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Tattoo Taboo?

I have a lot of tattoos. Fourteen, to be exact. Each one holds special meaning for me. The most noticeable of these are the string of music notes that run from the inside of my ear to my neck, and the psi symbol on my wrist. Yesterday I was in the supermarket, preparing to walk out the door, groceries in hand when I passed a thirty-something man and a young girl I assume was his daughter. As I walked past them, the man tapped my shoulder and, in a very condescending voice, asked me how many of “those marks” I had. I was confused for a second but realized that he was talking about my tattoos. “Oh! I have fourteen,” I told him. He snarled at me and said, I quote, “Have fun waiting tables and sleeping around all your life.” He grabbed his daughter and hurried away, leaving me standing in shock.

Just for the record, I have been married to the same man for eighteen years and we have three wonderful children. I hold a Ph.D in Developmental Psychology and an M.Ed in Educational Psychology, and I am the counselor at a fairly prestigious private high school. I don’t think that equates with “waiting tables and sleeping around.” I could list a dozen factors, ranging from cultural influence to entitlement issues, that may have led this man to the conclusion that people with tattoos are beneath him, and he’s entitled to that opinion. He is not, however, entitled to belittle others, especially people he knows nothing about. I find it even more repulsive that he would act this way in front of his young, impressionable daughter. 0731-13

For me, it is the content of the tattoo that may reveal the character of the person wearing them.  I’ve seen some horrific, gruesome tats that glorify death and violence or sex and I wonder about the nature of someone who would choose to permanently place those kinds of images as a bold advertisement on their skin.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Melissa August 15, 2013, 12:36 pm

    Being tattooed in public is somewhat similar to being fat in public. People of different choices feel superior and therefore allowed to share their disdain for your looks/choices. Words like “disgusting” and “careless” are thrown around, assumptions are made about a stranger’s lifestyle, there is unwarranted advice to cover yourself, as if you should be ashamed- you get the picture. One difference I notice now is that when a story of someone being rude to a fat person comes in, the main comments are usually sympathetic and not “Well yes that is rude, but it does say something about your lazy/violent lifestyle” or “but you should have known that would attract attention.” For the sake of politeness and tolerance in sociecty as a whole it might be better to just keep our “I would NEVER” (alter my skin, eat meat, watch TV, whatever it is, we all have one) statements in our heads- though this isn’t the crowd I need to tell that to I know!

  • Hannah August 15, 2013, 12:43 pm

    Some people are so insecure, and they think if they can’t feel good about themselves, no one else should be able to like him/herself, either. I am also repulsed by tattoos of crass or grotesque images, but even if that were what you had showing (I don’t see how musical notes are in anyway comparable to a naked woman!), it’s nobody else’s business!

    And yes, what is WRONG with making a career out of serving at a restaurant?? I hate to think how this guy probably treats waitresses (and cashiers, call-center representatives, and everyone else he thinks is “below” him!).

  • Ergala August 15, 2013, 12:50 pm

    I have 4 tattoos. Two on my neck and two on my ankle. I just recently lopped off my hair so now my neck ones are visible all the time. I’ve had a few comments, usually asking if they hurt. But these very clearly have meaning to me. One is an ode to motherhood and the other is representative of my children and I.

    To the poster who wouldn’t hire someone with tattoos. You really should google search some tattoo acceptance sites. You’d be blown away at the doctors, dentists, teachers, lawyers….etc…all who have tattoos. And I don’t mean little ones, I mean large sleeves and ones that cover their backs or legs. Would you demand a different doctor if you were having a heart attack and saw yours had a sleeve? Probably not. Tattoos to me is an art form. I don’t walk in , point to a picture in a book, and say “I want THAT one.”. Sure some people do do that, but not me. Each of mine has a meaning. It’s how I decorate my temple. If you don’t want to hire me based on some decoration on my skin imagine you are really missing out on some great employees. Tattoos don’t mean we’re unprofessional or uneducated. It means we decided to invest time and money into expressing ourselves. And we do it KNOWING that we’ll be judged but know it’s our right. That’s an assertive confident person.

  • Gamer Girl August 15, 2013, 12:57 pm

    You cannot judge a book by its cover. This is a proven thing.

    I have visible tattoos and at one time or another sported super short, spiky, multi-colored hair and a nose ring. I’ve also been on the PTA at almost every school my son has attended, was on the honor roll every semester I was in college (while my husband was deployed 90% of the time) and am currently in charge of my husband’s medical care as his caregiver. I’m also about to apply to graduate school in Museology (b/c I’m a nerd like that.) My husband and I have been together for 17 yrs.

