Tattoo discrimination? In the U.S.?!

Who would think that having large exposed tattoos could still cost gainful employment in the United States? Apparently not people with said large exposed tattoos.

“I think in some ways, it’s a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ understanding,” said 37-year-old Dave Kimelberg when asked how rough he has it as a high-paid, secretly-tattooed attorney.

According to professional tattooed lady, Sara Champion, she had to find a new job because she didn’t want to cover up her needle-scribblings at work. She left, causing her former coworkers to miss out on “six large tattoos on her arms and back,” including:

  • “a brightly colored sunflower.”
  • “a marigold.”
  • “a rendition of a Dia de los Muertos bride and groom on her upper left arm.” (Wha–?)

Fortunately, she found another job where she’s allowed to be as big of an attention whore as she wants to be.* After all, tattoos are a lifestyle, not a choice.

*Unfortunately, it’s in Danbury, Connecticut.

Update (11/26/2008):
Thanks to all of your thoughtful comments, I have changed my mind about tattoos. You really made me think long and hard about myself and people’s preconceptions, so I’ve written more about our (yes, our) plight.

(It’s a long post about Thanksgiving, so feel free to skip all the way to the end.)

Final Update (4/4/2009):
Obviously people are going to continue stumbling across this article through Google search or however else they look to get outraged online. For all intents and purposes, I’m considering the Tattoo Discrimination Challenge a disappointment, but will keep it open for the day someone pours their energy into thoughtful work instead of petty complaints.

98 thoughts on “Tattoo discrimination? In the U.S.?!”

  1. I know that there are “good people” who are tattooed. I know a few of them. I don’t know whether they were “good people” when they got their tattoos, but they seem OK now. I DO know that some got their tattoos when they were “chemically altered” or under great stress. This leads me to think that they weren’t exercising their best judgment. So I associate tattoos with people who aren’t really all there.

    The same goes for kids and young adults… sadly, I have seen 13 to 16-year olds who either slipped by their parents or whose parents were dumb enough to allow them to get tattoos. So I associate tattoos with people who aren’t very mature.

    As for the people who waited until they got to college… still, not exercising great judgment — “I got it while drunk on vacation.” I’ve heard that several times. “I got it because I was in a fraternity.” I don’t understand that one, but then I never joined a frat. Oh, and I’ve seen the people who were branded as their initiation into some group or other. Now, does that seem very smart?

    One of the things that sticks in my mind is that they used to tattoo and brand slaves.

    I also know people who just like to be so different than whatever they experienced growing up… I see lots of weird tattoos and multiple piercings. They are rebelling, but they choose a self-destructive way of doing that. Self-hatred maybe? Hatred of their parents/society? Maybe they just didn’t want to fit in. All in all, they don’t seem very well adjusted, I guess.

    We all know of the “tramp stamps”… they got that name for a reason. I especially like the idea that the reason some women get their names tattooed on their asses is so that they guy doesn’t have to stop and turn them around to ask what their name is when they’re fucking them.

    ARE there good people with tattoos? Yes, without a doubt. Did they know what they were doing when they got inked? I just have to doubt it.

    Would I hire someone who had tattoos visible when they interviewed? I would have to go out of my way to justify it, just as I would if someone showed up to a job interview dressed inappropriately. Again, it shows poor judgment on their behalf. Am I judging them? Yes, I guess I am. As employer, it is my right to judge who I want working for me — at least for now. Could I possibly be missing out on good talent? Yes, but that’s my option. Would/could somebody else hire them? Sure. It’s a free world, for now.

    Everybody always thinks that their view is correct. A vile sickness that grips mankind. What about opposing views? Wrong, of course.

    So which is worse? The man (woman) who wants to associate as they choose or the man (woman) who chooses to be different and then demands that everyone accepts them? If I own the business, shouldn’t I be allowed to choose who I want working for me? At what point am I not allowed, at what point is it “discrimination”? Male / female? Black / white? Straight / gay? Jew / Christian / Muslim / Atheist? I contend that I should have a right to hire/fire anyone for pretty much any reason, if I own the business. Is that wrong? If I make sound business decisions, I will survive. If I pass up someone because of (pick any of the above) and someone else hires them — or better, if they start their own business, AND they make sound business decisions, THEY will survive. At some point, it makes sense to hire someone who is different, even if only to add to your customer base. That’s the way the free market works… it’s a good thing.

    So… a business owned by / catering too tattooed people? Fine! I probably won’t patronize it, but there are plenty of people who would. Should I HAVE to patronize it?

