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Build-A-Story: Do you talk tattoos at work?

tat.jpeg(AP file photo)

Is there a dragon dipping below the hemline of your dress-for-court Anne Taylor suit? A string of barbed wire visible above the collar of your Brooks Brothers button-down? What does your boss think of that Che Guevara face that appears whenever you wear short sleeves?

For a story we're planning on how people do or don't talk about the burgeoning number of tattoos appearing in cubicles everywhere, we'd like to hear your stories. What kind of tensions do tattoos create in the office--or are they a welcome ice-breaker? Is it ok to talk to a fellow worker about their tatts? To an employee? A boss?

How do bosses handle the increasingly common artwork on increasingly visible parts of their employees' bodies? How do workmates handle the evolving etiquette? Is it okay to compliment a co-worker's body art ("Is that a tantric pattern I see on your ankle?")? Do you cover everything up for a job interview?

Whether you have some color on your own skin, have been appalled or attracted by a co-worker's tattoos, or just have a great tale to share about body art in a work setting, please let us know. You can post right here in the comments section or send me an E-mail.

And if you have office-ready body art, or tattoos that take on a different look when you're in work attire versus your party clothes, let us know if you'd be interested in being in a video or photo shoot for this project. Thanks.

By Steve Hendrix  | November 30, 2009; 10:04 AM ET
Categories:  Build-A-Story  
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It's none of my business what other people do with their skin. At work, I work. 'Nuff said.

Posted by: rpcv84 | November 30, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse

As a disclaimer, I don't have any tattoos nor have I ever been a fan.

I am a physician. Those in the medical field tend to be on the conservative side (not necessarily politically). Most do not have visible tattoos. However, there is one staff who has the cliched barb-wire around his biceps (visible when he wears scrubs).

I always wonder to myself what on Earth made him get that tattoo. It's neither artistic or rebellious (if that is an intent of getting a tattoo). He joins the lesions of other suburban schmucks with that very same tattoo, which is ugly and unoriginal.

Posted by: jabreal00 | November 30, 2009 1:36 PM | Report abuse

It's none of my business what other people do with their skin. At work, I work. 'Nuff said.

I co-sign

Posted by: cbmuzik | November 30, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

"Evolving etiquette?" Really? About tattoos? I'm not a fan of tattoos, and have been mildly disturbed at the increasing number of people mutilating themselves in this manner, and it's just as likely to be a dumb college kid or a housewife who does it as it is an outlaw biker. After seeing someone with both arms fully covered in tattoos I asked a psychologist friend what the likely reason was that someone would do that to themselves. Self-hatred was the answer. I view the practice of tattooing oneself as a low-class or ill-considered sort of thing to do. I'm aware that there are a couple of cable shows about it, and that people also call it "body art." Well, there are other kinds of art I find distasteful, too. I note that persons with lots of tattoos seem more likely to indulge in other sorts of "adornment" to their bodies, like weird piercings and other ways to make me cringe when I see them. I can only wonder how they'll feel when they're lots older and gravity has had its way with their precious tattoos, and the ink has become smeary and blurry in the skin. Grandma's drunken college-age tramp stamp and the drooping dolphin on her belly aren't going to look so hot -- not that they did when they were fresh, either. I'd much rather see the Post do a good story on why people do this to themselves than some misbegotten "etiquette" piece on tattoos.

Posted by: chorister | November 30, 2009 2:24 PM | Report abuse

I have recently joined the ranks of tattoed professionals. After years of going back and forth, I opted for something small on my back. The ONLY time it has been seen my co-workers was at an after hours off site baseball game.

In the past 5 years or so, the number of Twentysomethings have enter the workforce, though I am FAR from this catergory, they have opted for "inking" at some point in their life. I don't use this as a judgement of their character or competency for completing their assignment. We talk about it in general conversation but not at great length.

In the Federal government there is an extremely large group of males and females with "ink" some are seen purposely, some are hidden and only revealed after hours. Some people are in the Senior Executive Service, some are administrative support. This is a choice that some made before they considered their career path and some made after they were well on their way.

When asked by young professionals whether they should or shouldn't. I tell them to consider the location and if they will be able to deal with the scrunity of others.

We all make choices in life, and when we make them, we must be able to be secure enough in our decisions to deal with the good, the bad and the ugly comments that people in general make.

Hope the final story captures the good, the bad and the ugly of judging others decision to do something with their own body.

Posted by: SxyShoes | November 30, 2009 2:45 PM | Report abuse

That art ink on your skin... would you even want it on your bedroom wall for the REST of your life?