    My sister-in-law works in a large insurance company. She too has multiple tattoos and piercings. She’s one of the smartest people I know. Not once has her body modifications or style interfered with her ability to work. My nieces know that they are free to express their creativity without judgement as they grow up. She and my brother have been together since high school.

    One of my best friends is a teacher. At one time he was a department head at high school. His entire back is done and he sports ear plugs (the large holes in the earlobe). He’s been awarded for his excellence in teaching and is respected by his students. He also regularly goes to ComiCons. He and his wife have two gorgeous, intelligent boys and are absolutely mad about each other.

    One of my classmates in college wore long skirts, loose fitting shirts, had no tattoos, no piercings, no funny hair colors. She looked like a good, conservative, religious woman.
    She had 3 kids by 3 different dads, had never been married and had a new boyfriend bi-weekly. She also was arrested twice for DUI while we were in school together, came to class intoxicated on more than one occasion and had a restraining order against her by an ex-boyfriend (which she liked to brag about b/c she had “kicked his a$$!”). One of her kids lived with its dad, the other two spent most of their time with their grandmother.

    If you had lined myself, my sister, my friend and this girl up, I can bet you that my former classmate would have been considered the most “normal” based on appearances alone. Books and covers, people. Books and covers.

  • The Elf August 15, 2013, 1:09 pm

    “What will I look like in the nursing home?”

    This is my least favorite attack on tattooing. If I’m a nursing home, I think I’m going to have bigger issues than a tattooed rose looking particularly long-stemmed! And since there’s so many of my age with tattoos we can all sit around and fail to remember when and why we got them.

  • Kimstu August 15, 2013, 1:14 pm

    @I dissent: “I really dislike tattoos and find them repulsive and ugly. If I were a hiring manager and if equally qualified candidates interviewed for a job, I would reject the one that showed up with tattoos visible while wearing normal business clothes.”

    Thereby possibly making your company liable to a lawsuit. If you personally are repulsed by tattoos, due to psychological trauma related to an unwanted birthmark or for any other reason, then okay, you’re entitled to your opinion and it’s nobody else’s business. But as a hiring manager, you would not be entitled to impose your personal tastes and prejudices on the hiring policies of your employer.

    In a way, that would be arguably even somewhat worse than the abominable rudeness displayed by the jerk in the OP’s story. At least the jerk who rudely accosted and insulted the OP was merely being rude in social conversation as one private individual to another, not misusing a position of authority to penalize someone in an entirely unrelated context for not conforming to his personal prejudices.

  • TBee August 15, 2013, 1:45 pm

    Interesting, but one that opens up a whole world of potential rudeness. Would it also extend to viewing people’s clothing as a mobile fashion show and thus open to critique? Their hairstyle as a hair show and open to public critique? Like hair and clothes, not all tatoo work is done “for” other people.

  • Carolyn August 15, 2013, 2:11 pm

    Allie, by that token – I suppose your own choices in hair, cosmetics and clothing are open to similar critique by random members of the public?

    They are, after all, means of personal expression as well.

  • MollyMonster August 15, 2013, 2:34 pm

    The man was undoubtedly rude, but when you modify your body outside the norm of a society, you have to be prepared for comments on it–both good and bad. If you use your body as a billboard for your hobbies or passions whether it is through dress (goth, hippie, rockabilly) or permanent modifications, you will always have people who will notice the differences (as we are biologically programmed to) and there will be those who will comment. Some comments will be good (“I love your musical note tattoos!”) and some will be bad (“By having visible tattoos you have limited your job prospects, have fun working at MickeyDs”). Clearly the compliments are fine and the censure is rude but when you put your artwork in visible places, you are inviting comment about it–if you hadn’t wanted people to notice, you would have put them in not-always-visible-to-the-public places.

    His way of imparting his values to his child leaves much to be desired and a polite set-down would have been appropriate even if it is just “Why, sir, I can’t believe you would talk to a stranger so rudely in front of your child!” and look aghast.

    If you go for something completely outre, you have to be prepared for a wide variety of reactions. Ear modifications make me nauseated. I don’t care if you have spikes in your head, tattoos all over your face, and your tongue split in two, as soon as I see a major ear modification, I feel queasy. I can’t even watch TV shows where a person on there has those stretching things in their ears. This is my reaction and I would never go up to someone and say something rude about it (mainly because I would have trouble even looking at them) but the reaction is still there. Tattoos *do* say something about you–that is why you had them put there in the first place–and people’s interpretations of what they are saying can be wrong and lead to misunderstandings.

