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Is it Possible to be Heavily Tattooed and Still Have a Highly Paid Job in the Professional Workplace?

By Paddy Vipond
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A conversation with my Girlfriend has inspired me to write this. What began as an off-the-cuff remark soon turned into a full blown debate. Those that know me would say that this is an inevitability. The topic of discussion was tattoos and whether they hinder ones chances of getting a highly paid job. My argument was that a heavily tattooed person would struggle to find a position that paid highly; my girlfriend disagreed. Heavily tattooed, in this case, was defined as one or more full sleeves, highly visible work and/or ink on the neck and/or hands and knuckles. Highly paid was defined as £65,000 a year, which is currently, just over double the UK national average salary for males. The figures for these have come from a Payscale report dated the 3rd of December this year.
It would be foolish to say that tattoos, and being tattooed, are not becoming more common and more accepted within society, and the workplace. On the 20th of July 2010, the Guardian ran an article entitled “The Rise and Rise of the Tattoo“, which I will quote from here. Within this article it was stated that “a fifth of all British adults have now been inked”. The choice to get tattooed is even more popular across the pond in America where one tattooist says they are “about a decade ahead in terms of popularity”. There are many examples given of people who have tattoos and are well known, and highly paid, Angelina Jolie, Wayne Rooney, Robbie Williams and David Beckham are all mentioned, but I feel these represent a minority within their chosen fields. Lets take actresses for example, and though Angelina Jolie is tattooed and is also, currently, the highest paid actress (according to Forbes), she is not heavily tattooed. She is an actress with tattoos. Number two on Forbes’ list is Sarah Jessica Parker, she has no tattoos. Jennifer Aniston is third and only has a minor tattoo on her foot. The list goes on. None of Forbes’ highest paid actresses are heavily tattooed. Lets then look at football, which appears to be a more accepted sphere for tattoos. Once again we turn to Forbes and their top ten earners. David Beckham is noted as the highest earner and its fair to say that he is heavily tattooed. He has two full sleeves and more artwork on his chest and back. Cristiano Ronaldo is at two and he is not heavily tattooed, nor is Lionel Messi at three, or Wayne Rooney at four, though he does have a handful of tattoos. Indeed, outside of David Beckham nobody in the top ten is heavily tattooed.
What we can conclude from this is that heavily tattooed individuals in the top pay bracket of their chosen professions represent a minority. Of course getting a tattoo is an individual choice, and to become heavily tattooed is a major commitment. In the arena of sports and music, and perhaps even modelling, I would not anticipate that it would be too detrimental, but what about more mundane, everyday jobs? What about a heavily tattooed banker? or lawyer? or politician?
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One case which immediately jumps out is that of Vladimir Franz. He came to worldwide attention earlier this year when he ran for Presidency in the Czech Republic. Vladimir finished fifth overall but the result was never the major media story. What caught everyones eye was that fact that Vladimir was not only heavily tattooed, he was almost completely covered. His arms, his hands, back, chest and even his face have artwork upon them. In fact he has achieved 90% body coverage. But once again Vladimir is the exception to the rule, despite extensive online searching I was not able to find any other example of  a politician with large amounts of tattoos.
A quick google search brought to my attention another article that featured on the Guardian, this one entitled                    “Stamping Out the Persistent Myths and Misconceptions About Tattoos“. It was here that I found a passage that gave links to “heavily tattooed scientists at NASA” and “heavily tattooed heart surgeons”. I thought that these may well be strong evidence to support my Girlfriends theory. However, after following these links I was disappointed to find that the heavily tattooed NASA scientist was in fact not tattooed at all, but instead had a number of facial piercings. The heavily tattooed heart surgeon had only one tattoo, a heart on his back.
To return to the former Guardian article, statistics were given stating that “14% of teachers are now tattooed” and “9% of servicemen and women”. It is highly unlikely though that these figures represent what we consider as heavily tattooed. If having a tattoo places you within the minority, being heavily tattooed places you within an even smaller minority. Perhaps being heavily tattooed and being in a highly paid job has no relationship, but judging how society views those with even a handful of tattoos, I feel it does. Though prejudices are changing and people are becoming more accepting, there are still many areas where having tattoos is not deemed as acceptable or appropriate. My own personal experience has told me that my tattoos will prevent me becoming a banker (not that I would want to), I would have trouble getting a recruitment consultancy job, and even working in a certain American coffee shop chain, the tattoos had to be covered up. A study in America with worrying findings has even suggested that being heavily tattooed, rather than getting you a good job, is more likely to mean time in prison. Jerome Koch, a sociology professor concluded that his study saw “a correlation between multiple tattoos and… socially unacceptable behaviour”. His study, “Body Art, Deviance and American College Students” found that those with four or more tattoos “are ten times more likely to have an arrest history [and] a four-fold increase in drug use”.
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From researching and writing this article I have found little evidence to suggest that heavily tattooed people occupy the higher paid jobs. This is not to say however that they do not, or that it is not possible. The resources I have available to me may hamper my ability to find relevant information and statistics. Ideally I would like to have access to questionnaires that have been located in tattoo parlours, these questionnaires would ask how much each of the clients earn, and how many tattoos they have. It would only be after this was conducted at many parlours within the UK that we would be able to get a more accurate story. I dont doubt that highly paid, heavily tattooed individuals exist, and with the ever growing popularity, more will appear in the years to come. For the time being, however, our society is in a place whereby those with an abundance of tattoos either cannot find highly paid employment due to prejudices against their appearance, or due to the generation gap, those who are heavily tattooed are not experienced or old enough to be in the positions of high pay.
I fully expect my girlfriend to write a response to this.
All comments and feedback is appreciated. You are more than welcome to add your own stories to this article.
I look forward to hearing from you.

