Are Tattoos Really “Unprofessional”?

Not long ago I was having a discussion with some people about discrimination against those with visible tattoos. A recurring theme in the discussion, by some, was that tattoos project an unprofessional appearance.

I admit to being stunned by the certainty…perhaps I might even go so far as to say, arrogance…of those handing down that judgment. Conveniently, none of them have tattoos of course.

As I write this I am 54 years old. I am a former U.S. Army Ranger. I have a law enforcement background. I am well educated, well travelled, and well spoken. But more importantly, I have a significant business background. I have owned several successful companies. I have worked closely with large corporate enterprises such as banks, insurance companies, manufacturing firms, etc., as well as medium and small businesses. I spent 10 years in the corporate game. I am also an experienced legal researcher, a radio talk show host, and for the past year a TV talk show host. Oh…and I’m a published author.

I also happen to be sleeved on both arms, and I’m working on my legs.

As I sat there listening to these folks blithely passing judgment on the unprofessional appearance of tattoos I had to wonder how they justified making such a remark. As I pondered this I wondered which of my tattoos it was – exactly – that transformed me from a professional into something…less.

I wondered if, when I got my right sleeve (which is a single comprehensive piece), I lost the ability to verbally communicate ideas and principles clearly to a room full of business executives; something I have done repeatedly and well for many years. (Odd that my TV audience hasn’t noticed my degraded ability.) Perhaps when I got the piece that started my left sleeve I lost the ability to communicate effectively via the written word (though readers of my book and blog haven’t said a word about a decline in my talents). I wondered whether when I got the Spartan helmet with it’s stunning fuchsia plume on the outside of my left bicep that was the moment I lost my infectious aura of confidence that had always been such a powerful attribute when making a presentation in the boardroom.

It must be something like that, right? I mean, these guys couldn’t just be saying the mere appearance of ink was enough to declare a business professional, unprofessional.

As the discussion progressed, one of the men – a gentleman who holds a civil engineering degree and is employed as a structural engineer – commented that there is no place for visible tattoos in the professional engineering world. This man is certainly a professional. No doubt about it. If I needed a bang-up structural engineer, he’d be at the top of my list. But I wondered how he could, with a straight face, make the pronouncement that there is no place for visible ink in his profession. If someone appointed him the arbiter of professionalism within the engineering community, I missed that memo. In fact, I’m pretty certain 99.99% of all engineers missed that memo.

Wanting to understand his position better, I asked him the following. “If you got a tattoo on your forearm, would that diminish your expertise as an engineer?”

He acknowledged that it wouldn’t diminish his professional expertise in the least, but added that others wouldn’t see it that way. “Others?” I asked.

“Yes, the customers.”

Ah. So now we’re down to the truth of it! There is absolutely nothing about visible ink that is unprofessional. There is merely an opinion, held by some people, that tattoos will be considered to project an unprofessional appearance.

Well, an opinion that tattoos project an unprofessional appearance is certainly different than the statements that were being made, which characterized it as a concrete fact of life, on par with saying the body needs oxygen to survive. Forgive me for saying so, but portraying personal opinion as if it is a hard and fast truth doesn’t sound like something a “professional” should be doing.

All this wouldn’t be important if good people weren’t being hurt by it every day.

Let me be blunt. The statement that visible tattoos project an unprofessional appearance is nothing more than small-minded bigotry. The statement is merely the expression of the personal prejudice of the person speaking. There is no factual basis for it. Those words have no more rationality than if the person said “Black people have no place in the professional world.” Both statements are the result of personal prejudice, not intellect, not fact, not evidence, and not reason. Such words are uttered without a shred of evidence to support them. And like racism, the only veneer of correctness they garner comes from others with the same prejudice saying, “Right you are!” It is one dipshit using the agreement of other dipshits that his dipshit statement has some validity. How…um…”professional” of them.

The truth of the matter is that when a person says, “Tattoos project an unprofessional appearance” what he is really saying is “I am a judgment ass who likes to delude myself into thinking I am superior to others, and because I don’t like tattoos I choose to take the ridiculous and self-serving position that ‘tattoos project an unprofessional appearance’. Don’t ask me to substantiate that because I have no facts or evidence to support it; I just pulled the asinine statement out of my ass. [Perhaps I should have that on a business-size card and hand it to anyone who makes that ridiculous statement about tattoos appearing unprofessional!]

So…what should we make of these folks with their haughtiness, driven by crude baseless prejudice?

“Prejudice of any kind…means you don’t see the other human being anymore, but only your own concept of that human being. To reduce the aliveness of another human being to a concept is already a form of violence.”
~ Eckhart Tolle

Tolle speaks of reducing another person to a mere concept. I can’t imagine any thinking person would disagree with Tolle. Yet those we are discussing here are attempting to reduce people with visible ink not based on some arguably valid concept (which would be bad enough), but they are doing it based on a mindless prejudice. Yet I bet they would tell you they are kind wonderful people. Hmmm.

The truth is visible tattoos project neither a professional nor unprofessional appearance. They simply project the existence of body art.