    Oh well, I guess nobody else is a smart as I am. Heh.

    1. I read about half of what you wrote before i threw up in my mouth a little. you considering yourself smart, not the best judge.

  2. I have a tattoo on my left hand I got when I turned 18, and it does mean something to me. Now I am 28 attending college I was told I would have to have it removed before I could go into clinicals for my R.N. not to just cover it. I’ve seen people that have had tattoo’s removed and it leaves the skin looking worse than when it was there. So I am paying for all these classes out of my own pocket while working full time at a busy Dr.’s office, and being DENIED an EDUCATION unless I remove my tattoo…
    Tottoo is two rose’s with a heart only 2 inches

    1. I guess you were not as smart as you thought you were when you so boldly proclaimed your independence. You should have listened to your parents.

  3. I am doing research for a paper on discrimination against tattoos in the workplace. I currently have four tattoos, with every intention on getting more. I am also going to school for Elementary Education. Every tattoo that I have has a special and personal meaning to me, and I do not regret getting any one of them. The butterfly on my wrist, the memorial on my back, the cross over my heart and the bunny on my leg were all chosen for the special meaning they have for me. I also plan to get my wedding ring on my finger done as a tattoo, my fiance plans to as well. I do understand that not every job will accept these with an open mind, especially since I am going to be an elementary school teacher. However, my actual wedding set will go over my tattoo and I can always wear long sleeves and pants. While I do not agree with hiding tattoos, I also understand that even though my tattoos are not offensive, not every parent wants their child exposed to tattoos. They do have a bad history, but not a very well deserved one. There was one site that I was on where a person stated that people ask them what they think that tattoo is going to look like in 80 years. Their response is, “No person’s skin is going to look great in 80 years, but at least mine is going to be interesting!” All I can say is I don’t judge a person because they decide not to have ink on their skin, I would appreciate it if I am not judged because I DO have ink on my skin.

    1. We judge people by appearance all the time. You are going to college and do not understand this? Are you kidding me? I hire people based on appearance as well as other things. If someone smells badly or comes to an iv with jeans they will not be hired, nor will people with visible tattoos. You low classed yourself and that was you choice. My choice is to make as much money as possible for a business I worked hard to make successful. My clients expect a certain look and tattoos do not cut it. It is called life honey.

  4. i personally like tattoos. i don’t have any, but i like them. when i get my tattoos in the future, they most likely will be in a place i feel comfortable covering up on a daily work basis. i’m not so young and naive to believe that some one should look past my tattoos to hire me and then get angry if they don’t. it’s just the way the world is. give it a decade or two and it won’t be as big of a deal…just like compared to 10 or 20 years ago…it’s not such a big deal today. i don’t think that people should have to hide their tattoos…but i know that’s how the world currently works and you can’t really get upset about it when the only thing that will change it is time. soon the tattood generation x will take over the country when all the baby boomer generation retires and fades away and business men will be hard pressed to find employees with out any tattoos or body piercings because i see kids running around everywhere with tattoos in places that will be hard to hide. that is all i’ve got to say on the subject.

  5. First of all Hooters would not hire tattoo folks and I agree. From the other side of the spectrum. It is not about whether tattoo folks are up to the job. It comes down to Americas business world. If I am spending 5 bucks a meal at Dennys I can deal with the tattooed waitress. If I am going to a swank 100 buck a plate or expensive plate restaurant lol. I would be pissed served by a tattooed waitress. Life is not fair and America votes with its dollars. You better believe I am going to prefer an atty without tattoos , at least visible tattoos. I have noticed people with tattoos generally smoke. This tells me that they are prone and insecure to peer pressure and want to fit . This is my opinion on the whole tattoo thing. I used to go to this eyeglass place and the lady was 60 and had tattoos on her neck. You better believe I am not going back again. Prospective employees know there is an unclassy like stigma to tattoos. SOrry folks that is the way it is. You best think twice before getting those things, because it will affect your career choices, like it or not!

  6. I would just like to say as a wounded combat veteran of the U.S. Army, I find it quite strange that one would be pissed if they were served an expensive plate of food at restaurant by a tattooed person. I have a full sleeve and it seems as though people are quick to write off a tattooed person as a convict or a gang member. Yet when the country is in turmoil they look to our military, which by the way, almost everyone is tattooed, to take care of threats to our country utilizing billions in tax dollars, and using multi-million dollar equipment on a daily basis. So who’s the convict really?

