Friday, June 16, 2006

Economic considerations of getting a tattoo

Full disclosure: I have a tattoo and I am planning on getting a second one.

No, I will not show it to you. (But only for lack of picture-hosting resources.)

Actually, the tattoo is very small and is located on the inside of my right forearm, near the crook of my elbow. It is the Hebrew word 'tzedek' which means basically justice, or doing the right thing.

Has this cost me any jobs? No, because I specifically placed it there with the forethought that I could wear long sleeved items (and I wore a long-sleeved suit jacket over a solid T-shirt to all my interviews last summer) and no one would be the wiser. Since getting my job, I've worn short sleeved shirts all the time, and while the coworkers who work directly with me have noticed and commented, none of my superiors appear to know, and few of the patients I've interacted with have commented on it.

Come to think of it, the most frequent commenters were the people in my swimming class in senior year of college, who, lacking their glasses while we sat poolside for attendance before diving in, would ask me if I had "p. 73" written on my arm.

But I've gotta wonder about people who get extensive tattoos - especially in highly visible (and painful looking) areas like the front of the neck, the face, or forearms. I specifically chose something that I won't be ashamed of when I am older, and that can be covered up, but a tattoo on the front of your neck is specifically meant to be NOT covered up. It seems to me that getting a tattoo like that kind of pigeonholes you into particular types of jobs where you don't have to project a certain image. The woman who did my tattoo had tattoos simply everywhere - all across her upper chest into her neck and shoulders, across the arms, down her legs.. But then again she was a very successful tattoo artist (the earliest available appointment when I called was more than two months away, even for a simple ten minute tattoo) and I seriously doubt with her talent that she'll ever need to work in a job that requires her to cover any of that up. (If you are desirous of a tattoo, the place that I went was Life Long Body Art outside of Cleveland. Kind of looks like a dentist's office from the outside.)

I don't think that having exotic tattoos really says anything about a person (well, I guess a giant flaming skull might give me pause) but having extensive or unusual tattoos usually gives the wrong impression about a person. For one thing, the content can sometimes give away a little too much about a person that you wouldn't want to disclose at a job interview. You may love Daffy Duck, and love him enough to go through the pain of getting him tattooed on your arm, but the recruiter for the law firm is likely to rate your maturity a few points lower if you are covered in cartoon characters. And religious symbols could be similar - maybe they would assume you are a holy roller who will look down on non-Christians if you have ornate crosses or a picture of Jesus' face. Any kind of symbol that the nightly news has pegged as a "gang" tattoo is also going to lose you serious points.

I guess the larger point is that a tattoo may cost a few hundred dollars now, when you are young and foolish, (and possibly drunk, although I wouldn't recommend that when getting a tattoo as it may make your skin more likely to bleed) it may cost you thousands of dollars a year in salary when you can't get the job that you want because no one will take you seriously enough. And if you do manage to get a job in your field, every time you advance up the ladder you will have new supervisors to contend with who may assume things about you based on your chosen markings. The list goes on and on.

Now, I'm still planning on getting that second tattoo. But I thought about it first (unlike the many girls I have seen who are going to have some seriously stretched out tummy tattoos after having children) and decided to place the tattoos somewhere easy to conceal. After all, they are for me to look at, not to display to the world. And I chose tattoos that, when somebody asks me what it means, allows me to give them a little insight into the good and honorable side of my personality, and not my enduring affection for Daffy Duck.


Tiredbuthappy said...

You have exactly the kind of tattoo I'm drawn to--easy to conceal, small, and language-based. I want to get a single word in another language, not English, and in another kind of script. You chose Hebrew; I'd choose devanagari.

I haven't done it yet because I haven't gotten around to it, mostly. Also, I didn't have as much faith as you that I'd still like it when I was older. But I've been thinking about the same tattoo for about ten years, so maybe it's time to go for it. My 30th birthday is coming up. That would make a good present to myself.

Kira said...