If a man walks into a boardroom with a plainly evident scar down the side of his face, what does it say about him? Well…absent any additional information, all it says is he has a scar. Did he get it during the commission of a violent felony for which he went to prison? We don’t know. Did he get it in some foreign land fighting to save his life and the lives of his teammates? We don’t know. Did he get it defending his daughter from a rapist in a dark alley one night? We don’t know. Did he get it from something as ordinary as a traffic accident? We don’t know. Would anyone say the scar means he is “unprofessional”? Yet if a man walks into that same boardroom with visible ink showing, those in the room KNOW – without a doubt in their pee-size brains – that he is unprofessional. Isn’t that amazing!

And we haven’t even gotten into the issue of a person being all tat’d up, but covering it with a suit. We know what “they” would think if they could see his ink. But if he intentionally blinds them from seeing it, then because they don’t know he has ink he qualifies in their minds as “professional”? Some mighty intellectual giants right there!

I have a long history in the realm of firearms & tactics. As such I’ve had ample opportunity to observe the reaction of people to the presence of guns in public places. One behavior I’ve always found baffling is a person being visibly uncomfortable when a person nearby is wearing a firearm in an exposed manner, but happy as a clam if 20 people nearby are carrying concealed weapons. I guess ignorance really is bliss for some folks. Likewise, it seems the same mindset applies to tattoos in the (cough, cough) “professional” setting. If they can’t see the tattoos, then everyone is a “professional”. But if they can see the tattoos then someone’s appearance is “unprofessional”.

I’ve always considered people such as Navy SEALS, Army Rangers, Special Forces, etc, to be the epitome of “professional” at what they do. I wonder how many of the folks who whine about tattoos projecting an unprofessional appearance know that most of America’s elite warriors are heavily tattooed? Oh…wait…they don’t mean warriors when they use the word “professional”.

It seems these folks have a very persnickety – one might even say, delicate – view of what constitutes a “professional”. Perhaps a guy who is too “manly” doesn’t qualify in their eyes as a “professional”?

I wonder about a lot of things. For instance, I wonder what these people who pronounce visible tattoos to be unprofessional fear from the people who have them. Remember, psychologically speaking, ALL baseless prejudice is rooted in fear.

So…what are these folks so damn afraid of? What is it they fear so much that when they walk into a corporate meeting room, see no ink, they can proceed joyfully. But walk into the same meeting room, see a man’s forearm with ink on it, and immediately have the hallucination that there is now something “unprofessional” afoot? If I may say so, that’s some pretty powerful fear!

Though I posed the question, I already know the answer. What drives the fear is one simple (apparently terrifying) thought: “He’s not like me. He’s…different.” Holy shit! Not THAT! Not “different”! Anything but THAT!!!

For a land frequently referred to as a “melting pot” Americans have a strangely narrow mental picture of what a decent person looks like. In the minds of far too many, folks with tattoos are outside that narrow picture. As such, in the minds of those folks, people with tattoos cannot be “decent” people. The haters put up with us [what choice do they have, right?] but in their eyes we are “less than” decent citizens. There’s something “not quite right” about us.

I recently read a comment made by a woman who has a strong dislike for tattoos and people who have them. She said, “Tattoos shout non-conformist.” Hmmm. So…in this (supposed) land of liberty there is something “wrong” with people who don’t conform? Sounds more like living under the Nazis than what I’d expect in a nation supposedly invested in the principle of personal liberty. I wish I had been able to ask her what it is she believes we are not conforming with, and what it is she would demand we conform with to be “decent people” in her eyes. I’m sure her response would have been fascinating!

How emotionally retarded must a person be to allow fear of someone “different” than herself to push her around like a spastic puppet?

But of course such people are never going to admit they fear us because we are (in their minds) “different”, and they are emotionally retarded. They’ve spent a lifetime covering up their fear and denying it at every turn. They’re certainly not going to admit they’re emotional retards. Instead they attempt to cover their fear by constructing an argument they can pitch to others as (supposedly) “rational”.

It also helps when enlisting people to your point of view if you can convince your peer group they are superior and the “others guys” are inferior – such as claiming without a shred of supporting evidence that the “other guys” are unprofessional, while YOU, the non-tattooed, are the epitome of professionalism! Since a whole lot of humans love to feel superior – which means they need to find someone to brand as inferior – it’s is an easy and effective pitch.

It may be hard to imagine the man in the $3,000 suit and the $500 Italian loafers, with the $150,000 car parked outside, fears you because you have visible ink. But in psychological terms that is exactly what is happening.

I will admit I am tired of it. I am tired of the arrogance. I am tired of their “logic” that can’t stand up to the scrutiny of a gifted 10 year old. I’m tired of watching one guy spew complete mindless bullshit, and then feel his views have been validated when another petty fearful asshole agrees with his vacuous crap. It’s tiresome watching internal ugliness put on display as if it’s a virtue.

In fact, I’m so tired of it that I sometimes consider suggesting that tattooed folks who are in a position to hire prospective employees or contract personnel, don’t hire anyone who doesn’t have tattoos. But I won’t.

I’ve often said that tattooed people are just like non-tattooed people, except there are way fewer judgmental assholes in the tattooed crowd. And a lot fewer fearful ones too!

Copyright 2013 – Dave Champion

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