THINK INK. To tattoo or not to.

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At the close of summer, before we all put on our jumpers, tattoos are getting a whole skinload of airtime – on bodies AND in the press. Opinions about whether tattoos are acceptable at work are a mixed bag. Should we commend them as a confident show of individualism or should we accept that a skinful of ink is always going to be a barrier to a decent job? Perhaps the beauty of a tattoo only lies in the eyes of the beholder? Perhaps it’s just time we got over them?

We spoke to a notably UN-tattooed ex-tattooist to get his views on what today’s ink culture is all about, what tattoos mean – and what he feels about flaunting tats in the boardroom.

OK, so, the obvious question, what’s the deal? Why’s everyone getting tattoos?

All sorts of reasons! For the most part a desire for self-expression or artistic freedom. Usually people like to create a mark of individualism. Everyone has a story to tell with their tattoo – even if they’re choosing a recognised shape or pattern or symbol, it’s got their story attached, it’s unique to them.

There’s a load of press at the moment about avoiding tattoos if you want to get a serious job. Do you think that’s reasonable?

Honestly, it depends. You’ve got to remember that tattoos speak loudly, but the problem is that what they SAY is hugely subjective. A good looking, well placed tattoo might give a positive message in the right environment. A tattoo representing Dante’s inferno on your chest probably won’t.

Are opinons on tattoos changing, do you think?

Definitely. They used to be associated with sub-cultures or gangs or groups that operated out of the social norms, which is why they’ve been undesirable for years and years. They’re mostly a positive statement today though – and of course it’s fashionable right now to mark yourself confidently.

So, does that mean they’re probably going to go OUT of fashion?

WELL – they’ve been around for over 5,000 years – so … well, who knows.

What kinds of tattoos are most popular at the moment?

Quotes! Personal or motivational statements are big business, also new techniques are being applied all the time – semi-permanent inks, scarification and a whole load of innovations that make use of body parts as part of the design, 3D creations and so on. It’s a creative industry so it’s always going to be branching out into new streams and collecting new fans. Check out the guys at Good Times Tattoo in Shoreditch if you want variety. They’re awesome.

Is the variety what’s making it so popular right now? What is it?

Celebrity culture? Instagram? I definitely think there’s a social angle to this. A great tattoo will start a conversation or might have someone scratching their head. You’ll have someone come up to you and ask what it’s about or where you had it done. I genuinely think the way we use technology today makes it harder for young people to actually start up conversations face to face.

Interesting! Do you think our tech ‘sharing’ culture is contributing to that?

For sure! People usually want to show off their ink. Sometimes it can be to say “this is what I stand for” – or “this is what I have overcome” – if someone has overcome cancer for example. It can be powerful. You’ll also find some people feel better about themselves after a tattoo or body mod. It can trigger some cool psychological stuff like improved body image, or more confidence.

Do you think you can be too old for a tattoo?

Nope. Though it’s worth thinking about where you want to put your tattoo so it ages well with your body shape. You don’t want your work of art hanging loose in a few years if you get my drift.

So you’ve got a pretty relaxed view. Do you think tattoos should be socially acceptable everywhere?

Why not? If your tattoo is inoffensive, why shouldn’t it be? You’ve got to use your common sense though, you won’t make it as a head waiter at the Ritz with a neck tattoo – but then you might not get the date you want either. People will always judge you for your tattoo, but they’ll judge you by your haircut too. Question is, does it matter to you?

So you think people with tattoos are treated differently?

It depends on the person, the environment – and the tattoo. But workplaces need to be able to welcome employees from all over the world, with different backgrounds, stories, histories – people with tattoos – they’re just part of the rich tapestry, aren’t they? It should be more “what can this person offer?” and “what are their skills” – not what’s on their skin.

What would you say to people who have suffered at the hands of their tattoos at work?

I’d say in spite of everything, you’ve got to be on a different planet if you don’t think your tattoo is going to influence your professional career. If you want your art on your skin, bear in mind people will judge you for it until they know you well. If you’re after a client facing job, make life easier for yourself and get something you can cover easily. Just be respectful of the environment. That said, if you’ve been rejected by an employer because of a tattoo – look into your rights as they may be violating the law.

Oh, and remember that top execs have tattoos too – I’ve done a few!

And finally, is it getting easier to remove tattoos? Is there a lot of call for that?

It’s a big business, sure, and it’s always improving, but it’s not easy or pleasant. Just think carefully before you get one. For the record, women tend to change their mind more than men.

Nonsense. Have you got any tattoos?

What do you think?

I think you’ve got a tattoo of Donald Trump covering your entire back.

Have you been stalking me?