  • Tracy August 15, 2013, 2:43 pm

    “As an atheist, I firmly believe (as is my individual right) that we only have one life, and therefore only 1 body, and if a person wishes to modify their body for whatever reason then they have a right to do so. ”

    Lex, I hope you aren’t assuming that those are are not atheists are opposed to tattoos or other body modifications.

  • MichelleP August 15, 2013, 3:04 pm

    I can’t believe the posters here defending the man who attacked the OP, saying that when someone gets tattoos he/she deserves comments. Yes, they bring attention, but no one has the right to make negative remarks, particularly to a stranger, about anything to do with their appearance. I’m pretty sure that a stranger’s hateful remarks are NOT going to make someone spend time, money, and go through pain getting them removed!

    This is like when I have gotten cruel remarks on my weight as an obese woman. Yes, it is the same thing before a slew of posters argue that that’s different. I promise, it doesn’t make me want to eat less!

  • MichelleP August 15, 2013, 3:07 pm

    Some posters here have criticized the OP for responding to the man. Read the story. She didn’t.

  • MichelleP August 15, 2013, 3:15 pm

    Note that the OP says “he hurried away”. Yep, bet he did. I agree with posters here that have said he wouldn’t criticize the tattoos of a Hell’s Angel!

    I got a flat tire a few weeks ago. I was on the side of a busy road with my daughter and my niece. At least a dozen cars passed us and not one asked to help, asked if they could call for help, nothing. It was broad daylight and a woman and two girls are stranded, but every one just kept going, not a care in the world. (For the record, yes I will stop, or at least call for help, for a woman with children on the road.) The one person who stopped? Mr. T’s twin! Humongous dude with tattoos and piercings, pants hanging off, lots of jewelry. He changed my tire and refused to take one penny from me.

  • Jenn50 August 15, 2013, 3:25 pm

    This man’s behaviour was appalling. Among other things, speculating about someone’s sex life? In front of a child? Shocking. If a strange man approached me, touched me, and asked a personal question about my body, I would step back looking alarmed, and ask “Do I know you?” In spite of seriously disliking tattoos myself, I would never presume to judge someone because of their body art. I don’t like it when people stereotype me, so I try to keep an open mind.

  • SJ August 15, 2013, 4:17 pm

    Those assumptions were out of line, and they don’t even make any sense. A correlation between sexual choices and tattoos? What?

  • lakey August 15, 2013, 5:09 pm

    I personally don’t care for tattoos, not even on men. But I also believe that people need to mind their own business.
    A couple of years ago I attended the wedding of a friend’s son. A young guy and his date, who was my friend’s niece, were seated at a nearby table. He had one of those big holes in his earlobe. I don’t even know what they’re called, but it was the first time I’d seen one, and it struck me as very bizarre. Later in the evening he struck up a conversation with me. He was a very nice guy. He worked as some kind of designer in Chicago and the girl was just a friend whom he accompanied to the wedding so she wouldn’t have to attend alone.
    I cannot understand how a person who is mean enough to walk up to a complete stranger and insult her, can feel superior to anyone.

  • ladycrim August 15, 2013, 5:31 pm

    There’s a Facebook group called “Tattoo Acceptance in the Workplace” that’s all about fighting the stereotypes leveled against the inked. It’s a pity tats still have the stigma they do. (I do understand Miss Jeanne’s point about the violent ones – but the vast majority are, in my experience, harmless and even uplifting.)

    A good friend of mine is a high school math teacher. He has tattoos all over his arms and legs. (The arm ones are visible at school.) And yet, he is a highly effective and popular teacher. He’s also been happily married for over a decade.

    A couple of years ago, I filled out a profile on a dating site that asks you random questions and posts your answers. One was “Do you have a tattoo?” I replied that I didn’t, but was thinking about it. I got a response from a man 30 years my senior whose sole purpose was to beg me not to get a tattoo. He said I’d ruin my life and he couldn’t “respect” a woman with a tattoo. Frankly, I didn’t see why I should worry about being respected by a random guy I’d never met and never would. I certainly didn’t need him acting like a parent!