  7. Thank you for fighting for my freedom and my freedom believes tattoos to be low class. My freedom allows me to NOT spend dollars in places I deem beneath my class. Sorry , I like millions of other folks see tattoos as low class. You have the freedom to believe differently. The corporate world is what it is. American corps will not change for folks that get eyesores on a whim, as much as you would like it to. Sorry that is just the way it is.

  8. i work at a rinky dink sandwich shop and they dont belive that tattoos should be visable. i humored them and wore a turtle neck to work today to cove up my daughters name and tattoo on my hand and forearm the corprate buisness coach was there today and docked points from the stores score for wearing the turtle neck because its not winter . and now every time they come down and im scheduled to work , they will send me home . THATS B.S !!! its fast food not a five star resturant i bust my butt to prove myself and i feel im being discriminated . im not a gang member , im not a convict im just me , nothing else. tattoo’s are to express who you are, what you have been thru and its there to remind you so you dont go back from where you came from

  9. im going to get my first done in the next few weeks and even i have sometimes a hard time when looking at tats as i always think why would you want that on your body. I also know that if i ever go to japan (highly likely) people will think im some yakosa (i sadly cant ever spell it).but dispite this im in love with the disines i have got (DnD related) as they are the things that mean a lot to me. so far they are a dwarf riding a dancing bear (DONT ASK)and the symbol of the pendant (right way up since im a beleiver in the pagan ways)

  10. A lot of you generalize that people with tattoos are uneducated. And a lot of you spelled TATTOOS incorrectly. Ironic?

  11. Sorry folks. You tattoo people sound like whiny spoiled children. There are consequences for your actions. How dare any of you, want others to sacrifice their profits because of you stupid decisions to look like circus freaks. It is the height of arrogancy. In my business as an employer , appearance means alot. If I have a tattoo staff , my profits go out the window. Like it or not there are corporate standards that still exist. Life is not always fair. Deal with it or think twice before marring your body. In fact , if you feel so strongly about your decision to get a tattoo, you should have the same libertarian respect for the person that worked hard to make his business a success and wanting to keep it a success. Individual decisions work both ways. Unless, someone physically attacked you for the way you look, thus invading your personal space, no laws were broken. Have a nice day and young ones think twice before getting tattoos. It can have a negative affect on your earning power for life.

    1. clearly your sense of judgment is so superfluously clouded by intolerance that you don’t even stop to think. if a single person who has tattoos is 80% more effective then your 50% non-tattooed blank boring uncreative drone, that employee will raise your profits more then losing a single intolerant customer like yourself. the world is changing, more then 40 million people in the united states have tattoos, by holding on to this grudge that tattoos are bad, you’ll start losing customers, and employees and honestly i hope you enjoy going bankrupt.
      good day

  12. to tattoo hater:
    you’re obviously an ignorant, judgemental snob if you assume that anyone with a tattoo is uneducated. maybe if you knew any educated people you would know that.

  13. are you serious tattoo hater?? go back 1942 you fucking dumb bitch. and yes you deserve to die it ppl like you that ruin america!

  14. David stfu your fucking phobias have made you a fucking idiot ppl with tattoos don’t ruin businesses if you believe that then you must be living in the 1950’s. A person makes a successful business by hiring ppl who know what they are doing not dumb asses like you making stupid comments. Do you know how stupid and retarded you sounded with with your retard power paragraph?? do you?? you and the rest of the ppl who think tattoos are worst are a bunch of fucking idiot with their damn head up their asses… and yeah i dont have tattoos and yes a law is violated if you deny ppl a job for having tattoos ever heard of the EEOC damn ppl like you should not be allowed to breed they should dip you a large water container filled to the brim with piranha’s and slit you enough to let your blood drive them into a feed frenzy.

  15. Dear Tattoo Hater,
    Maybe you should educate YOURSELF. Tattoos are no more an indicator that you belong to a biker gang than owning a bike is. It doesn’t mean that the tattooed person is a convict either. Currently, more than 50% of all people getting tattooed are upper middle class women. According to one’s perception, the body can also become a beautiful canvass. How decent is the institution that you belong to if you discriminate against people with tattoos? Do you also discriminate against people with a different skin color than you? You don’t make a good argument for your decency. In the end, it will be you that misses out on some real talented individuals that you won’t hire because of your narrow views.

