Tattoos don’t leave ink stains on careers anymore
Tattoos and suits have started to go together more and more
They’ve been strategically hiding their ink tattoos for years, but some professionals are letting loose and throwing off the proverbial self-imposed career straitjackets.
Danika Corrall, 23, from Johannesburg got her first tattoo when she was 18, and never considered the effect it would have on her career because she believed she’d end up in a creative work environment. For Corrall, that environment ended up being a high school classroom.
With some leeway as the art and graphic design teacher, Corrall might be the cool “tattooed teacher” to her Grade 8 students, but on parents’ day, she still feels self-conscious. She has tattoos on her hands, forearm and the back of her arm.“My hand tattoos are pretty visible, and when I meet parents sometimes it does feel like I should try and hide it. But honestly, I feel like it’s a part of me and people should accept it. Obviously, schools are conservative and want professionals, but I think if you present yourself in a professional manner, you will be taken seriously regardless of the tattoos,” Corrall said.
Corrall believes things are “moving in new directions” in the workplace and that inked employees should be accepted as they are.Internationally, perceptions of tattoos in the workplace seem to be changing. This month the Human Relations journal found tattoos no longer hindered employment opportunities. The August study surveyed 2,000 people and found that those with tattoos were just as likely to be employed and earn as much as those without ink. This was regardless of the number, visibility or offensiveness of their tattoos.
The demand for tattoos at the Fallen Heroes tattoo parlour is so high that there is a four-month waiting list.
Taryn Nissen, 23, a Johannesburg tattoo artist, said most of her clients are lawyers and CEOs. One client, a banker at one of the leading banks in the country, requested knuckle tattoos.
“The perception has changed – it was never like this a few years ago. People are becoming more accepting of expressionism and less judgemental,” Nissen said.But for a Johannesburg attorney and a psychiatric nurse, their tattoos are considered career limiting, and attempts to cover up feel like strapping on a career “straitjacket”.
An attorney at one of Johannesburg’s top law firms said that in his profession visible tattoos were career limiting. The 31-year-old said this idea was ingrained into him when he was still at law school, and he only got the courage to reveal his a few years ago.
“At a large, very conservative law firm such as the one I spent six years at, the ‘career-limiting move’ is the first thing you are told of in hushed, sombre tones during your orientation week as a candidate attorney. It is a thing. And it amounts to a straitjacket that’s gently foisted on very driven, ambitious – but bewildered – graduates,” he said.
After he “came out”, he noticed more colleagues started showing their ink. But they all understood tattoos on a lawyer weren’t considered professional because it didn’t “paint a picture of unassailable integrity”, especially for older clients, the lawyer, who asked to not be identified, said.
Finding it a little harder to hide his ink, which goes all the way up to his neck, psychiatric nurse Les Thusi, 30, said it was an “unspoken rule” that people in his profession shouldn’t have visible tattoos.“I do feel like I have to cover up, I feel like some people I work with are not comfortable with it. I have one tattoo that comes all the way up to my neck.
“In 2018 we shouldn’t still be covering up. In this day and age, there’s a lot of protocol that was followed back in the day that we don’t still need to prescribe to,” Thusi said.
His patients don’t take issues with his tattoos, and many of them even ask about the story behind the ink.
Showcasing their artwork is a little bit easier for those in creative industries, such as Nicole Smith and Melanie Pillay.
Smith, 31, a group account director at an advertising company, has five tattoos, two of which are visible. She said covering up in her industry was dependent on the audience.
“If they are older and more corporate, I will sometimes wear longer-sleeved to cover up, but for 90% of the time, I don’t worry at all. Creatives in my industry are cool with tattoos, and clients feel like it makes them more creative. But sometimes with ‘suits’ who deal directly with clients, tattoos are not that common,” Smith said.
Smith said she understood how full-face tattoos could be career limiting.For chef Melanie Pillay it is rare in her industry to find a chef without a tattoo because it is considered as a “work of art”, an expression of oneself and a storytelling aid.
Pillay, 33, said while ink may still be frowned upon in corporate environments, it was seen as an expression of uniqueness and confidence in the culinary world. She believes tattoos should be celebrated.
“Chefs are usually behind the scenes creating beautiful food masterpieces. Diners that come to a restaurant don’t see the chef; they see the front-of-house staff, and eagerly await a beautiful plate of food.”
Phillip Wells from Handstyle Tattoos in Melville said they were seeing more professionals coming in. Recently he had consultations with a group of architects from a firm in Johannesburg who wanted tattoos done.
Wells, who has been a tattoo artist for 6 years said: “As tattoos start becoming more commercial and mainstream, people are getting more comfortable with them, they’re getting more visual. So it’s not such a big thing anymore.”
On Wednesday, Wells started the first phase of a tattoo for Timony McAdam, 17, a tribute to his brother. The teen’s mother forked out the R6,000 for the tattoo.