    Six weeks after that, I went dancing and met a guy who’d gotten his first tattoo – a yin yang on his arm – the day before. One of the first things I said to him was “I love your ink!” I’ve been dating that guy for nearly two years now. He says the tattoo brought him luck. 🙂

  • Siren5525 August 15, 2013, 5:33 pm

    It’s too bad that guy DIDN’T get the chance to know you’re a Mom, wife, PhD, and have a Master’s Degree, if he did, I’ll bet he would NEVER say something so judgmental and stupid to a person with ink again. He’d think twice, for sure. The answer is NOT to ignore, but stand up for yourself, and don’t let a loud-mouth jerk get away with that kind of crap. Everyone knows when you stand up to a bully, they back down. Besides, it would have been great for that daughter of his to know that a person can have whatever ink they want, and be a successful person, not the stereo-type he was trying to “teach” her about. 😛

  • Leslie Holman-Anderson August 15, 2013, 5:57 pm

    The fact that these are elderly is the key to these rude people’s reactions. When I was growing up, in the 50’s and early 60’s, tattoos were worn only by low-lifes and sailors. And while an eagle-and-anchor or battleship tattoo was acceptable, anything more exotic or personal was taken as an indicator that the possessor was a dubious sort or an idiot. The black panther tat on my uncle’s bicep was ‘proof’ that he was a juvenile delinquent. More than one tattoo was a sure sign of degeneracy. And respectable women simply did NOT have tattoos — ever!

    Times have changed but we Old Farts ™ have trouble doing so. I still have to force myself to see the beauty in some of the intricate and often gorgeous skin art I see around me, but I do it because a closed mind gathers no fun. I only comment on the ones I think are pretty, and never ask the to-me natural question: “What in the world were you thinking?” It’s just like my un-favorite kinds of music: I may not like the genre but I know a virtuoso when I hear one. And there are some truly great artists doing skin these days.

  • Waterwren August 15, 2013, 6:11 pm

    My girlfriend bought herself a tattoo to mark her her first “adult entertainment” video over a decade ago. She doesn’t “act” anymore but can’t fund its removal. It is a bigger picture with the video company’s name in huge letters. Jeanie is spot on about judgment on these things. My friend gets judged at PTA meetings, job interviews, ER visits, etc.

    Like Ehell Dame, I do wonder about the true character of someone who would have something offensive inked on her skin. The body is a temple not a canvas.

  • BagLady August 15, 2013, 6:12 pm

    ” If you use your body as a billboard for your hobbies or passions whether it is through dress (goth, hippie, rockabilly) or permanent modifications, you will always have people who will notice the differences (as we are biologically programmed to) and there will be those who will comment. Some comments will be good (“I love your musical note tattoos!”) and some will be bad (“By having visible tattoos you have limited your job prospects, have fun working at MickeyDs”). ”

    I disagree. There is a difference between noticing the unusual clothes/tats/piercings/whatever and making rude comments about them. One is human nature; the other is just rude. (General) you can think “What a tacky tattoo” all you want. You can even vent to your friends and family (“I saw this girl at Safeway today with the most hideous tattoo on her (body part). What the heck was she thinking?”)

    Bottom line: It’s not nice to insult someone about his or her appearance. Ever. Even the folks in this thread who have been honest about their dislike for tattoos seem to agree on that.

    As for the OP, I’m torn between not dignifying His Boorishness’ comments with a response and pulling out our old friend “What an interesting assumption.”

    I think some people are just behind the curve when it comes to tattoos. They are the modern-day equivalent of blue jeans — something that used to be a working-class thing but has made it into the mainstream. For some folks, it just takes more time to get used to than for others.

  • Peas August 15, 2013, 6:59 pm

    These are not “mobile art shows”, these are people! Etiquette 101 is not to criticize others’ appearances – regardless of how you feel about their personal life choices. There is no excuse or reason for commenting negatively on someone’s tattoos any more than their hair or weight.

  • schnickelfritz August 15, 2013, 7:29 pm

    @ Kimstu – many employers’ dress codes do indicate, no visible tattoos, no more than two earrings per ear, no face piercing, etc. It is legal. You may know, they now do nicotine testing – and it is legal not to hire a smoker.

    Many people look at the “outlandish” tattoos, and question the common sense / judgement of these potential employees. I can see a nice tattoo on your shoulder, or your upper breast, other places not so in your face. However, women with neck, wrist or ankle tattoos – smurfs on your wrist, seriously? For life? Not attractive. You would be better off with a tramp-stamp, if you need to express yourself in permanent ink.

  • I dissent August 15, 2013, 7:36 pm


    “Thereby possibly making your company liable to a lawsuit. If you personally are repulsed by tattoos, due to psychological trauma related to an unwanted birthmark or for any other reason, then okay, you’re entitled to your opinion and it’s nobody else’s business. But as a hiring manager, you would not be entitled to impose your personal tastes and prejudices on the hiring policies of your employer.

    In a way, that would be arguably even somewhat worse than the abominable rudeness displayed by the jerk in the OP’s story. At least the jerk who rudely accosted and insulted the OP was merely being rude in social conversation as one private individual to another, not misusing a position of authority to penalize someone in an entirely unrelated context for not conforming to his personal prejudices.”

