Monday, 3 October, 2022
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Job interviews to sexist colleagues’ comments: Offices judge me by my tattoos, not work

The questions on my tattoos haunted me to the point that I stopped dressing for myself when I went to work, and started wearing clothes that hid them.

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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.


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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.


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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.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. It’s sad that even though we are moving forward technologically and economically, we are still backward in our way of thinking. I still come under fire because I am a minority from the South working in the capital. It comes with a lot of stereotypes. I work in an MNC too. When you do the job flawlessly right, you come under a lot of fire. They have to pick on something and they would have to pick on your appearance. In a brutal unhealthy competition at work, they are afraid you are going to succeed. They are afraid you are going to climb the ladder of success, so they have to bring up something that is out of context. It’s a jealous move. I have been told I need more makeup by Garima Nandwani, HR head in Personiv. In a country which is striving for human rights, I can’t believe that a woman’s worst enemy can be another woman pointing out her flaws. I have lost out to nepotism and favoritism because I concentrate on my work and don’t kiss up to anyone. I have even lost my job at Personiv because of the feedback I’ve given them. It’s like Oliver Twist asking for more soup at the orphanage. Complaining and giving feedback to management has been banned making it the second corporate dictatorship since the British rule.

  2. This is what happens to a generation which grows up with consolation prizes.
    Wahman stop try to somehow associate the highest of ideals like Freedom, personal choice etc to innocuous things. You are complaining as if you were given a choice to choose between tattoos and job.
    Why does this generation thinks that all the means to stand out of the crowd- tattoos, outrageous clothing, bizarre hairstyles, should garner only and only flattering responses?
    Workplace nagging happens due to personal demeanor and interpersonal skills. Appearance might accentuate nagging, but it is never a standalone cause.
    If tattoos are a means of expression with similar virtue as that of say poetry, then it is plain commonsense that not everyone will clap for you. Some might taunt or ignore too.
    This generation needs to toughen up and stop trying to get famous without being good at anything.

  3. I can empathise with you, because I’ve faced similar discrimination, though it was for other things related to physical appearance.
    However, I’m a little confused.
    My understanding is that tattoos and piercings started out as symbols of tribal association in the ancient times and today, tattoos and body art were a form of self expression, in a modern sense. If that’s the case, then what’s the problem in people making certain assumptions based on them? Isn’t that what one is looking for?
    You are right in saying that your tattoos do not have any impact on your work ethic, but such a case can be made for anything. Education, experience, attire, demeanor, enthusiasm, availability… There is nothing that will definitely influence work performance. However, these are all symbols and we expect people to take them into account when forming opinions about us.

  4. The woman in this is kind of right from her pov(point of view) ,but if I had seen her with tattoos i would have also judged her in same way as she mentioned people had judged her . And the reason behind is that those who apply tattoo are generally those who are in relationship or had been in one, furthermore India pricing virginity a lot , its generally seen virgins don’t apply tattoo, thats another reason ppl judge u as ‘cool’ as tattoo shows ur non virgin. U also said society judge those who apply “Piercing” welll thats totally fare to judge Piercing is mostly done by pornstars or people related to adult industry of sex, its just like if u a man/ woman poorly dressed with matted hair and dirty clothes u automatically assume them to be homeless or poor, likewise people will judge u for tattoos and u can simply do nothing about it , periodThe woman in this is kind of right from her pov(point of view) ,but if I had seen her with tattoos i would have also judged her in same way as she mentioned people had judged her . And the reason behind is that those who apply tattoo are generally those who are in relationship or had been in one, furthermore India pricing virginity a lot , its generally seen virgins don’t apply tattoo, thats another reason ppl judge u as ‘cool’ as tattoo shows ur non virgin. U also said society judge those who apply “Piercing” welll thats totally fare to judge Piercing is mostly done by pornstars or people related to adult industry of &ex its just like if u a man/ woman poorly dressed with matted hair and dirty clothes u automatically assume them to be homeless or poor, likewise people will judge u for tattoos and u can simply do nothing about it . Okay

  5. My boss has her nephew’s name tattooed on her arm in a display font. You can see it from down the hallway with one eye closed. A colleague from another company has a tattoo plate on her lower leg and a split tongue with a piercing. Both meet with corporate clients. And one works with 3 leading Indian banks. Their tattoos are always on display and have never been an issue. Never. Not with us or the clients. We would even hire a person with two heads, but can’t afford the double salary. The only people we don’t work with, are those who think the world should revolve around them. We promptly refer them to NASA.

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