Tattoo tolerance: older generation must embrace body art

Most grandparents in this country would probably shake their heads with disdain at the idea of their teenage grandson tattooing his entire left arm or piercing his lip. My parents in particular describe tattoos as unprofessional and tasteless, even as likely to destroy one’s chances of ever being taken seriously. Although I’ve always been the type to obey everything my parents say, I think this judgment is ignorant.

As our generation comes of age and begins to preach new moral standings, the stigmas associated with tattoos begin to fade, and rightfully so. In a time when the new generation is breaking social barriers and combating conservative ideologies, discrimination against body art is simply unreasonable and outdated.

When tattoos first reached the Western world in the 19th century, they were, surprisingly, more common among aristocrats and the upper class than any other demographic. Can you imagine President Obama with a full sleeve tattoo? Or a giant heart on his forearm with a banner that reads “I love Michelle?” It’s a hysterical image, but you have to ponder whether or not such body art would affect the way people perceive him. Would it cause us to doubt his intelligence or leadership ability?

I don’t question peoples’ doubts about permanent body art — there was a time when tattoos were associated with gang symbols and rebellion. I understand that a tattoo of a bleeding skull on someone’s neck could be unprofessional and undesirable. But attention needs to be shifted to the fact that many tattoos are simple, positive pieces of art with a short saying, a symbol of a family crest or an image of a deceased loved one. The presence of these non-violent tattoos should not have a negative impact on for those who have them, because they do not portray any rebellious images that professional environments could rightfully discourage.


Body art has also changed as tattoo artists have become respected artists in popular culture. Heavily tattooed women like tattoo artist Kat Von D are now considered some of the most beautiful women alive.

In an interview with Maxim, Kat Von D addresses how others judge her tattoos and often perceive her as rough and dominant, though she describes herself as a hopeless romantic. She is known as one of our nation’s best tattoo artists, and the entire industry of body art is gaining its worthy reputation as a haven of artistic talent and self-expression, rather than an expression of violent defiance.

Today, people get tattoos for many reasons. Like all other individual freedoms and forms of expression, tattoos should not be censored or marginalized. The harmless, personal decision to get a tattoo should in no way be seen as a compromise of one’s professional skill or academic competency.

The main stigma attached to tattoos is that they are unprofessional and regrettable. Yet, the fact is that, according to a 2010 Pew Research Center study, nearly 40 percent of people ages 18 to 29 who were surveyed now have a tattoo. This represents a core demographic of people searching for their first break in the professional world. So is almost one-third of our upcoming generation a mob of anti-professional, rebellious, unmotivated individuals?

Prejudices against tattoos are like refusing to live in a safe neighborhood with murals on public buildings. Does the positive display of the community’s beliefs through art say anything about the quality of the building?

Most tattooed people have accepted the prejudice in professional settings and may get their ink on their back instead of their forearm, just to prevent any future discrimination. But it’s time for people to open their minds and accept the commonality of the practice and the innocence of tattoo art.

If we plan to continue evolving as a nation, the first step is protecting self-expression in such a natural form as body art.

Rebecca Rashid is a contributing columnist. Email her at [email protected]



    • So, are we not allowed to eat shellfish either? Because that’s in the old Testament also. My pastor is heavily tattooed. I went to church for many years, and have tattoos. I don’t think God is going to sentence people to hell just for having tattoos.
      Also if you look at the next sentence in that section, you’ll notice that he’s talking about prostituting daughters. The fact that those are associated so closely together, leaves something to be questioned.

  1. I don’t really see how having a large, constantly visible tattoo or a facial piercing is any different from having a mohawk or wearing sweatpants and a band t-shirt to work; it looks unprofessional. I don’t know anyone who’s been turned down a job because they have a small family crest on their back or chest or anywhere coverable by clothing, but if I was a hiring manager at a large corporation and someone that looked like Lil Wayne walked in, I just wouldn’t take them seriously.

  2. I like your piece, but I draw issues with the idea of “non-violent” pieces. Sure Chris Brown’s neck piece of Rihanna’s bloody face is extreme, but something like a skull doesn’t necessarily constitute “violent” in my opinion. I have 5 tattoos, none of which are violent, but if someone wants a knife tattooed on their body, then so be it. There are a lot of dumb tattoos out there. I’ve now started getting tattoos that are visible simply because they are art and I want them to be seen.

  3. “Other people’s tattos can be bad and unprofessional – bleeding skulls. But my tattoos are perfectly ok. Everyone should adjust their ideas to suit me. What I think is ok should be the standard for everyone else and people are just being mean and unfair if they don’t accept that.”

    This person has “FUCK” tattooed on her thumb.

  4. If we plan to continue evolving as a nation, the first step is protecting self-expression in such a natural form as body art.

    Looking at current trends, you mean Devolving, right?

  5. I’m 19 years old and tattoos usually disgust me. Not just on women but on men as well. Disgust is probably a strong word but tattoos and the ideas they are based on look silly, short sighted, and primitive to me. I would prefer not to date a woman with a tattoo. Like your elders have said I do believe there’s a lot that can be said about character based on it. But on a fundamental level permentally changing your skin, or trying to, is something I’ll never be attracted to. It’s somewhat pathetic in a way.

    • Primitive is short-pose for prejudice against a mindset of cultural expansion and diversity…careful there. Most societies deemed ‘primitive’ were deemed so based on western first world concepts that fail to consider the ability of cultures other than the western ideal. One can be prejudice, but call it what it is and understand how close it is to being racist.