That's really pretty script, too.. =)

Another thing that drew me to using a non-English word is that we often look at an English word and can't see past the immediate meaning to the shades that accompany it, whereas with a non-English word there are simply many ways to translate it. I probably would get a lot more strange looks if I'd gotten "justice" tattooed on my arm.

A good tattoo artist will take some time and help you pick an area that won't stretch or fade over time. Any part that's regularly exposed to sunlight (like the outside of your arms) is likely to experience fading, since the light can break down the pigments.

If you have a Devanagari font on your computer, type out the word you want and print out a sheet with that word in several different font sizes. The tattoo artist can trace it onto your skin so you can see how it looks at different sizes. Mine is about a font size 18, which looks huge on paper but little on my arm.

Chris said...


Great post. I too have a couple tattoos on my upper arm. They are easy to conceal when I am at work wearing a long sleeve shirt. However, sometime I decide to put on a polo, which allows some of the tattoo to be seen. I work with a lot of older people (upper 30's, 40's and above) and when they see it, they say something like "What's that." Each tattoo is special to me in my own way (1 being my name in Chinese and the other is a big puzzle piece, made of small puzzle pieces with the middle missing (symbolizing you never have all the pieces in life, so keep working)). In my opinion, the working world needs to accept people of our generation as people who express themselves. In no way does a tattoo or piercing effect the way I do my job or the person I am. I am sure a lot of Fortune 500 CEO’s and CFO’s have tattoos hiding under those $3000 suits.

Flexo said...

Did you choose handwritten-style Hebrew or print-style?

Kira said...

It's print style - I didn't like the way the letters looked in the script, and anyway people already ask me all the time what's written on my arm. It would only encourage them if it looked like cursive. =)

mapgirl said...

I would love a tattoo, but there is nothing I'd ever want on my body permanently. I've had friends offer to buy me tattoos and I know a few prominent tattoo artists with full sleeves who do gorgeous artwork. I just don't think it's for me.

I think small tasteful ones are finding acceptance in the corporate world. My coworker has a shamrock on her ankle the size of a quarter. My totally cool ex-office mate has a tribal band on his upper arm (I saw it when he wore a polo). For some reason have the CPA's I know have at least one.

I think generationally it's all going to change. It's going to be more acceptable in some circles to have body art that isn't concealed.

Former Secretary of State George Schultz has a tiger on his bum. I just think of him and a wrinkly tiger and that is enough to keep me from getting a tattoo.

Kira said...

Actually your bum is probably one of the least painful places to get a tattoo, but you'd have to use a mirror if you ever wanted to see it, and God help whoever had to help him smear lotion on it for the first few weeks...

Madame X said...

Great post. I have thought about this issue a lot too. I got a tattoo when I was very young-- this was almost 20 years ago, when tattoos were way less common than they are now! I got something quite small, in an inconspicuous but not invisible place. I could cover it with a bandaid if I had to but I usually don't. I often see young people with tons of conspicuous tattoos and wonder if the day will come when they really regret them.

udandi said...

I work and go to school with a girl who has both arms tattooed. I think it's awesome because rarely does one think of librarians with body art, although I know she's not alone since there's a web site about librarians and their tattoos.

by the way, blogger can host your photos or there's always flickr.

yay for another Ohio blogger!

~Dawn said...

I paid $50 for mine in a college town in Iowa, 12 years ago. I was told it was a little more (normally 35) because of the location of the tat on my wrist.

I think it comes down to this, especially religious symbols. People will pay what is necessary if they really want that tat'.

For business I would definately get some concealer. But if you are working on getting sleeves of artwork, then you probably aren't going into a mainstream job anyway or are already thinking of ways to cover it up.

I think time will tell as tats become more and more mainstream, I don't think it will really be THAT big of a deal.

And here is my tat
(cross post My Open Wallet)

FR said...


This is my first time at your site... great post. I have been debating whether I should get a tattoo for a while now and I think once I am done with my GMAT, I will get one to celebrate.

