Volume 97 Issue 8 Oped

Tattoos and Piercings in the Work Place

by Julia Wagner

Her upper arm was splashed with vibrant blues, reds and purples blended together to create a rainbow of beautiful pastel colors. Intricate lines swirled along her skin, creating a blooming rose in the midst of the effervescent hues. The tattoo was part of her, a piece of art using her skin as its medium.

But imagine she is also a doctor, on call working the night shift. In the eighth hour of her ten-hour shift, the familiar buzz of her pager shakes her pocket, springing her into action. In her rush to get to the patient, she does not have time to grab her white coat to cover the tattoo on her arm. When she rushes into the hospital room, she immediately goes to help a child currently suffering from respiratory arrest.

Before she can get to the patient, a strong hand grips her arm, stopping her in place. The mother of the child is looking at the tattoo on her arm in disgust. She begins demanding that a different doctor treat her child because she does not believe in tattooing the body. Due to the artwork on her arm, a mother is refusing to let the doctor do her job while a child’s life is in jeopardy.

Are modifications to the skin what keeps employers from hiring qualified individuals? The fear that someone will see them as unprofessional? Any mother in her right mind should not care if a doctor was tattooed or pierced, as long as they can help their child.

This fear is irrational and stopping people from reaching their full potential—stopping talented people from being able to share their gifts. Employers who turn people away due to visible tattoos and piercings are doing nothing more than hurting their business.

Tattoos have been an increasing issue as they have gained popularity. The spike started around the early 2000s. After 16 years, employers still seem to believe that having body modifications equates to a poor work ethic.

If they claim that skin art is unprofessional, it’s not. What is unprofessional is turning someone away who has the proper credentials and skill set simply because they have tattoos. How a person modifies their body should not be the business of their employer, unless those modifications directly affect their business and work ethic.

Why do we measure someone’s professionalism by what is on their skin? Piercings and tattoos are a way to express yourself. Not only that, but it is also an art form. The amount of time and effort that goes into tattoos is incredible. When I got my tattoo, I spent four hours with the artist going over the design, reviewing the sketch and then getting the tattoo.

Why are we shamed for having artwork on our skin instead of on a canvas? Tattoos have been around for millennia, dating back to the Neolithic era. Egyptians used to tattoo themselves to show respect for their religion, for healing and to show their standing in society. Piercings in many cultures are a sign of beauty and respect.

When in history did we reach a point where these beautiful modifications became taboo? How did we get to this point? Better yet, how do we get away from it?

People seem to equate tattoos and piercings with gangs and criminals, simply because there are certain tattoos that do represent criminal activity.

Having tattoos does not equate to being a criminal. In fact, some of the most successful and kind people I know have tattoos and piercings.

My uncle, who is the head pediatric neurosurgeon at Hershey Medical Center, has a tattoo on his back. He chose that spot so the tattoo did not get in the way of his aspirations and dreams. Since no one can see it, he has never once been held back. While this is a good thing, it is a shame that he has to hide it.

Would my uncle have been hired if his tattoo had been visible? Would he have been turned away by his employers and never gained one of the most important positions at the hospital?

He is an example of how twisted some concepts of tattoos and piercings are. To me, he is a good, honest man, and the fact he has a tattoo clearly has not changed that. People cannot see his tattoo, so he has not had to confront the possible discrimination and prejudices that people with visible modifications confront every day.

Before I got my tattoo, the amount of people who looked at me and said, “Don’t you want to be a doctor?” was infuriating. I clenched my teeth, smiled, and assured them that it would be hidden. I don’t want to be in a world where my worth is measured by what is on my skin.

No one should be turned away because they have expressed their love for something by getting a tattoo. We need to move away from the shame that comes with these modifications and move toward a future where people are hired based on to their qualifications and skill sets. Otherwise we will have so much wasted talent in this world, and that is a sad concept.

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