  16. I can understand why people have preconceived notions about how people who have tattoos are felons, gangsters, etc.. But I myself have three tattoos, all of which can be covered in a professorial setting. All of my tattoos have deep personal meanings to me, including an Irish claddagh on my chest to represent my father, and both of his parents who have passed away. I have NEVER done drugs, been associated with any sort of crime, or anything of that sort. I have never even been in a fist fight as a child. I have always held a steady job, paid taxes, and I truly believe that to get what you want in life you have to work for it. I am currently a full time student and studying to be a nurse. I am fairly intelligent and always respectful. I stumbled on this website and was actually dismayed to see some of the comments put up by people who have tattoos. I can understand feeling passionate about being discriminated against for having them, as I myself have experienced it, but I find no need to use any profanity or threats. To me, that just makes the people who have notions that people with tattoos are violent and uneducated feel vindicated about their opinions. If you want to change someone’s opinion about a stereotype then the proper way to do it is through calmly educating them with facts and examples that prove them wrong. If they still feel the same way that they did before then so be it. It is their opinion and they are entitled to it, just as I am entitled to mine. I have never been raised to judge a book by its cover (my mother has 8 tattoos herself, and is highly educated, with a successful professional career) but unfortunately some people are just stuck in their ways. Best idea would be to leave them to them, as you would not want anyone to force their opinions on you. I believe in the “golden rule” meaning “Do unto others, as you would have done unto you”.

  17. Pretty much everyone on this page is dumb. There is no way in hell I am taking, financial advice or buying insurance from someone with a giant dragon up their arm. A small tattoo that can be covered up at work (i.e get a tattoo on your back or shoulder if you want one so bad) is fine. But seriously, it is plain unprofessional. Have you ever seen a powerful business person with multi-colored hair, neon nails, or bright makeup? No. You see the trashy girl at the local CVS looking like that. Luckily, most of the former is removable, you can change the color of your hair, you can take out earrings but if you decide in 4 years that you want to take a different career path, say in law, or medicine and you have a giant star on your face. YEAH RIGHT!
    Also. If you can’t spell a good 10% of the words you write on hear correctly you are clearly not to be taken seriously.

  18. Unfortunately, tattoos are not (yet) protected by labor and/or discrimination laws. Regardless of how people with tattoos feel, employers have every right to not hire people with visible tattoos, they also have a right to ask employees to cover them up. While disappointing, the reality is people do get turned down for job opportunities because of their ink.

    However I don’t think it’s fair to label those with tattoos as “unprofessional” or “trashy” or “uneducated” – I hate to break it to you but more than half of the U.S population has at least 1 tattoo. I think you’d be surprised at just how many doctors, lawyers and financial advisors are inked.

  19. I have been in the marines for five years i have a tattoo most of the guys i work with have tattoos my C.O has a tattoo now are you telling me the people that defend your freedom to make your comments and your blogs are gang members and fellons. How ridiculous can you be

  20. To all the people who “hate” tattoos,NO NO YOU educate yourselves!How educated does it sound when you automatically judge people of being gangmembers or ex-convicts for the simple fact that one choses to tattoo themselves?!?!I mean come on!but then again just as i have the right to do whatever i feel w/ my body,you have the right to remain IGNORANT!Talk about close mindedness!geeez!!

  21. I like tatoos, some of them are really beautiful, but I would not hire someone with a tatoo on his/her face. If somebody does something like this to himself it’s rather impossible to expect a reasonable thinking in anything of him/her.

    And for what do I need a thoughless worker?

  22. I completely understand that employers do not want tattoos to be visible especially when you are the face of that particular company but if they are able to be covered up I don’t see an issue with having them at all. The fact that someone has a tattoo does not mean anything about their education, their background or their criminal record it is simply a way they choose to express themselves just the same as one would with clothing or hairstyles. So goes the same in the workplace it is expected that staff will maintain professionalism by keeping their appearance neat and tidy and unfortunately the truth remains that tattoos are still not considered mainstream like the previous comparison to earrings so they are generally considered not to comply with most dress codes.

    I personally have both my feet, a large piece on my side/back and a full sleeve done. I work in an office so keep these covered while at work. I also do promotional work where I keep these covered when necessary as we are the face of a companys brand. I don’t mind covering them when necessary as I understand the reason for this but I am only working a part of my day and I like to keep work and play separate so I like showing them off out of work and expressing myself and when I come to work I maintain my professional, respected image.

    Let’s be honest we all wish that tattoos were more accepted and that people didn’t hold negative judgements towards them but if they were the norm then there would be no novelty to them and I do like the fact that my tattoos stand me out from the crowd and noone has the same pieces I have. I think they will become more understood as time goes on as it is not only sailors and thugs who have them now but it is more being acknowledged and appreciated as an artform in its own right and artists can do amazing things with some ink and a gun!

