It is no secret that there is a stigma and negative association around tattoos and body art. In society, many people have deemed it “inappropriate” and “unprofessional,” when in reality it is just another way to express one’s inner self. We as a society are so prepared to demonize tattoo art and those who find the immense beauty in it because it is different from what society has deemed the “norm.” However, if someone put pen to paper and expressed themselves through literature, poetry, or wall art, that is seen as an acceptable use of their expression. So the true question that needs to be asked is not Why is there a stigma around body art? but rather When did it become acceptable to dictate what is considered an appropriate expression of art?
The history behind this stigma is an important component in understanding this level of fear surrounding tattoos. There is a racist history in criticizing tattoos as “unprofessional” because in many indigenous cultures, it is considered normal and beautiful and at times expected for people to express themselves through piercings and tattoos. Labeling body art as “unprofessional” further explains the deep-seated racist history that is prevalent in the U.S.
What it comes down to is expression versus professionalism. There is a constant argument that tends to be thrown around, which explains that tattoos and body art make an individual seem unprofessional in the workplace. Body art is a beautiful way that many humans choose to express themselves, at times creating a safe place and a home on their very skin. At the end of the day, tattoos do not reflect a person’s ability to do their job as a professional. By creating these barriers, it creates a precedent that there is a single way to express art, which is then misconstrued by people who don’t understand the beauty of body art.
Earlier in March, I had decided to get my very first tattoo after wanting one for the last four years. The design itself has two butterflies on my back, and when people ask me how I feel about them, I respond by saying, “It’s the most I’ve ever felt like myself.” That right there is what matters, not how their tattoo makes you feel but how it makes that person feel. Ultimately, if someone shares this journey with you, even if it isn’t something you would have personally done for yourself, take a second to understand what it means to them.