As I was getting ready for an interview for a language teacher’s position the other day, I could not decide whether to wear glasses or not. I wear contact lenses usually, but I thought glasses would make me look a bit smarter. Only later I realized that I have a nose piercing and a tattoo on my arm. Now that tattoos and piercings are more acceptable than ever, I could not help but wondered if they are still considered a social taboo.
Ötzi the Iceman, the 5,300 years old mummy found in 1991 in the Ötzal Alps, had 61 tattoos and pierced years. It is more than obvious that tattoos have existed with us for thousands of years. But in the 20th century, they acquired their negative connotation, which I am afraid prevails until today. Tattoos were often associated with rough sailors and criminals, as well as nomadic circus performers.
In the 1970s, there was a tattoo boom in the Western parts of the world. Body art became a form of rebelliousness and self-expression. In the 2000s, celebrities would proudly show them on TV, and mums would pierce their little boys’ years to look cool. Today, more than a quarter of Americans have at least one tattoo.
Chances that your boss has some kind of a body modification are rather high. He or she will probably not mind you having tattoos and piercings, and they should not be a problem during the hiring process.
But careful with visible tattoos that carry violent, discriminatory, or sexual content. Neck, face, and finger tattoos can be considered unprofessional in various work contexts too.
However, it strongly depends on the industry and company you work for or are about to work at. Corporate and start-up culture, for example, are now built around the employees and their individuality: free coffee and fruit, sport and wellness cards, sick days, or casual Fridays. Employees are encouraged to feel comfortable even at work. Therefore, it is more likely that your body art is going to be allowed at the workplace.
Also, creative industries, such as art, writing, and music, are more open to those trends. Whereas in customer service or any other front-end position, piercings and tattoos can turn off the more conservative clientele.
Professions where you prepare food or beverages, such as cooks, baristas, and bartenders, might not allow you to wear jewelry at all because of safety reasons. I remember that I turned down a job offer at a coffee house back in London because they would ask me to take all my earrings off. I had five of them at that time and no facial piercing yet, and I felt like it would not be me without them. I was 21 and a bit silly by then; I know. Luckily, I got hired in a pub. Only when I found someone’s fake nail in the dishwasher, I understood why both the bar and kitchen staff were not really permitted to wear them. And the jewelry, as well.
There is no doubt that tattoos and piercings are much more common now than decades ago. Still, there is some stigma attached. I am going to repeat myself that it really depends on what business you are in. However, I would not recommend going for tattoos that you cannot cover-up. Those would be tattoos on hands and from the neck above.
Regarding piercings, if you are thinking about getting one, it is better to choose a smaller gauge so the jewelry could be taken out without anyone noticing the hole. If you already have one and you have an important interview ahead, try a piercing retainer (clear or nude-coloured jewelry).
Do not worry; you have got this!