    I like to think this is just another thing that keeps us all different. The world would be a very boring place without these differences.

  23. It’s plain old discrimination. It’s as bad as not hiring someone for having to wear glasses(they could wear contacts), or someone who is fat(a lifestyle choice).

    I can understand if that person, with the tattoos, had some offensive material on their body that was exposed, but this usually is not the case.

    I can’t wait for someone to sue over this policy, that belongs in the 1950’s, along with racism.

  24. Listen folks. Remember that thing you learned back in first grade? “Don’t judge a book by its cover”
    Not hiring someone because they have tattoos is no different than hiring someone because of their ethnicity. This world really needs to change. If someone has full sleeves and a tattoo on their neck that isn’t a portrait of something obviously offensive ex.( someone raping a baby) then there should be no problem. Get over your hatred. We are all human. We all have feelings and aspirations. People should not suffer for their chosen lifestyle and appearance. However there should be restrictions. Open mindedness and good judgment is best used with these restrictions. But hell, I’m only 19 what do I know about life?

  25. personaly i think thats a bunch of boo boo. Foreal not everyone with tatoos is a convict. Some people get tattoos to epress something or to remeber some point in there life. But pepole dnt think of that they see tattoos an automaticly think of prison or gangs.

  26. I like the fact that the first response by “tattoo hater” stating that your people please educated your selves is making an attempt to sound so intelligent and “decent”…yet he can’t spell the word YOURSELVES…one word!

  27. Mr. Rick Snee,

    Who do you think you are? you are soooo judgemental towards people who love and have a passion for art whether it be on their body or not. Your discriminating against people who have tattoos, and your saying people with tattoos can represetn gang memberization?? Then that means i can suspect that you are in a gang because your Profile picture for this little websitre is of a man holding a gun. that could easily repesent a gang as well. but back to my point, you dont have the right to judge others, no matter what, whether you believe in God or not, only he can judge,
    thank you.

  28. You people are do closed minded and stupid it’s sickening to read. Not only do you make completely invalid points about tattoos (a culture that without having them you know nothing about) but you do so in the most unkempt in accurately articulated pros I’ve come to see. You people (tattoo haters) are no better than racists or sexists. If you think someone doesn’t have to the right to express themselves then you’re a fucking hypocrite. If any of this needs question or further explanation you’re all as stupid as I think.

  29. I waws hired with my tattoos and they all knew i was hired and now i have to cover the one on my neck up i cant have my hair down and it cant be up cause my tattoo shows and if i dont find a way to cover it by mat1st i get wrote up and 3 times of not covering it im fired… i think this is ridiculous becasue of the fact that they knew i had it when they hired me …

  30. I must say, I came across this page while doing research for my Comm 202 class. I’m writing a speech on why people with body modifications are assets to companies. As a heavily tattooed/pierced person myself, this is highly offensive. More specifically, Rick Snee’s comments are highly offensive. The year is 2012 and 1/3 of Americans 18 to 29 have a tattoo. The fact that discrimination is quite sad. By blantantly insulting modified individuals, you are turning away bold and creative individuals. Statistically speaking, you’re narrowing yourself to hiring a bunch of old men. Because why risk hiring a college-fresh, innovative professional? They might have *gulp* tattoos. This ignorance is unbelievable. Hopefully one day you’ll see how close-minded and offensive you are. Until then, I suggest hiring some better writers who are at least mediocre. Oh wait, I forgot you hate creativity.

  31. I’ve just read through all of this and honestly I’m disgusted on how people veiw things. People are allowed to do what they please to their bodies and if you don’t like it don’t get one. Not everyone has to like what you like and you don’t have to like what everyone else does. I’m heavily tattooed but you do not see me discriminating on the people who don’t have tattoos or by what they chose to do to their bodies. Thats what life is about having the option to do what you want with YOUR body. I’m a high school graduate and going to college and working full time and have not been to prison or jail and not in a gang. I am well respected for the person I am, not by whats on my body. Because that is all that matters, WHATS ON THE INSIDE. This ladies and gentalmen is why there will never be world peace or any peace at that.This is why we are always going to have war and genocides and evverything else. We can’t accept people for who they are, not how they look or their reigion, or even how they dress. Maybe one day when we realize this we’ll actually get somewhere. Oh and on a seperate note the people who claim to be against tattoos and be educated its “TATTOO” not tatoo. Some correct spelling would be a great start to validate your point.

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