Why Is Permanent Makeup More Acceptable In The Workplace Than Artistic Tattoos?

My mom has tattooed eye and lip liner; I have tattoos on my arms and legs. She'd never be asked to cover her face at an office, so why should I cover my limbs?
Publish date:
July 12, 2013
skin, family, work, tattoos, cosmetic tattoos, permanent makeup

I celebrated my 18th birthday in a tattoo parlor and knew full well what I was getting into. I had imagined the bold piece on my arm at least a thousand times before actually booking my appointment. I had dreamt up shades of gold playing off of deep purples and hues of aquas and greens appearing as feathers cascading down my arm.

When I had endured the hours of needlework, I had seen that my reality was far superior to my imagination. I was the proud new owner of a beautiful piece of permanent artwork embellished on my skin. What came next was realizing that not everyone viewed my artwork the way I did.

Instead, I found myself disillusioned time after time by the rigidity of certain adults. Always adults.

Growing up, my attempts at rebellion always seemed to transfer by way of inexpensive hair dye and regrettable facial piercings--never quite keeping me in the good graces of my teachers and peers. Still, several years, zero facial piercings and one totally normal hair color later, I’ve come to find that I cannot shake my aggravation towards the perpetual naysayers.

Now, as a warning, it's not that I've ever truly advanced to the popularity of the “in-crowd.” Standing at a collasal six feet tall, it’s not that I was invisible, or easy to ignore. I just never aced the confidence bit back in grade school, or high school, or the majority of my college years. In fact, most of the time, wherever I went, I stood out like a sore thumb.

I took a class this past semester called Body Art & Modification that absolutely changed my stance on just about every beauty standard I’ve ever passed off as trivial. It inspired me to go on strike against my razor blade for a week and then reconsider the decision, stop wearing heels entirely and resort to no shoes at all, and adjoin all of my (and my roommate’s) bras together as an homage to the brassiere-burning babes of the '60s, hanging them high from our dorm-room walls. I’d say this was all just a phase, but I haven’t grown out of it, nor do I plan to.

In this class we spoke at length about tattoos in the workplace, to which I had quite a mouthful to contribute.

Last summer, I landed a copywriting position for a fine jewelry company, and that’s when I decided I wasn’t going to settle for second-best in the job market ever again. I worked damn hard to accomplish noteworthy feats in my college career, and I wasn't about to let some beauty-stomping boss threaten that. I realized my potential and wrote at the best of my ability, despite having to cover up in heavy sweaters in mid-August heat. Mind you, with no working air conditioner. My wardrobe was reduced to modest yet acceptable shrugs and cardigans while my coworkers were given free reign in the fashion world.

My boss informed me I would make the religious clientele uncomfortable, and they always seemed to show up unannounced--better safe than sorry. Additionally, he told me it would be best to avoid potential distraction among my coworkers. He said I should make sure to be respectful by keeping my coworkers’ best interests and level of comfort in mind. I was given a strict code of conduct that incidentally only applied to me; the only female in the office. This infuriated me.

Now, I fully comprehend the gravity of my commitment to body art, but there’s just one double standard that I cannot seem to grasp, try as I may. And that’s the acceptability of cosmetic tattoos.

Here’s why. My mother was born with a cleft lip, so when she found out about lip-lining tattoos, naturally, she was all over it like white on rice. While she was at it, she got her top and bottom eyelids tattooed, as well as thin white lines above her top eyelids for a permanent brightener.

“How could you endure that kind of pain?” I asked her the first time she came home with the dramatic change.

Earlier this week, she went in for round two. Except this time, when she came home, she had a question for me. And this time, for the first time, even I couldn't answer it.

“Why is it that cosmetic tattoos are perfectly acceptable in the workplace but artistic tattoos like yours, aren’t?” Mom, you're a genius.

I racked my brain for a sensible answer, and you know what? I couldn’t find one. Not because I didn’t know it off the top of my head, but because there isn't one. Cosmetic tattoos, body art, permanent makeup--call it what you want, but it’s all the same. What’s a needle to the skin but a body modification? I can wager that my boss over at the jewelry company wouldn’t have had much of an issue with a face full of permanent makeup.

Mamabear went on,“ All these women I see getting their faces tattooed wouldn’t dare approve of their own kids getting beautiful tattoos like yours. What hypocrites!” You go, girl.

My mom got her tattoos to improve her self-esteem and so did I. She got her tattoos because she felt incomplete without them and knew that she deserved to feel beautiful. So did I. And so I ask you, what’s the difference? We've endured the same beauty modification. And in both of our cases, gone back for seconds (or sevenths, but who's counting?).

If you couldn't infer by now, let me assure you, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I rebelled my last week at the jewelry company by wearing a strapless dress and “forgetting” my sweater back at home. Their clever rebuttal was hiring a scantily clad sweetheart in my place, with, get this, a rose tattoo on her ankle. I’ve since “forgotten” my sweater for two job interviews and proudly landed them both. The ladies here at xoVain even referred to me as a hot bitch mid-interview. Score!

Despite these outstandingly liberal companies I've been lucky enough to work for, the looming fear of exposing my arms to the wrong people while everyone else seems to be running around in tank tops hasn’t diminished yet. And truth be told, I fear it never will.

Tattoos aren’t a lapse in judgment. And they most certainly do not defy or demarcate an individual's worth. “Dealing with the consequences” is something you must face when you’re caught drinking underage, not adorned in tattoos.

I wear my artistic skin with pride and have no intention of cloaking myself ever again. I am not a distraction, and I will not be treated as such. I have nothing to cover up. No one does.