Rejected Op-Ed: Tattoo Acceptance

Just before I got my puzzle piece and dagger tattoos, I had penned an op-ed to my local paper concerning the issue of tattoo acceptance in both social and professional circles. The powers that be rejected it even though I can’t understand why. It was not edgy or anything. Actually I’ve written many more edgy op-eds that were published. Maybe that’s what they like from me? I don’t know.

Whatever the case, I refuse to be silenced on this matter and if the paper won’t publish my op-ed I’m going to publish it here. I think this needs to be said and we as inked, pierced and other body modified folk need to continue to advocate for change and acceptance. I am fortunate to work for a company that has no rules against piercings and tattoos (in fact one of our upper management is sleeved out on both arms (at the very least – he probably has more) and has large gauges in his ears. He couldn’t get away with that in some other places.

At any rate, enjoy.


Though great progress has been made with acceptance of tattoos in mainstream society, it saddens me that tattoo rejection is still an issue in both professional and personal circles. I think there are multiple reasons for this, but none of them are really valid when you think about it.

Probably the most common objections I hear to tattoos are religious in nature. Although there are many Christians who sport tattoos, when you really look at it the Bible is pretty clear on its stance of tattoos: “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.” – Leviticus 19:28. I am not as well-versed on the Qur’an but my understanding is that the Qur’an has similar provisions forbidding tattoos. Whatever the case, this goes back to the freedom of and freedom from religion doctrine: you are free to practice your religion, but you are not free to force others to conform to it. To expect those of us who reject religion to conform is highly misguided.

In the workplace, tattoos are often thought of as “unprofessional.” I cannot speak for anyone else, but personally all of my tattoos are very personal and symbolic to me. I refuse to just get ink on a whim. The permanence of the decision requires careful thought. Virtually all employee dress codes allow jewelry. Many items of jewelry (most notably religious jewelry and wedding rings) are symbolic to the people wearing them. If such pieces of jewelry are not unprofessional, then how are tattoos somehow unprofessional? How is a tattoo any different from a piece of jewelry in that way? It does not seem any different to me at all.

Some associate tattoos with criminal behavior. The reality is that about half of all adults have at least one tattoo nowadays. Are you seriously going to tell me that half of all adults are criminals? The reality is that most of us “inked” folk are normal, law-abiding citizens. It seems to me this fear is pretty much analogous to the fear of gun owners. You will never convince me that the majority of gun owners are criminals.

Other miscellaneous objections to ink come in the form of potential regret, how tattoos age with the person and other silly stuff. None of these are really valid arguments in my opinion. The same thing could be said for a lot of things in life. They do not work there, they do not work here.

Obviously I am not calling for acceptance of vulgar or obscene tattoos in a professional setting, much like I think it is perfectly fine to disallow vulgar or obscene t-shirts, jewelry or other articles of clothing. Tastefully done tattoos, however, should be perfectly acceptable. There are just no legitimate grounds to forbid visible yet tasteful tattoos in a professional setting.

By the time this op-ed is published, I will in all likelihood have gotten my third and fourth tattoos. Just as with my first two, each one will be symbolic to me. They will be expressions of who I am rather than things that define me. I can assure each and every one of you that I am the same me now that I was six months ago when my entire body was a blank canvas. Nothing has changed as far as my work ethic, my good moral character, my core convictions or anything else about me.

As always, societal paradigm shifts begin with individuals. I think of the era before my time in which interracial marriage was frowned upon but is now largely accepted. In my lifetime, the parallel of same-sex marriage comes to mind. All of these life choices were once considered unacceptable or taboo but have gained much more widespread acceptance in modern times. Just as we have made great strides in these areas and have made great strides in the mainstream acceptance of tattoos, we still have a long way to go.

The reality is that tattooing is a practice that dates back to the dawn of civilization. It is nothing new. It is not a “fad.” Why, then, do we treat it as such? It makes no sense. It is beyond time we wised up.

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