You must be a party animal, but here we like to maintain decorum,” a colleague had once told me. That wasn’t the first time my tattoos were commented on in a workplace. “Oh, you have tattoos, aren’t you a Muslim?” another colleague asked.
These questions haunted me to the point that I stopped dressing for myself when I went to work and started wearing clothes that hide my tattoos. After college, I had naively thought that things would finally get better and the ‘cool’ working grown-ups will accept me with my tattoos, but that never happened.
At my first job interview, just when I was about to leave, the HR of the company asked, “Don’t you think you have too many tattoos?” I didn’t know what that had to do with my CV or abilities. But I started feeling sorry for myself and embarrassed me to the extent that I walked past her hanging my head low, as if it was a walk of shame for having tattoos. However, this was one of the better situations I have been in because of my tattoos.
Body art has zero effect on work ethics
One incident that left me aghast was when a senior female colleague at a media organisation where I worked, actually sat down to moral police me on why I shouldn’t have got tattoos in the first place. She thought she was being well-meaning, of course. “Tattoos don’t put forward a good image. People in the office will come to know about your personality, they’ll think you are a reckless woman,” she said. I was taken aback at this utterly regressive mentality. “How do you come to work with all these tattoos?”, another colleague had asked. By metro.
All of these judgements, unsolicited opinions, and lectures didn’t affect me much, until I started working. This is probably because I didn’t expect such prejudices at least from co-workers who claim that they are liberal and independent adults. The conclusion that most people draw is that tattoos are a reckless teenage-attention-seeking thing or that one has to be some sort of a rebel to get tattoos.
A friend of mine who works in the marketing industry had once told me how his boss picks on him regularly over his tattoos. He told me how he was insulted for the tiniest of mistakes in comparison to others and was repeatedly told that his tattoos are going to hamper the company image. The fear psychosis from the constant bullying reached a point where he just quit his job and went into depression.
Another friend had told me how her boss constantly keeps on asking her out and then one day when she bluntly refused, he told her, “I thought you were a cool chick, you’ve tattoos!”
The problem is the moment you walk into a workplace with visible tattoos or piercings or streaked hair, people start looking at you like you are an alien. They form perceptions about you, your personal life and your childhood just with one glance. They also start thinking that since you have a tattoo, you are extremely easy going and they can start passing ‘politically incorrect’ statements, which won’t be seen as workplace harassment. Needless to say, if you’re a woman with tattoos, workplace sexism will just turn into ‘light office room humour’.
How have any of my tattoos hampered my work or my personality, I am yet to understand.
Toxic work culture
What’s worse is that most MNCs and other private companies still do not want to hire people who have tattoos and the only solution they are left with is to hide them, which doesn’t even remotely solve the problem.
The saddest part is that even in 2020, tattoos as an ancient body art form that have been around for centuries, still don’t get acceptance and respect from people. What people in offices fail to understand is that tattoos are not equal to poor work ethics. If your company image is ruined by my tattoos, then my tattoos aren’t the problem really.
Body art is a matter of personal choice. Having a tattoo isn’t unprofessional, judgement from employers and colleagues over it definitely is. This constant conflict between personal choice and work culture encroaches the basic rights of the employee to be themselves and be comfortable in the office environment.
You can’t weigh someone’s worth in an organisation based on their body art or how they look. It’s 2020.