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Tattoo Chronicle #9 ~ Back to Reality

By Bob Baxter
Just when we have been enjoying tattoo time in paradise, along comes a clipping from Vince Hemingson that snaps us back into the here and now. Forget preserving a five-thousand-year-old tradition, forget "displaying your insides on the outside." In fact, forget it all. According to Oklahoma’ s NewsOK website, it seems that, although tattooing has currently become popular and accepted beyond anyone’ s expectations, The Man doesn’ t seem to agree. And who is "The Man"? Corporations and employers who just can’ t accept, under any circumstances, an employee or potential employee with a "tramp stamp" or a bouquet of roses on their chest. Case in point, the following news item about a Ms. Carissa Southern.

By Susan Simpson

She has to make sure her clothing or a bandage covers a six-by-six inch tattoo of an eagle above her right breast. Like many employers, the police department does not allow visible tattoos. So Carissa Southern, who paid $150 about seventeen years ago for the colorful tattoo, is now saying thousands of dollars to have the ink removed through painful laser treatments.

Tattoo removal
Carissa Southern undergoes Laser tattoo removal
by R.N. and laser technician Rebecca McElroy at
Body Trends Spa in Oklahoma City.
Photo by John Clanton, The Oklahoman.

"Looking back, it really was a rebellious act," Southern said of the tattoo that doesn’t fit her law-enforcing lifestyle. "I don’t think the public would expect a police officer to show up with a tattoo." Tashonda Dixon, co-owner of Body Trends medical spas in Oklahoma City, said more people are seeking tattoo removal to further their careers. They’re finding that a visible tattoo can be a barrier to getting a job, she said. "I think you can get the wrong idea about somebody if they have a tattoo," Dixon said. Most tattoos can be removed safely and without scarring, said Dixon, who has been educating potential customers at a booth at the Oklahoma State Fair.

The laser treatments, which gradually disintegrate ink from the body, usually take multiple visits over many weeks. The treatments cost about $40 per square inch per visit. Southern was undergoing her fifth treatment at Body Trends last week. "I’m at a point in my career that it’s advantageous to get it removed," she said.

In a competitive job market, visible tattoos can be a strike against job seekers, said James Farris, a job search consultant and president of James Farris Associates. "The job market is tight enough that people are starting to think about first impressions," said Farris.

Employers can require that workers cover tattoos, much like they can enforce a dress code to ensure workers reflect their company’s image. Ryan Croft, an Oklahoma City freelance writer, said he was required to cover his forearm tattoos when he worked at Starbucks. "Employers co- workers, friends and strangers have openly judged me for the subject matter of my tattoos as well as just for having them," he said. But other tattoo-bearers say they chose to place their body art on places they could easy cover.

Matt Johns, an admissions counselor at Oklahoma Christian University, has three tattoos. "I got them in places that I knew I could cover up for work purposes," he said. Bill Crye, a former parole officer, said he didn’t realize his many tattoos would be a problem until he started looking for a new job.

"Little did I realize how hard it would be to get a job if I did not keep my work covered," he said. "My bachelor’s degree in education meant nothing. My MBA meant just as little. All I was to a potential employer was a guy with fourteen years experience in corrections and scary tattoos."

Facial tattoos

A decade or so ago, Tim Coleman confronted this issue head-on in an article and short film about young
people in England with tattooed faces. I know, I know… showing up for a job interview with a tattooed
face is significantly different from showing up at a job interview with an two-inch-by-two-inch anchor
on your bicep. But not really. To many in the corporate and business worlds, tattoos of any kind project
a highly negative image and, most importantly, drive away customers. Yes, even a TV commercial
featuring heavily tattooed bikers promoting a fast-food chain (Subway) hasn’ t changed everyone's
view of people with ink. They're still convinced think that tattoos are for convicts, miscreants and axe
murderers. To many, tattoos are more acceptable than ever before, but not on their employees.

In Coleman's story, Tim focused on the hopelessness of young couples (some with little kids to support)
who had to eke out a living, when one of the partners, usually the husband or boyfriend, had facial ink.
There were simply no jobs in London for people who looked like that. It was sad, discouraging and
unfair, but deciding to have one's face decorated carries with it—even to the casual observer—obvious
repercussions that these young people simply swept under the rug. In Susan Simpson's story, facial
tattoos weren’ t the issue; it was just average, everyday ink that was being discriminated against. And
with the 2010 job market in the dumper and a line of applicants a mile long, employers can be as picky
as they want to be.

Facial tattoos

I'd love to say that tattooed people are being singled out and point out how our First Amendment rights
are being trampled, but the fact remains, plain and simple, before you get any kind of tattoo, whether
it be on your face, on your shoulder or on your bippy, think carefully and don't do something that you
will regret later—like having your current partner’ s name inked on your neck (I emphasize the word
current) or OZZY or HOLD FAST emblazoned on your knuckles. Unless, of course, you’ re a rocker,
wear gloves or walk around with your hands in your pockets.


As editor in chief of Skin&Ink magazine for over fourteen years, Bob Baxter guided the publication to a Folio Magazine Editorial Excellence Award, making it America’s most respected and educational body art publication. He currently edits and writes a Daily Blog at www.tattooroadtrip.com, the ultimate E-zine and resource site for international tattoo artists and collectors. He also has his Tattoo Chronicles series and the 101 Most Influential People in Tattooing right here @ Vanishing Tattoo. To ask questions, make comments or demand an apology, you can email Bob at baxter@tattooroadtrip.com.

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