    As hiring manager, I most certainly can set up my own criteria for employment.

    Possession of tattoos is not a protected characteristic. We most certainly can refuse to hire job candidates who have tattoos, just as we can refuse to hire job candidates who show up in unprofessional attire, arrive late, chew gum during the interview, bring Mom to the interview, have sloppy resumés, etc. We are an “at-will” employer. So long as we don’t reject candidates for reasons of race, religion, national origen, sexual preference or other protected characteristics, we are on solid ground. Our workplace is, indeed, diverse. However, visible tattoos are not permitted. Visible tattoos and other unorthodox body modifications are in the same category as unprofessional attire.

  • MsDani313 August 15, 2013, 7:38 pm

    If the tattoos I get are perceived as a mobile art show ope to critique does that open up any body modifications or displays open to critique. If we take that perspective then boors (like the one in the above story) will feel that they have the right to critique others as they wish. I got a tattoo because I wanted one not because I wanted others opinion of it. I find it hilarious when people assume that this “nice educated young lady” doesn’t have tattoos and I turn my arm over to show the one (and only one…its painful!) that I have. My body art is not for the critique of others. Neither is the way I dress, my weight, my hair or anything else.

    • admin August 15, 2013, 10:19 pm

      Devil’s advocate here….if people describe their tattoos as “art” then is their body a mobile art gallery?

  • NostalgicGal August 15, 2013, 8:39 pm

    Other than two sets of pierce holes in my ears, grown shut; I have no mods other than what accidents, surgery, and scarring have provided.

    I came very close to starting getting tattoos and I had the fellow swipe the back of my hand and ‘hit me’ with a sterile fresh needle to see what it felt like. I chose the most painful place by accident. I paid the man for having prepared my wrist and left (paid him for the tat that I didn’t go through with). I later sold jewelry to tattoo parlors and got used to looking at extremely modified appearances (tattoos, inserts, ‘you pierced WHAT’, plugs, etc) even though I looked like, well, their mom.

    I can appreciate good body art. When you go past a certain point, or place stuff in certain places (whether it’s piercing, tats or both) do be aware of the public opinon you will garner. I met a woman with 5″ fingernails, (one hand) and she had chose to drill them and put rings through them, paint them up, put applied stuff on them (rhinestones etc) then wonder why people gawked.

    Not everyone with a tattoo or a collection of them, is ‘bad’… most are very ‘mainstream’ other than their decision for permanent body modification. DO think twice before you tattoo ANYTHING on your face… please. And don’t rattle your tongue stud on your teeth.

    If you are going to do body mods (such as tattoos) make sure your artist is skilled, I have seen many that are not that good and the art is not good and there isn’t much that can be done after it’s done! And that they are clean, hygienic, and follow proper health and safety procedures and regulation!!!!!

    I take someone doing a negative comment to someone’s body adornments as ranking with comments about what someone is eating, or buying in the grocery store. I’ve gotten it from someone else just for admiring a person’s GOOD art, and asking if I can look further… A business has a right too, to have employees that interact with the public, to look a certain way. As long as that’s made clear before an offer and acceptance of the job; then don’t complain afterwards. And as long as the business is CONSISTENT in their policy.

    Putting inserts to get horns, large ring inserts especially in the lips, dying the whites of your eyes, splitting your tongue; I admire your brass (body parts) to do it, but don’t be surprised when you get negative attention.

    The man and granddaughter is over the top, as in, what he did rates with commenting about someone’s weight or what they’re eating, or buying to eat. The “I Beg Your Pardon” or an icy stare or both, is totally justified.

  • gramma dishes August 15, 2013, 8:46 pm

    @Kimstu ~~ Actually that happens all the time. If you have two otherwise equally qualified candidates for only one position, you use whatever criteria you like to decide which one gets the job. Theoretically, it can’t be because or race, gender, religion, etc. But there is no law that says you must give highest consideration to the one with the visible tattoos over the one without. Having tattoos does not put one in a “protected class”.

    Of course an employer would be unwise to TELL Candidate Decorated that that was the reason for choosing Candidate Notatt, but there is nothing inherently wrong (much less illegal) in using that as part of the selection process.

  • Tsunoba August 15, 2013, 9:57 pm

    While I’ve never had anyone say anything negative about my tattoo (which is on my shoulder, and thus only visible if the bottom peeks out under the sleeve of my shirt), the reaction I get 95% of the time is shock. Apparently, I just don’t look or act like the type of person that would have a tattoo.