8 responses

  1. I have half sleeves, full back piece, but hide my ink (always wear long sleeves) in order to get jobs. I am a Dept Director at a Biotech company. Salary is over $100k/US.

    December 18, 2013 at 3:21 PM

  2. It is true for now, however I believe it will change in time. I don’t think tattooing or being tattooed has been socially acceptable long enough for those covered in ink to reach the highly paid positions.
    By the time i finish my second sleeve I will be finished my law studies and on my way to being a lawyer (fingers crossed a high paying one).

    December 18, 2013 at 3:33 PM

  3. Very interesting article, thanks for sharing.

    I wonder how many higher paid professionals refrain from becoming heavily tattooed due to a fear of damaging their careers? I also wonder how much of that prejudice is real, and how much is merely perceived. Obviously both of those things are near impossible to measure, but it’s very interesting nonetheless.

    December 18, 2013 at 4:41 PM

  4. good article….I’m a tattooed girl working in a bank…. ;)

    December 18, 2013 at 5:06 PM

  5. Thank you for this article, Paddy. This is a debate I’ve been having for some time, mainly with myself. I think it depends a lot on the chosen profession and how accepting that profession is of tattoos in the workplace. For example, a design professional would find it easier to be heavily tattooed than say a banking professional. While I don’t consider myself to be heavily tattooed yet, I am definitely heading that way. I currently have one completed sleeve, the other sleeve is half done, some chest work and quite a bit of leg work. I’m employed as a financial director and would consider myself to be highly paid. When I’m dressed for work, I ensure that none of my tattoos are visible (summer months are fun!). For me this essentially boils down to a respect thing; respect for my chosen profession but mainly respect for my chosen work environment and the company I work for. The situation may be totally different if I was a financial director at say, a record label. My current boss knows about my tattoos and accepts them but as much as I’d like to get my hands or neck tattooed, I can only see this happening when I either (a) retire; (b) change professions or (c) win the lottery. Sadly.

    December 19, 2013 at 4:10 AM

  6. Good article. I suppose being in a high-paid job is a bit of minority thing too, as there seem to be more people on or below the ‘average’ earings than above it. Another reason for not finding more evidence could well be that people in the higher paid jobs are a little more private about their tattoos. ( My brother is an investment banker for a big bank and also owner of a japanese bodysuit). Over the years a had quite a few clients that got full backs, sleeves (leg and/or arms) and work in highly paid professions or own their own businesses. The one observation I have made over my last 15years of tattooing is that none of those guys have hands, face or neck tattoos. Cheers, Horiga

    December 19, 2013 at 12:51 PM

  7. My tattoos are easily covered at work/for interviews but my facial piercings however have been the reason for many an apology at the interview stage. I don’t really have much of an input here, just general annoyance that things like this are still an issue. If I’m intelligent, organised and hard-working, I really don’t see what my appearance has to do with anything.

    December 23, 2013 at 8:38 PM

  8. Cheers for the feedback.
    And cheers for re-blogging this.

    Glad you all thought it was an interesting read.
    Should have a similar sort of article up in a week or so. Not on the same topic but with the same sort of style and research side of things.

    February 24, 2014 at 10:44 AM

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