Posted by: TheDubb | November 30, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

I think tattoos are a great ice breaker and have the potential to be a very meaningful form of self expression. Whenever I ask someone about his/her tattoo(s), that person is more than happy to explain its origin, artist, etc. I don't have any tattoos but I certainly appreciate the artistry that can go into a well crafted piece (not the barbed wire around the bicep).

@chorister: "After seeing someone with both arms fully covered in tattoos I asked a psychologist friend what the likely reason was that someone would do that to themselves. Self-hatred was the answer."

My grandmother passed away over 2 years ago and I have been seriously comtemplating getting a memorial tattoo of her image. My motivation is born out of love, not hate.

Posted by: MindExplosionX | November 30, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

rpcv84 said:
"It's none of my business what other people do with their skin. At work, I work. 'Nuff said."

As your boss, it is my business what you do with your skin "if" I can see it during work. You have it covered at all times, I couldn't care less what dumb things you do to your body. The second it is visible, it is my problem.

I've also not hired otherwise qualified people because they had tattoos in places that weren't hideable, like their face or their hands.

Your body art is your certainly your business...until it interferes with mine.

Posted by: Nosh1 | November 30, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

One of my former bosses (who I miss dearly) had at least one tattoo on his arm and a tongue stud (which I would not have known about had I happened to be walking by while he was trying to discreetly remove the jewelry after he got to work since he'd forgotten to in the car -- whoops).

In some circles the stigma is going away. In others (office jobs, especially more conservative fields like law, finance, and jobs that work directly with Capitol Hill) they still really ought to be covered up. Much like most people don't wear the same clothes outside the office that they wear at the office on a regular basis, to me this is something that should be covered up (especially at a job interview, unless you're applying for a job at a tattoo parlor and designed some of them yourself).

The idea behind suits and other "professional" clothing is conformity and reassurance of the status quo and that clients are in good hands. Tats and piercings run directly against that as they are a form of distinguishing yourself from the pack and of self-expression.

I'm thinking of getting one, but if/when I do it'll be somewhere I can cover up if I'm still working at an office. I can show off my art when I'm out with friends, who aren't paying me to look and act in a professional, reassuringly calm and collected manner.

Posted by: | November 30, 2009 3:14 PM | Report abuse

I had always been intrigued with the idea of a tattoo. When I was in high school the big, daring thing I did was to get my cartilage pierced on my left ear. In college, my next step was a nose piercing. A friends mom often expressed her dislike for my "sparkly booger" in my nose. In the back of my mind, I still wanted that tattoo, but I couldn't think of anything that was important enough to me or that I wanted on my body for life.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina tugged on the heartstrings of many, including myself. That year, and the following year I traveled down to New Orleans three times to do some relief work. When I returned I framed pictures I took of the lower 9th Ward to remind myself of being grounded and how grateful I am for the life I have. However, I never traveled with that photograph, and I felt as though I needed a more daily reminder of the things I needed to be grateful for. And that is when I got a tattoo. I decided I wanted a fleur-de-lis on my left wrist. After much searching, I found the perfect fleur-de-lis. I had a sweet, classy fleur-de-lis and a small heart tattooed on my left wrist, and it is visible, especially when not wearing extra long sleeved shirts.

I worked in a hospital and had a lot of patient interaction. Usually my tattoo is a major conversation starter, and in a great way. I am able to discuss my experiences and how my trip affected me. Many people are intrigued by it and it tends to be a positive reaction.

However, my boss did not find it nearly as intriguing. She often used to tell me about what a giant mistake I made by getting this tattoo. She also suggested I wear long sleeves under my scrubs or a watch big enough to cover it (by the way its 3"x3"). "What will you tell future employers when they ask about this tattoo," she often inquired. But my answer was always the same. I'll tell me I did relief work after Hurricane Katrina and it made an amazing impact on my life.

Today, I do not cover it up ever. It is something that I am proud of. I think tattoos should be something along those lines, something that is influential. And if it is, your employer shouldn't really have a problem with it.

Posted by: Suzib215 | November 30, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Like most choices regarding ones body, to tattoo or not to tattoo is purely personal and therefore really shouldn't offend. While I don't and won't ever have a sleeve of ink down my arm, a tattoo's existence can't really have direct implications on a persons work ethic, so shouldn't be judged as such. Certainly to make the choice you have to be secure enough in your own decision to accept the consequences of judging eyes, but categorically branding the choice to get a tattoo as "low class" and "ill considered" is ignorant and close minded. As a young professional, I have 3 small tattoos I have acquired over the years - 2 completely discreet in the work place and one on my wrist. It has been and will remain my humble opinion that if someone is not going to hire or work with a bright, motivated, responsible woman after judging a star on my wrist, then it is completely and solely their loss.