    I’ve never gotten a satisfactory answer as to what type of person would have a tattoo. I just know that I don’t seem like it.

  • KA August 15, 2013, 11:32 pm

    Tattoos these days are hardly “outside societal norms” – that is more than a bit laughable. They’re actually pretty normal these days, and I know more people (professionally and personally!) with tats than without. I agree with admin that the content of the tattoo says more than the simple presence of a tattoo.

    I have four tattoos – two are routinely not visible and express religious convictions of mine. Two are visible (inner wrists) – one is a simple symbol honoring my late brother, and one is a simple symbol that matches a tattoo that my husband has (neither of us think name tattoos are a great idea, but the symbol we chose/tweaked has special meaning for us as a couple).

    DH and I are both teachers with post-graduate degrees. I see just as many parents with tattoos as without, from an assortment of professions. People who make snap judgements about others with tattoos are probably going to judge based on other stuff, too – and they are welcome to their petty judgements. But voicing them, especially as the guy in the OP did, is inexcusable.

  • Hannah August 15, 2013, 11:53 pm

    Admin, in response- think about clothes, jewelry, makeup, haircuts and colors. They are all ultimately expressions of who we are. There are lines to be drawn- it is not appropriate in American culture to walk around the grocery store in a bikini; it is not appropriate for a surgeon to wear rings or bracelets while performing surgery; it is not appropriate to put a 6-year-old in a sparkly red strapless minidress. That does not mean that we forgo all self-expression through accessories or fashion; that means we consider what is appropriate for the situation (bikini is perfectly appropriate for the beach, surgeon can wear whatever jewelry he/she wants when off-duty, sparkly red strapless is fine for an adult going out dancing, etc.) It is the same with tattoos- musical notes or a psi symbol are not inappropriate things for a school counselor to have on display in her workplace. There is a line- having a marijuana leaf or a swear word where students could see it would be inappropriate, but just because such self-expression CAN become inappropriate doesn’t mean it is all automatically bad and needs to be cast aside!

  • Marozia August 16, 2013, 1:25 am

    When I was a kid, tattoos were for ‘bikers, armed forces or “bad” people’ as my parents said. While I myself do not have tatts, I have no problem at all anyone getting them, whatever design they choose. I will say, though, those Chinese character designs are getting a little..er….common. Originality, I like.

  • ItsyBitsy August 16, 2013, 1:58 am

    Sorry, that should read, ‘any different from that of the man in the story’.
    That’ll teach me to be judgemental.

  • Beth August 16, 2013, 6:32 am

    I currently have 3 tattoos, none of which are visible unless I want them to be. I’ve had multiple piercings and crazy coloured hair….I’m also studying my degree after being a straight A student, holding down a part time job and volunteering.

    I have been refused jobs because of having pink hair, or a nose ring and sadly at the young age of 20 I’ve given up trying to look the way I want to. I now have no piercings other than ears, and natural colour hair, just so I can work to pay rent etc.

    Unless there’s a genuine reason, such as no piercings when working with food in case they fall in, then appearances should not effect getting a job. I’d much rather hire someone with tattoos and piercings who is neat and well presented, than someone who looks ‘normal’ but scruffy.

  • The Elf August 16, 2013, 7:36 am

    In a way, a tattooed person is like a mobile art gallery. But it is a deeply personal one, and in that way it is similar to clothing choice. I’d say it inhabits a gray area between them.

    If we view tattoos like art, the acceptable social commentary is positive or nonexistent. You would not mock a painting to the artist, would you? No – you’d just say “interesting” or murmur something noncommittal. Or, if pressed, make some sort of remark like “I’m sure it’s a fine, but I prefer Impressionism.”

    • admin August 16, 2013, 8:13 am

      Serious artists have their work juried prior to admission to an art show. I participated in several juried art shows in college and the comments from the jury panel of professors could be quite brutal.

  • k2 August 16, 2013, 7:41 am


    Unfortunately people’s rudeness can extend to most forms of creative physical expression. I don’t have any tattoos (though I’m still thinking about getting one) and the only piercing I have besides my earlobes is an industrial (two holes in your upper cartilage; usually connected by a long bar but I wear two hoops instead). But I have been dyeing my hair since I was about eleven and I have definitely gotten a lot of comments on it in the past.

    Most have been either positive or curious; ie “I could never do that but it looks lovely on you” but I have had some people tell me I’ll never get a good job with my hair dyed xyz color or guys won’t be as interested in me.

