Tattoos and Business Suits

Today my mom and I returned to the tattoo studio for my second and her fourth tattoo. This time we got a shared tattoo, which is incredibly exciting, but the entire process this time around has really drawn my attention to the future. As in the dress-pants, pencil skirts, blouses and tidy pullover cardigans that represents my future.

My mom's tattoo

My mom’s tattoo

This is my tattoo

This is my tattoo

I am planning a “professional career” which means being calm and poised all the time. Which I feel like is a 75/25 thing. It’s hard for me to even imagine me as an adult, but it is a slow transition I suppose.

Getting ready for bed a few nights ago I asked Aaraf if I looked different, if I was different? It seemed prudent to ask someone else, because I know that seeing someone every day can make you miss things that change gradually over time. I know I wear a lot more cardigans than I did first year, last year I bought my first blazer, and I would never dream of sweatpants in class. Or out of the house in general. Except to go to Walmart. I can acknowledge that especially since the GRE, I have shifted to a more refined vocabulary. I take time on a Friday to mow my lawn and rake the leaves, Saturdays are filled with household chores. And I feel a lot more educated and aware of issues and topics. I know how to read a study in the news and judge its potential worth, I know that I need to track down the original source, and I understand how media presentation affects perception and understanding. So I know about all of these changes, I know how my behaviours have changed since first year, but does this all make me look different? Or am I the same person, just with better clothes and vocabulary? Aaraf said of course I’ve changed, but not really that much he doesn’t think.

Still pondering the answer to this question I took to Facebook. My life has been laid out on social media. Keeping an accurate record of at least public Niki. You know – the social me, who appears to have a much more vibrant social life than I really believe, the me that says semi-witty things on a semi-routine basis, and shares semi-serious content on other semi-routine bases. According to social media I am pretty much the exact same person. Minus that brief period where I dyed my hair dark. And the newly inked back and wrist.

So I’m the same person but a totally different person. On a cellular level, most of my cells have probably been replaced multiple times. Theoretically I am in a whole new skin. But still am I the same person? Or am I a more fragmented person? Is fragmented really the right word? I’m not broken or anything, but there are a number of different people I am now, we just share the same body. The same core? What is that core? Am I having an identity crisis over a tattoo?

I have spent a number of years figuring out exactly who I am, and each piece of me adds to the puzzle, but without all the pieces I have no idea who I am, and yet the puzzle can always be expanded. Is that analogy too cheesy? Does it even make sense? Bah. Doesn’t matter just go with it.

Either way, I at least semi-appear to have figured out all the major parts of me. I know what I want to be future parts of me. But how does that fit with who I am now? Do I have to let go of the goofy side of me? Give up my tattoos and enter a world of business suits and high heels? Oh God. I miss my sneakers already.

Curious about the whole affair I decided to do what I do best: Google things until I have come up with a vaguely logical but entirely convincing argument. This isn’t the first time I researched tattoos, nor the first time I have used the university’s vast bibliographic resources to research something entirely unrelated to my education (my tuition is high enough that I think it’s a fair use).

About a year and a half ago just before I got my first tattoo, I researched the psychology of tattoos. I found some cool stuff. And explanations from every branch of psychology. Included in this the evolutionary explanation that since tattoos used to pose a significant health risk, and still hypothetically do, having a tattoo was a sign of higher fitness because they had a strong enough immune system that they could survive the risk. Also on the list? A need for uniqueness prompts people to permanently ink their skin. That it is a part of individual identity, a matter of self-expression. That they are an indication of a socially undesirable personality and behaviours. Or that you are doing it to fit in with your peers or a subculture.

When I returned to Google today in search of an answer on the whole professionals with tattoos debate, what I found, confirmed a lot of what I think about tattoos, which is to say, I came up with no clear opinion.

See I personally believe that the world is becoming more socially accepting of tattoos, no longer are they signs that you are some sort of thug or ne’er do well. At the same time I also believe that the professional world still views visible tattoos as about as acceptable as showing up to work in the nude. And to be clear, when I say professionals I mean the jobs that require a painful amount of education, or that place you in executive positions where people look to you to be the stereotypical upstanding citizen. Think doctors, lawyers, professors, and yes, psychologists. So I think both they’re no big deal and they’re career blocks at the same time.

But guess what?

My generation (the group currently between the ages of 18 and 29 years old) is the most tattooed generation in history with 38% bearing at least one tattoo, 14% bearing two or more1. And yet according to a survey done by in 2011 of 2878 companies, 31% of companies would be less likely to give an individual with a visible tattoo a promotion. On the upside, this is only marginally worse than having messy hair (29%) and apparently having a body piercing (I am presuming other than traditional ear lobe) is actually worse (37% say this would make them less likely to give the promotion).