Posted by: davis123 | November 30, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Tatoos are trashy and foolish.

They are a relatively pedestrian way of "rebelling." Go write an intriguing book, or pen a manifesto. Tatooes are for the uniteresting and shortsighted masses. Rather mundane and ugly really.

Posted by: ObamaisFraud | November 30, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Tattoos in a discrete area that only you and absolute intimates can observe it are a personal statement to one’s self and those close to them; obvious tattoos that are clearly visible no matter what and immediately draw one’s eyes to them are a cry for attention and to be noticed. The human body is a work of art unto itself. There is no real need to enhance this work of art in a visible and distracting manner, unless you are feeling inadequate and in need of being noticed. ‘Nough said….

Posted by: jsabol | November 30, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

At the time when my grandmother died I was going through a tough time in my life. I decided to have my grandmas favorite saint tattoed on my arm looking right at me, I consider this saint my guardian angel and a reminder that life is really never as bad as you make it seem. I could care less what anyone thinks of my tatto, it's personal for me as it is with most people.

Posted by: devilsadvoc8 | November 30, 2009 4:33 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand why people would pay a lot of money (I assume) for a large piece on their back so they can't easily see it. What's the point?

I'm not trying to be insulting; I'm just curious. Anyone care to answer?

If I see someone at a distance with lots of tattoos on their arms, my first thought is that they have a terrible disease.

Posted by: swissmiss150 | November 30, 2009 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Yes, the human body is beautiful in its own right, but I view tattoos (well-done ones) as beautiful self-expression. Some industries are conservative and clients may be driven away by the sight of tattoos, but I hope this will change over time. I have never encountered a person who felt their tattoo was too personal to talk about. If it's in a visible place, then it must not be *that* private, right? Dismissing someone's decision to ink as "self-hate" is naive in my opinion. People modify their bodies all the time. Is every modification "self-hate?" I admit, a body full of ink and piercing are not appealing to me personally, but I'm don't think someone with one or even twenty tattoos is trashy, dumb, or low-class.

Posted by: wordofpower | November 30, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse

People who have facial tats are stupid unless your a sucessful musical artist I'll let you pass. But to have one in normal society making mimium wage is crazy and distasteful. I see alot of teenager with tats on there face and think WTF!!!.. I myself have a couple of tats but I never reveal them during work hours. I have a peircing as well, nothing crazy such as eyebrow piercing or tongue ring thats just crazy and yes I do believe its a sign of ATTENTION. I love my tattoos, whoever don't like it look the other way and if your a boss reading this and you choose not to hire because of a tattoo then your a small minded peanut brain fool...LOL!!!!

Posted by: trinna22 | November 30, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse

I suspect there is a bit of an age gap going on here. So many people have tattoos now that you don't find as much professional pearl-clutching as this thread would imply.

Still and all, I intentionally placed my own tattoo where it would only be seen if I were wearing a swimsuit - in other words, not visible even if I were wearing shorts to a company picnic. That was the exact situation I considered when I was deciding on a location.

And as an employer, I only have a problem with neck or facial tattoos. I never met anyone with those sorts of tatts who wasn't associated with a gang, and I simply won't take a chance on hiring someone with a criminal bent. I don't have to, not with a hundred people applying for every job.

Posted by: Sanya2135 | November 30, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry, what is a tattoo or body ink? Is that when I write a women's phone number on my hand, after meeting her at a bar? It usually washes off after a couple of days! ***GRIN***

Posted by: joejack65 | November 30, 2009 5:29 PM | Report abuse

I am a 38 year old woman who has 3 tattoos and they are all visible in short sleeves. I have an arch of sunflowers on my outer left forearm and a piece that celebrates my sister on my inner right forearm (and she is still alive and well). The third begins on the back of neck and travels 1/3" of the way down my spine. I like to expose my art because I believe they're beautiful and I also designed each piece.

I have a bachelor's degree in art and I am currently a kitchen designer whose clients pay, on average, between 30k and 70k for kitchen cabinets. I am not a fan of long sleeves so my pieces are exposed the majority of the time everywhere I go and that includes at work. My boss is fine with the exposed tattoos (and the 9/16" plugs in my ears) and I have never had any issues with my clients and they are all professionals in one capacity or another. In fact, I've received invites to dinner, visited their homes and received praise from them because of the work that I do and the person that I am.

Tattoos don't represent a person as a whole; just like anything else about a person it represents merely a facet of them. Of course, tattoos are not for everyone but we must move away from the stereotypes that are associated with these expressions of self.

