Removing stigmas, not tattoos


The Army announced plans last Wednesday to lift its harshest bans on tattoos for soldiers. Extremist, racist and sexist tattoos will still be banned, and notably, neck tattoos, as well. But other than that, soldiers will not be restricted in their tattoo choices as long as they are covered by their uniform.  

I’m excited about this change in rules, not because I have any immediate plans to join the Army, but because this change reflects that negative stigmatization of tattoos is a lessening trend within the workplace. And it’s about time that companies and employers realize that exercising the choice to get a tattoo should in no way reflect the intelligence, trustworthiness or work ethic of a person.

I believe this change in the perception of tattoos is largely driven by how popular tattoos have become among the millennial generation. According to a 2010 Pew Research Study, almost 40 percent of millennials have at least one tattoo compared to the 23 percent of the overall US population with one.  

According to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, this prevalence was a driving force for the Army tattoo policy change. “Society is changing its view of tattoos … Soldiers have grown up in an era when tattoos are much more acceptable and we have to change along with that,” Odierno said.  

While it is great for our age group that this stigma seems to be going away, we cannot mistake the lessening of this view as a complete removal of it or its consequences.

The Career Center webpage gives the advice for those dressing to impress for a job to “Avoid displaying tattoos,” reinforcing the idea that tattoos can have a negative impact when seen by employers. Further, these stereotypes and negative ideas associated with tattoos have even extended and impacted me personally.

I am one of the many millennials with a tattoo. Actually, with a handful of them. Normal work clothes can hide all of my tattoos, except a penny-sized one behind my ear. But I have, in fact, been turned down from a job here on campus because of that tattoo specifically. For me, it was disappointing to not get this job, but what was extremely frustrating was how such a small part of who I am was unwillingly picked to represent me over large parts of who I am as an employee, such as my reliability, work ethic and experience.

The workplace stigma of tattoos is seemingly twofold: Many employers personally believe tattoos reflect negative qualities of a person, and there is also a belief that many customers look down upon workers with tattoos. The fact that employees or customers could find tattoos unattractive seems like a shallow and ineffective criteria upon which to judge potential workers, as is any other discrimination based on personal appearance.

I’m not arguing that employers don’t have the legal right to discriminate based on tattoos, because they do, but that the discrimination is based on unfair misjudgments, and that penalizing people for having tattoos is wrong. 

Tattoos by themselves don’t and shouldn’t reflect anything negative about a person. There’s nothing inherently harmful or bad about a tattoo, only that there are people who will choose to interpret them as representing negative qualities in a person. My tattoos have no connection to my intellect, my work ethic or my trustworthiness, and this holds true for every other person with a tattoo.

I don’t think the solution to tattoos in the workplace is policing the personal choice to get them, but rather challenging the negative assumptions associated with people who have tattoos. Certainly, getting a tattoo is a choice, but choosing to view them negatively is a choice just as well.

Audrey is a senior in LAS.

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