The funny thing is that with two tattoos already and a third planned within the next two years, you would assume that I am wholly accepting of ink. But I honestly don’t know if I would be comfortable if I went into my doctor’s office and he or she had multiple arm tattoos. I wouldn’t completely write them off as a person or doctor, but I know I would question their… ability to be a doctor?  I don’t know. Well I do but can’t explain it.

This is the first one - each of the petals on the flower represent the people in my life that matter to me, the petals that are flying off represent the things that are no longer in my life - like my brother Troy (the orange one)

This is the first one – each of the petals on the flower represent the people in my life that matter to me, the petals that are flying off represent the things that are no longer in my life – like my brother Troy (the orange one)

Do I regret my decisions to get tattoos? No. I would do it again in a heartbeat. They are not tacky or vulgar images inked forever, they are pure and beautiful representations of who I am and what matters to me. Neither were done on impulse, my policy is I have to have wanted the tattoo for at least a year. Yes, one day they will fade and they probably won’t look as nice when my skin loses its elasticity, but my memory and the meaning will be as clear as the day I cursed the tattoo artist.

Conclusion? Does this tattoo business fit with my psychologist business? Maybe not quite. But psychology is about people helping people. Highly trained people, but still people. And the statistics don’t lie – people get tattoos. I’m not saying that I am going to go get full sleeves, or start getting all sorts of highly conspicuous tattoos, but I am saying that this is a part of me that I am not willing to let go. If I am rich or successful but unhappy is it really worth it? In my opinion no.

So here, hours after I have a newly stinging and itchy arm, I present to you ten at least moderately interesting facts about the history and practice of tattoos:

  1. Tattoos have been around for at least 5200 years. In 1991, between the Austrian and Italian borders, an “iceman” was found with 57 carbon tattoos. Tattoos have also been found on several female Egyptians. Tattoos on the Egyptian females were thought to be a sort of protection during pregnancy judging from the patterns and locations
  2. Tattoos at one point were a good thing. Among the Scythians and Thracians tattoos were a sign of nobility, not having them was clear sign of low birth. Several other ancient civilizations including the Greeks, Britons, and Romans, used them to indicate high status or belonging to a specific group, it wasn’t until Emperor Constantine felt that they “disfigured that made in God’s image” that they were banned.
  3. The modern word for tattoo came after James Cooks’ expeditions to Tahiti in 1769, from the islanders’ term “tatatau” or “tattau.” In these and similar Polynesian and other societies including the Maori of New Zealand, tattoos were a mark of status given to the chiefs, if you refused or could not endure the pain it was a mark of shame.2
  4. In North America, the modern electric tattoo needle was invented in 1891 by Samuel O’Reilly3 who realized that Thomas Edison’s design for “stencil pens” could be modified for tattooing purposes. Twenty days after O’Reilly filed his patent, Thomas Riley patented a single coil electromagnetic machine. The modern two coil machine was invented by Alfred South, or perhaps some other guy, there is a lot of debate in this area as a lot of people were working on a lot of things at this time, but by the early 1900’s we had the modern machine.
  5. In ancient cultures, tattoos were very long and painful processes (think days, or months depending on the size and extent of coverage) involving some sort of set of needles carved from bones or other materials and a mallet2.
  6. The modern system involves oscilating needles that are driven into the skin between 50 and 3000 (some sites said as many as 5000)times per second. These needles may be arranged in a line of 4-14needles(as commonly used for shading) or in a cluster of 3-5 (as used for lines). The frequency of puncture depends on the number of wraps on the copper coils (less wraps=slower) and the weight of the armature bar (heavier=slower). Typically liners are faster than shaders because you are looking for a smooth line.
  7. The first tattoo shop was set up in NYC in 1846 by Martin Hildebrant, who tattooed primarily military servicemen and sailors. King Edward VII sparked the trend in England when he had a tattoo done prior to ascension.
  8. Tattoos were illegal in Massachusetts until 2000, there are still a lot of regulations on age at which you can be tattooed.
  9. The Macy’s logo is actually based on a tattoo the founder had on his arm.
  10. In 2013, New York’s Rapid Realty offered its employees a 15% pay raise if they had the company logo tattooed on their body. Billy Gibby was known as the human billboard – he had more than two dozen corporate logos tattooed on his body, including his face, in order to earn money. So getting tattooed can pay.4


So tell me – What do you think about tattoos in the professional world? Am I dooming myself with this decision? Have you gotten a tattoo and regretted it? Or would you regret more not getting the tattoo you wanted because of your career?





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