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A Fading Taboo

You never know what someone might have up their sleeve. It could be a jack of diamonds, a dove, or a magic wand. Or perhaps they’ll have a hyper-realistic portrait of their beloved, a phrase that keeps them grounded, or a pizza slice with gooey cheese stretching into an infinity symbol.

The number of Americans with tattoos is growing rapidly, with a much higher prevalence in younger generations. A Harris Poll survey from 2015 showed that nearly half of Millennials (47%) and over a third of Generation Xers have at least one tattoo, while only 13% of Baby Boomers don ink art. Given the current population distribution, that means 3 in 10 adults have at least one tattoo. That’s 45 million people, an increase from 2 in 10 just five years ago.

Tattoos, once a mark of counterculture, are now firmly planted in the mainstream. But how do they affect workplace hiring decisions and potential career paths?

“I’ve seen consistent growth in the industry in the 26 years I’ve been tattooing,” says Dave Wulff, owner and artist at Tattoo Demon. “And the negative and violent connotation has shifted dramatically. It no longer implies anger. The world is so different now than a few years back, with the transparency and lack of privacy giving rise to a celebration of individualism. You just can’t judge people by body art anymore. If you do, you’re missing out on massive talent.”

But in the absence of laws protecting people with tattoos from discrimination in the hiring process, it’s up to the individual to decide how to play the game.

“I think there has been an acceptance of more visible body art as long as it doesn’t interfere or harm the reputation of the company or insult other employees, then I think there is more room for it,” says Bev Kratzer, Director of the UCCS Career Center. “But, it really depends on the work environment and culture of the organization. Some companies and industries are just more naturally conservative, and it is up to the company to determine their own dress policy.”

While upwards of 71% of parents are comfortable with visible tattoos on their child’s primary school teacher or pediatrician, some industries and businesses put a pre-set appearance over individualistic acceptance. Hiring practices are changing with the growing tattooed population, but if you’re applying for conservative positions, it could be wise to cover up. At least until the taboo has faded fully.