With that said, I also don't take tattooing lightly and really encourage people to think about what they're putting on their bodies before they do it. I'm sure the thousands of folks out there that have the barbed wire around the bicep are truly regretting it.

Posted by: bkworm71 | November 30, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

I don't see tattoos at work as a problem (I'm 27 and have one on my wrist). What I find most people are curious about are my piercings (tongue, nose and multiple in my ears). I've even had a director "complain" that my tongue ring is distracting. In my defense, I revealed everything during my interview; tats, piercings and all. I'd rather be upfront about it. Confusingly, the director who "complained" about my tongue ring never said a peep about the older dude in the office whose arm is COMPLETELY covered in tattoos. I think because they're both older men, it was considered eccentric. I still wear my piercing and the old dude is still showing his tats in short sleeve shirts. We both find the whole situation hilarious.

Posted by: venus31 | November 30, 2009 6:06 PM | Report abuse

I have always admired tattoos from afar and have lost the desire to get one. My son joined the Air Force and now has three tattoos. They are beautiful. Tattoos seem to be widely acceptable in the military. In my nonprofit world many of my colleagues have tattoos. One former colleague has a tattoo of a man's name on her neck in large letters. The tattoo was hidden high collar shirts and scarfs. Once the tattoo was revealed, it was a shock!

I often question the decision making process that goes into tattooing the face or neck. Does this hinder employment (it didn't in our case)or put a different spin on the interview? As our world becomes more business casual, I believe tattoos in the workplace or here to stay and will fall into the gossip mill graveyard with metrosexual males and their clear fingernail polish or waxed eyebrows, piercings, blue hair, etc. In a few years we will have some new trendy thing to whisper about the water cooler.

Posted by: Ross65 | November 30, 2009 7:57 PM | Report abuse

When it comes to tattoos & the workplace, there can be issues. I have no problem with a person I just hired who has a whole lot of them, but most not immediately visible. But my boss finds them disgusting and when the employee was having work issues, he added the tattoos onto the list of things that were real job performance topics. He continues to focus on the tattoos. Boss ends every conversation with me with a comment about the unprofessionalism of showing off the tattoos in meetings (I agreed, employee doesn't do it anymore- but boss remembers & focuses on it).

The tattoos haven't affected the employee's work, but have affected how employee is seen by higher-ups, none of which are impressed, and none of which will help to promote or support that employee at this point.

Posted by: Mark20005 | November 30, 2009 8:16 PM | Report abuse

Why so judgemental everyone? To each his own, right? Seafoam green makes me want to wretch, but I don't go flipping out at anyone who wears it. I just don't understand why what someone else does to their body should offend you. If it bothers you that much, just appreciate the fact that it's not on your skin. There's no need to go beyond that. I think it's really absurd to psychoanalyze someone for getting a tattoo. I think people do it for a huge diversity of reasons, some good some bad. I think some people love their tattoos and some people regeret them. It's like anything else in life.

As for the workplace, that is a different matter. When you're doing a job, you have to look the part, unfortunately. There's a slow progression towards acceptance, but in some fields it's just not there yet, and you if you want to be at the forefront, you're going to understandably get some comments.

Posted by: gwarzilla | December 1, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

I'm a 38-year-old woman with a master's degree, a security clearance, a professional position with a large defense contractor (read = generally conservative environment), and two tattoos. One is a G-clef on my right ankle, and the other is a wolf head on the upper part of my left arm. I've had each of them for more than 10 years, and neither one is usually visible at work: I never wear sleeveless shirts/blouses (even outside of work), and I typically wear slacks instead of skirts at the office.

For my last two job interviews (the most recent one was just 2 weeks ago), I wore a knee-length skirt and heels. The ankle tattoo was visible under my nude-colored pantyhose, but I counted on my interviewers being more likely to notice my professional attire than my tattoo. I'm still waiting to hear about the most recent job, but I got the one before it -- and the woman who hired me later said that she didn't notice the tattoo during the interview.

I do think twice before I wear a skirt or shorter, casual pants to the office, because I know that the G-clef will be visible, but I find that most people don't notice it. I'm more comfortable exposing that one than I would be the wolf: the latter is much larger and in a more visible location. I've worked with some people for two or three years before they realized I had any tattoos. Those who *have* noticed have never expressed anything negative to my face. All of that said, I do think that having multiple visible tattoos in an office setting is unprofessional. I sometimes think about getting a third tattoo, but it would never be on my neck, hand, etc.

As for commenting on a co-worker's tattoo(s), if you genuinely like someone's design I don't think it's ever out of place to say, "Nice tattoo." Their reaction will be your guide to whether further conversation about their ink is welcome.

Posted by: Jenny71 | December 1, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

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