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My Tattoos Don’t Define Me, But They Do Determine My Professionalism

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Kennesaw chapter.

In 2005, a 10-year-old me was sitting in front of the television intently watching Miami Ink re-runs on TLC. I was enthralled by tattoo artists Chris Nunez, Kat Von D, and Ami James.

Growing up in a conservative household shows like Miami Ink offered me a different glimpse of reality. I envied the talent of the artists but I more so envied the clients who were able to tell their story through beautiful artwork engraved in their skin. I found myself enamored by the different styles and techniques. At the age of 10, I knew I wanted to be covered in tattoos. Tattoos are the only thing throughout my childhood, teenage years, and early adulthood that I have been 100% sure of.

According to a 2019 Ipsos poll, three in ten Americans have at least one tattoo, with the vast majority of those Americans being between the ages 18-34. This shows an increase in tattoo popularity amongst millennials and Gen Z, yet the stigma surrounding tattoos, especially in the workforce, still heavily exists.

Jessica Hanize Leonard, business professional and new partner at Evolution Capital Partners, recently went viral after posting her company headshot with her full sleeves of arm tattoos on LinkedIn. Leonard received ample praise as well as backlash for her post. Those who oppose her left comments that claimed her tattoos are visual noise and distracting to the work environment, she can let her “freak fly but don’t be surprised if some percentage of the business world casts some doubt about your seriousness for the position,” and that if they were to walk into Leonard’s business, they would walk right back out after seeing her arms.

The opposition was hurtful to read on her post, but not something I was surprised about. I’ve also had to navigate through the world of professionalism while honoring my individuality. I’ve sat through interviews that have gone great until the interviewer recognizes I have visible tattoos and I’ve held positions where I was advised to keep my tattoos covered for the sake of professionalism.

But what is professionalism and who defines it? Google claims professionalism is the competence or skill acquired by a professional. Society has prescribed the visual ideals of professionalism, and we as a society can rewrite that narrative. My tattoos do not hinder my competence or skill, I’d argue they add value.

Shortly after I turned 20 I landed my then-dream job of working in a tattoo studio. I was in charge of scheduling appointments, keeping the shop clean, and providing an informative and friendly customer experience. I learned a lot about myself and the importance of structure during my time at the studio. There’s a lot of diversity at a tattoo studio. People of all ages, races, different genders and backgrounds come to get tattoos.

In some cases, people come in at their most vulnerable, wanting a tattoo that memorializes a loved one who passed or covering self-harm scars. The time I spent at the first tattoo studio I worked at encouraged me to pursue higher education. I wanted to understand the different walks of life that I encountered so I pursued and earned my associate’s in Journalism. Through diverse clientele I’ve gained great communication skills and the ability to be empathetic towards others who aren’t like me, which is something I’m tremendously proud of.

The second tattoo studio I worked at ignited a flame within me to do better in all facets of my life. Before the onset of the pandemic, Mystic Owl Tattoo hosted yearly charities to give back to folks within the community and strives for inclusivity amongst artists, clients, and in their community. I met artists from around the world who shared insight of what their country is like and spoke with clients from various industries and backgrounds. Being involved in such a diverse and dynamic studio led me to pursue a bachelor’s degree in both political science and Journalism. I wanted to better understand how the world works in order to create positive and necessary change.

Callie Rittweger, insides sales executive and dear friend of mine, followed Leonard’s lead on LinkedIn and posted her own headshots with and without her tattoos showing. Rittweger, who established herself within her company before getting tattooed, has both her arms, chest and one leg completely covered in tattoos.

Her post eloquently points out how her tattoos have not prevented her from hitting quotas, being a leader and earning promotions. She adds that corporate America is missing out on so much talent because of the stigma associated with tattoos. I would hate for anyone to miss out on me due to the fact I express myself differently.

Ultimately, that’s what it boils down to – freedom of expression. As children, we’re taught to think outside of the box and challenge norms. Once adulthood is reached it’s as if there’s only a choice between corporate America or freedom of expression. I want both, and I hope the boldness in choosing both is celebrated, respected and encouraged for others as we navigate through a new generation of professionalism.

Melissa Walsh

Kennesaw '22

Melissa is a Senior at Kennesaw studying both Journalism and Political Science. Her interests include politics, environmental issues, and human rights. In addition to being a writer for the Kennesaw Chapter, Melissa also serves as senior editor.