      • It is not prejudice to judge appearance. You CHOSE to do that to your body. At least the hippy people were able to cut their hair or the new wave folk could dye their hair back to a different color. Would you date a short midget with no money? You see how that works. You just do not like it when it is done to you. You can not have your cake and eat it too. Of course , people are going to judge your tattoos, including me . I hire people. Yes you have your right to get one and I have my individual right to make money and tattoo people ruin the class and finances of my business. Suck it up.

    • Notice the high percent of tattoo people that smoke. It is not a coincidence. These are the followers among us. Yes , I know not every tattoo person smokes, but a very high percent do. A look at the smokers outside a retail store will tell you that.

    • So what would you do if you started to fall in love with a woman, and then it turns out she had a hidden tattoo. Would you be disgusted and leave her? You’re 19, and have been blinded by the teachings of people around you. It’s not disgusting, it’s a form of art. Get over yourself and realize that we’re not revolving, we’re progressing into acceptance. There was a time when tattoos were viewed as same sex marriage is being currently viewed. One day both things will be widely accepted…

  6. 40% is almost half, not one-third, and I agree that tattoos should never be a road block to showing one’s dedication. I regularly display an ankle tattoo (weather permitting) that is associated with my dedication to doing the footwork associated with my job. I would love to get a wrist tattoo as another declaration to my dedication (associated with the handwork), but it seems a wrist tattoo could be risky. And indeed what I do for a living leaves a positive imprint on society. How’s that for irony?

  7. I do not embrace it and I hire people. In fact, I think less of the insecure, narcissistic sheep that do that to their bodies. Why would a woman want to look masculine? I have every right to judge appearance, we all do . If you say you do not , you are lying. Many government jobs have appearance issues, including the military, which is now limiting exposed tattoos.

    • Excuse me? Women are not trying to look “masculine” by tattooing. How the HELL is tattooing “insecure” and “narcissistic”? It’s a form of expression, and I think you need to realize the world is progressing, and get your head out of your ass.

  8. What you think of tattooed people based on their appearance says less about them, and more about you, as a person fond of categorizing people with pejorative terms like ‘insecure, narcissistic sheep’. You summarize, better than I could, how your argument is based on dated cultural stereotypes, with that point about masculinity: yes, why would a woman want to look masculine? Shouldn’t she try her best to conform to the social construct of ‘femininity’, to make her attractive and easy to…

  9. Want to mutilate your body with tattoos and piercings. Fine. My beautiful grandaughter has decided to do both and she gets less attractive all the time. She has painted herself in a corner and has accomplished nothing except that she known as the ‘tattooed mother’ at her daughter’s school .She looks ridiculous and I do not like introducing her to anyone! She was an honor student when in high school and has 3 years of college.She just coulldn’t make up her mind about what she wanted to do, but had no trouble making up her mind to get her body covered in skulls and flowers. etc. Waiting tables is the only job she can get, and even there, she’s asked to cover some of the tattoos. I have informed all my grandchildren that they will not be in my will or inherit anything from me if they pierce or tattoo their bodies.

  10. Late comer to this convo. Anyone who judges purely because of someone’s artistic ideal of themselves is pretty much the same as judging someone on their physical characteristics. Sure, it’s a choice, but it isn’t akin to bad hygiene or attempting to contribute to social disorder. If someone has tattoos, piercings, or colored hair, that’s how they choose to appear. Who are you to say it’s wrong if you want to appear with a combover and highwater slacks from the 90s? Some people find that just as distasteful, or for better words, as a lack of style. Stop judging everyone else.

    P.S. I have a combover and no tattoos 🙂

  11. I despise tattoos. It is my right to despise any form of “fashion” I like. Besides that, one is still more likely to see an inmate with a tattoo than a professional like a doctor or attorney. People are sheep and get tattoos because of Hollywood or one of their favorite athletes. Notice too, that the people that are smoking outside businesses are usually tatted from head to toe. Most of the time smoking and tattoos go together like Peanut Butter and Jelly.

  12. Judging from the title of the article alone, the person who wrote it doesn’t know what the word ‘tolerance’ means. Tolerance DOES NOT mean to embrace something. Tolerance means putting up with something that the person doesn’t like or agree with. If you embrace something such as tattoos, you ARE NOT tolerating them! Tolerance != embracing. If someone says they accept the right for you to tattoo yourself, but they don’t like tattoos, then they are being tolerant. You first have to not agree or dislike something in order to tolerate it.

    Second, people don’t have to accept anything. Stop going around telling people what they have to think. What are you, the thought police? People have the right (i.e. individual freedom that you speak of in the article) not to like tattoos. Nobody has to embrace anything if they don’t want to. If tattooing is considered ‘art’, then people have the right to judge it, because art is subjective. Most people with tattoos expect everyone to like their tattoos, and if you don’t, you are being judgmental. If you call someone judgmental, then are you not judging? When you get a tattoo, you are doing this to yourself, and you made the choice to do this. You can’t expect everyone to agree with your choices. Deal with it.

    You are probably the type that goes around saying ‘you shouldn’t judge’, and that is naive. People judge all the time. As long as you breathe, you will judge. It is impossible not to. The problem is you don’t want anyone judging you (or whoever you are talking about, I don’t know if you have tattoos or not) for getting a tattoo, yet it is OK for you to judge. You are probably one of those people who consider themselves to be ‘open minded’ and ‘tolerant’. Yet you criticize people who don’t think they way you do about tattoos. How hypocritical is that?

    The funny thing is the word for tattoo in the Latin or Greek is ‘stigma’. Body art such as this is not a natural form. There is nothing natural about having what amounts to printer ink injected into your dermis. As a result of ink being injected into the body, the immune system kicks in and tries to rid the body of the ink.

    Now we are going to have a bunch of people running to the government claiming ‘minority’ status (I’m a minority, BTW).

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