The main reasons why it has been a debate for me is 1) my parents won't approve of it and being an Asian, this matters and 2) fear that it may seem unprofessional. I do agree that easy to conceal tattoos are great. The one I am thinking of getting happens to be at the back of my neck. I have long hair so when I wear it down it won't show, or I can always wear collared shirts.

But this post got me to think about body piercings. I have 7 piercings on my ears (4 on lobes)... They are fairly conservative with tiny hoops and little diamonds, but I do wonder if those have impacted my interviews at all.

BTW... I find it ironic that you got a tattoo in Hebrew.

Kira said...

Good job on your cultural knowledge. =) Yes, Jews are not supposed to modify their body in any way. In fact, just having pierced ears is enough for some Orthodox cemeteries to refuse to bury you there. But I figured maybe God would forgive me in this case. ;)

When I got my tattoo, my dad wasn't very pleased, and my mom at first wasn't, but when she heard what it was she was almost kind of proud of me. She went around telling people (including people I would rather she not have told) because I think she is proud that basically I am marking myself as a Jew for life. My sister recently converted to Christianity so this was almost a comfort to her to know that I actually wanted to be permanently marked as Jewish.

Parents are generally a lot more accepting of their children doing things they think are stupid if there is a reason behind it. I would be a lot more pissed about my hypothetical child getting a tattoo of the Little Mermaid than of something meaningful.

Another thing to consider is that you may not always have long hair. So you may want to place it a little farther down so it would be covered by your shirt. Also, if you wear your hair up, the back of your neck frequently gets exposed to the sun which can cause the tattoo ink to break down and fade.

John OMM said...

I've got three tats and am thinking about getting more. My oldest tat was done in 1991 and conceals a birthmark, my newest tat was done in 1995. None of my tats are visible when I'm in business attire, though they are visable when I work out at my workplace gym.

Anonymous said...

A very old post, but I couldn't help but comment since so much of what is mentioned applies to me.

I see comments about "a tattoo I won't be ashamed of when I'm older". A tat can generally be considered a permanent part of your body. If you are THAT unsure about getting one ... don't. Simple as that.

Then there are comments about visible tats perhaps affecting whether you get a certain job or not If some certain job is going to be THAT immature about fguring out if body-art pertains to how well you can do that job, would you really want to risk working there anyway? I certainly wouldn't. Some day in the future, you'll most likely get slammed for dyeing your hair the wrong color.

I have 4 tats & I will admit they come from my many years in the mlitary, so they are generally not pictures of bunny rabbits & smiley faces. But I wear them proudly & even believe that they just MIGHT have added a bit to my self-esteem over the years. I'll take my shirt off anytime I choose, if in an appropriate setting of course. I'm proud of my body & my tats are part of my body. I don't make fun of others or discriminate because of body shape/size/etc. Someone who does, I feel is just showing how small of a person they really are. Would I even CONSIDER working for someone like that....hell no!

I've even gone as far as to purposely wear short sleeve shirts to certain activities, just so it was clear that I wasn't trying to hide a single thing.

Basically, I have tats & I'm not ashamed of them. They were a decision I made & I expect others to respect that, just as I respect the decisions others make for themselves. Those who are so small-minded that they actually use tattoos to jude a person, I'd just as soon distance myself from those people anyway. It would be just like me judging a female for choosing to have a short-cropped hair-do, when women are more ofen seen with at least SOME length to their hair. And that's something I won't do because I refuse to lower myself to that type of attitude.

If you want a tat .... get one, and be proud of it, as a decision that you made for yourself. But if you have even the slightest worry that a tat is going to determine which jobs you get in the future, what your friends & co-workers think about you, or if you will regret it in later years, then a tat is most certainly not for you. So just don't do it.

Lastly, it's probaly obvious that I have a very liberal attitude about body art, even though I'm a mostly conservative & religious person. But I'm 41 years old, hold a Master's Degree, excelled in every job I have ever had, have been a successfull business owner, and am VERY financially secure right now. So that should be proof that tats SHOULD make very little difference in how well your life turns out. If they do, hen you are most likely hanging around the wrong type of people.