    As for the Dame’s question, I suppose that depends on what a person’s definition of art is. Some people create art for themselves and never share it with anyone else; because they are not allowing their creation to be critiqued by others, does that make it not art? If I’m carrying a painting I did down the street, are people allowed to stop and criticize it, just because I’m out in public? Personally I think it becomes a bit of a slippery slope as if we’re allowed to criticize people’s tattoos simply because they’re “art”, how long until we can openly criticize other people’s bodies? After all some people view their bodies as a canvas.

  • Erin August 16, 2013, 8:27 am

    I had a friend (sadly departed) who had angel wings tattooed on her back. They were to cover scars left by her abusive mother. My friend was an extremely sweet person, and her tattoos were her way of overcoming her past. I don’t have any tattoos myself, but I can’t judge people for having them because of my friend. It’s something to bear in mind if you don’t like tattoos – they’re not for you.

  • wildkitty August 16, 2013, 8:47 am

    Admin, you said it yourself, those artists submitted their art voluntarily. Just because I am in public does not give others the right to comment on my tattoos. I did not submit my body to be juried.
    I am a professional woman well immersed in corporate America and I have several tattoos that all have deep personal meaning to me. I have the actual paw prints of two of my deceased pets and a large piece that represents a much loved sport that I was forced to retire from competition due to injury. Those paw prints mean the world to me and I feel close to my beloved pets that are no longer with me. To have some ignorant jerk make derogatory remarks is not likely to accomplish anything but derision and scorn from me.

  • Abby August 16, 2013, 8:47 am

    Response to admin’s devil’s advocate question: Absolutely, artists need to be prepared for criticism. But I may have art hung on my walls at home. Or wearing an artistic shirt. That doesn’t mean I invite criticism.

  • NostalgicGal August 16, 2013, 8:49 am

    @ k2, the advice I got way back before I went to the parlor, was to get a temporary tattoo or something similar to what you want permanently, and ‘wear’ the tattoo for about 3 months (in my case it was a small butterfly I literally drew on myself, the outline, and kept refreshing it on my wrist and kept it up) to see if that’s what you want. After my three months I’d decided I wanted it then ran afoul of YIPE and gave up. Do I regret getting it or not? I decided at the moment, no, paid the artist anyway and since then decided permanent art wasn’t for me.

    I wish you the best in your choice.

    @ admin, #87 Oh, been there, done that and watched true glorp make it past the jury and why my decent bitOart didn’t, couldn’t ever be explained. One student show, the head of the department overrode the judges on a piece and put it in (c’mon he’d spent three quarters making the most gorgeous tiffany repro triptych back in the days before Delphi Glass made it possible; and the jury didn’t think it was worthy of displaying… and guess what, it won the viewer’s favorite!)

  • Jane August 16, 2013, 9:23 am

    I think this jerk picked on her because she’s a woman. Would he have walked up to a biker, or to my dad, whose military tats have been on display every day of his life for the past 40 years? I really doubt it.

    He’s a clod who’s setting a bad example for his child. You can hold an opinion, but insulting a total stranger is uncalled for and incredibly rude.

  • InsertNameHere August 16, 2013, 10:36 am

    I’ll agree that jury panels at shows can be brutal and that is normal. However, the difference is that someone participating in an art show has specifically asked people to critique them. Someone who has a tattoo that is meaningful to them may have just done it for themselves and does not care to hear other people’s opinions.

    It would be like me going to someone’s house and randomly commenting on how ugly the decor and paintings in the house are. Yes, the paintings are art, but it isn’t the right setting to launch some brutal critique on it. If the person just bought the paintings for their own enjoyment, they probably don’t care what I think, and I would expect they probably wouldn’t want me to come back again. In that case, I would be the rude one.

  • psyche August 16, 2013, 10:46 am

    The guy’s reaction reminds me of a tv show I frequently watch called Tattoo Nightmares, where the average Joe goes up to tattoo artists with years of experience and has them cover them up with more pleasing tattoos, complete with reenactments of how they got the tattoo in the first place.

    A common trait seems to be ink that seemed like a good idea at the time but was either the way it was because of a misunderstanding with the artist or the person sitting wasn’t in the right frame of mind when he/she sat for it (i.e. drunkeness or a revenge tattoo). One in particular was a guy who wanted a bare-breasted Lady Justice tattoo, but with Lady Justice wearing a bag over her head instead of the blindfold over her eyes. People thought it was a KKK chick, and a group of black men accosted him in front of his wife and kids and threatened to remove the ink from his body themselves, in a very painful way unless he did it himself. I forgot what he got to replace it, but he was happy with the results!

  • Lo August 16, 2013, 10:50 am

    I agree with Elf that it’s a gray area but polite people should know better than to offer judgement.

