plumridge, thinks that it is both, he said: “When the Hillsborough inquests started in Warrington I covered the opening and interviewed family members. It’s a sober occasion.

“Imagine if I turned up in a lime green suit and piano tie. Sensible hair, no tattoos, but dressed flamboyantly. It could be seen as insensitive. Could be. Not definitely, but maybe. So if you’re a journalist and you are out all day covering maybe four stories, one of them a murder, one a charity event, one a court case, and one sport it might be fair to agree that a sober appearance is necessary.

“Again, it’s safe and neutral. It might also influence the decision of people whether or not to be interviewed by you. The old adage, ‘you only get one chance to make a first impression’. But then a smart shirt and trousers with tattoo showing on an arm shouldn’t be a problem.”

But are we moving toward a time when tattoos, and other forms of self-expression, are not just to be accepted but also to be expected? Brian certainly thinks so, he said: “Tattoos are still a little at odds with that, albeit in 20, 30 or 40 years I’m guessing tattoos will be as acceptable as not wearing a jacket or tie for work. The world just isn’t quite ready for it yet.”

Jared Chambers, business development consultant at Berkeley Research Group, has a different outlook on the subject. Mr Chambers looks at it from an employer’s perspective and likens picking a potential employee with tattoos on show to deciding to rent a low-rider when selecting a car, he told Sally Pearmam on LinkedIn: “While you’re at work, you’re leasing yourself; your knowledge, time, abilities, service and personal representation. If I rent a home I don’t want the purple one. If I rent a car, I don’t want the low-rider on fat chrome.

“Having said that, some might and that’s okay but you don’t get to blame [the person renting] who decides those things. The thing to consider is not simply whether or not to get a tattoo or whether to display them, that’s a personal choice. The reality is that when you decide on such things, you limit the potential [employers]. If you are okay with limiting [that] then fine but you don’t get to complain.”

Jared doesn’t hold the most liberal opinion but he does have a point. In the current climate of professional work, it is a risk to get a tattoo with the odds that you end up working for someone like Mr Chambers who would prefer employing somebody that doesn’t have body art. Maybe this will change over the next decade or so, like Brian said, and people will be more accepting of self-expression but as of right now it appears as if it’s an issue.


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