    I think the difference between the kind of judging one can do at an art show and the kind of judging one can do on the artistry of a tattoo adorning a person is comes down to purpose. Tattoo art is art for the wearer, really. Why do people find it so hard to believe that someone might want something beautiful on their body and genuinely have no desire to be rebellious or attention-seeking?

    You could go to a museum and see some art you think is dreadful; maybe it’s too modern, maybe you don’t find it interesting, maybe you don’t get it. But the museum doesn’t put up art by popular vote of the public at large, there are people who are better equiped to judge than the average person on the street.

    So if one takes issue with tattoos in general, then why not consider oneself the average uninterested party. It may not be hard to tell the difference between a truly artistic tattoo and an ameture mess but if you dislike both it won’t even matter. If you see someone out in public with a visible tattoo, why not take the attiude of “Who am I to judge an art form I don’t understand?”

  • Tanya August 16, 2013, 11:02 am

    While artists may have their work submited to a jury panel before being displayed in an art show, I don’t think that’s really a good analogy here. After all, no one is going to argue that before a person is allowed to get a tattoo which may be visible to the public, they should be required to get it approved by a jury panel.

    I see it more as if an artist were to paint a mural on the outside of his house. It’s visible to the public, but he’s not putting it out there requesting comments like in an art show. People can think anything they want about the mural, and can discuss it with other people if they so choose. But it would clearly be rude for someone to knock on the artist’s door for the sole purpose of telling them the mural was ugly, or showed that he was immoral, or something equally cruel. Similarly, it was rude for the man here to engage in conversation with the OP for the sole purpose of making derogatory comments about her tattoos.

  • The Elf August 16, 2013, 11:29 am

    Professional art critics or juries are an entirely different matter than the man on the street criticizing artwork to the artist.

  • Harley Granny August 16, 2013, 11:34 am

    “Viewing tattoos as a mobile art show that is open to critique is an interesting perspective.”

    “Devil’s advocate here….if people describe their tattoos as “art” then is their body a mobile art gallery?”

    “Serious artists have their work juried prior to admission to an art show. I participated in several juried art shows in college and the comments from the jury panel of professors could be quite brutal.”

    Since it was said three times the answer is very simply this….It is NOT ok under ANY circumstance to approach a total stranger and criticize their appearance.

    The only time this “art show” scenerio comes into play is if a person as entered their body art into a contest or display of some sort.

    Apples and oranges.

  • LovleAnjel August 16, 2013, 12:14 pm

    Dame, I have art on my walls at home. Does that make it okay for you to say terrible things about my decor and say I’m a whore? I have a handbags with art on it. Should you tell me how juvenile the artwork is and I should have really bought the Van Gogh instead?

    • admin September 4, 2013, 6:05 am

      It depends what the artwork on your walls is. I would not say terrible things but I might certainly THINK them and then make choices based on my private opinions, such as refusing to enter your house if I consdiered the subject matter of your “art” to be quite offensive. And there is a difference in that a house is a private domain that the owner invites people to enter. Placing a tattoo on your body in a conspicuously obvious place is public domain and if the content of the tattoo(s) has offensive material, I believe I and others have the right to think whatever we wish and to make choices to not hire that person or frankly, not associate with them. I seriously wonder about the character of people who glorify death, violence, sex and hatred with their tats which appear to be proudly displayed in obvious areas as an “in your face” statement of their own beliefs.

  • Angela August 16, 2013, 12:31 pm

    I teach at a college and see tattoos every day. Not only students but a lot of younger Ph.D.s have tattoos. One of my more brilliant colleagues is in her 40s and has about 15 tattoos. I think she has heard it all. Personally I think it’s very bad manners to make personal comments to strangers (and I think I’m in good company here). But to pair tattooing with being underemployed and sleeping around is just comparing apples to oranges.

  • Miss Raven August 16, 2013, 1:25 pm

    Just chiming in as another inked young professional. I also have a few small piercings. No superior, peer, or client has ever said anything about it. My company doesn’t care, for the right reasons.

    As the tide turns, we will become more and more common and less surprising to see.

  • June First August 16, 2013, 1:54 pm

    I think (nearly all) agree that shouting something about someone’s appearance is never in good taste.

    I’m amused by the comments about how some posters automatically think of people with tattoos as “bad” people and “low-lifes”, because it was that way in the 1950s and 1960s. I hope you’re appreciating the irony of that, as you type on your computer on an internationally-popular website. (I suspect the idea of instantly communicating with such a broad audience of people was nearly unthinkable in the mid-20th century.)