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Tattoos, Perceptions and Reality

Baby Jack


The other day, I received an email at work about inclusion and diversity. I think I work in great place where morale (overall) is pretty good, and where the majority of people are really friendly and supportive. However, the email reminded me of conversations I've had in the past month with my colleagues and with my husband, jayhawkr.

The context of the conversations with the staff revolved around an important part of my life - riding motorcycles. While I'm a huge fan of Sons of Anarchy, there is a huge difference between those who "love to ride" and true "bikers". There was a relatively quick link drawn between those who ride motorcycles and tattoos. Almost everyone I know has some tattoos, although that is not specific to those that ride and those that don't. I have.......some.

My colleague and I discussed why people get tattoos. He admitted that it wasn't something he would ever do, and that he really wasn't clear why anyone else did. The key here was that he wanted to understand. Another colleague, who was extensively tattooed laughed when asked what he would think of them when he was old. His response - that is an assumption that his old age would be the same as old age today. Tattoos are just one of hundreds of differences between our grandparents generation and ours. Different studies have indicated that there are two generations in particular that embracing a tattoo culture - folks 25 and younger, and those between 40 and 50.

The flip side for a workplace culture are negative tattoos. Negativity can be literal or implied, blatant or inadvertent, and for that reason, I put a great deal of thought into mine. To a biologist, a tattoo of a snake portrays their love of their work. In certain religions, a snake can carry negative connotations. Very popular tattoos incorporate messages from other cultures and languages - but it takes alot of trust in the tattoo artist to get the subtlties of a foreign language accurate! I researched First Nation's perspectives and symbolism when designing mine because I find it very relevant to the meaning behind them.

Workplaces are struggling with tattoos and what policies to adopt. I equate tattoo acceptance to a job interview - while the person might be entirely capable and professional, the etiquette of job interviewing requires a professional dress code. No formal written "code" is in place. There are no formal policies, but those of us with them feel a subtle "pressure" to cover them up. An intern I spoke with was genuinely shocked and dismayed to hear that tattoos were generally not considered "appropriate" in our professional setting (which triggered an instinctual tug on her shirt sleeve - she had a beautiful , delicate script tattoo on her inner arm).

The unspoken "pressure" also exists in the private sector. My husband recently got a tattoo on his forearm, and while he works in a manufacturing sector where tattoos are the norm, his position as a manager compels him cover them up.

Here is a newsstory entitled "So why do "normal" people get tattoos?" from the BBC (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7034500.stm). The comments below the story actually describe this "pressure" quite accurately.

At no time, has anyone in my workplace ever made negative remarks to me personally, but I have to admit - I have been relatively silent about my tattoos. I don't think that my work performance has anything to do with having tattoos or not, but I understand the risks of openly displaying them. Truthfully, they can be a distraction to an audience I am presenting to, so to minimize this, I cover them.

I believe there are two reasons people get tattoos - the first is to tell a story in some graphic ways, and the second is to celebrate a form of art. In the same way my wrinkles, stretch marks and c-section scars tell a story about my life experiences, tattoos can add to the story. Tattoos can span many artistic genres - from comic to tribal, portraits to abstract watercolours, realistic to symbolic.

I've decided to brave and open myself to questions you may have - I have tattoos. I have quite a few of them to be honest, and they are more than dainty ankle butterflies and flowers. While I appreciate the artistic expression of both the person and the artist, that doesn't alway mean that I like every tattoo I see. To each their own - just because I wouldn't put a particular tattoo on myself, doesn't mean I care that someone else did (I don't). I don't like skulls, broken hearts, cartoon-like images, or anything that implies negativity, and I wouldn't put such things on myself. I prefer graphic demonstration of my stories, rather than literal, although I love the script tattoos that my husband and my stepdaughters have.

A good artist can help find an appropriate design. I had an idea for another tattoo that was very different than my usual choices. It was beautiful, but held no real meaning for me. When I decided on a second choice, the artist agreed that it was much more appropriate for my "style". All of mine use symbols from our environment to tell my story.

Location is as important as the design - I personally would not put a tattoo in places where medical procedures are common - like the wrist/hand for an IV, elbow for bloodwork. Maybe I'm a worrywart, but I think of it as being practical. People often describe them as "addictive" because once the hurdle of fear of getting the first one is passed, the desire to "tell" the rest of the story opens future possibilities.

People ask me what I would say if my kids wanted a tattoo. Both my stepdaughters have beautiful, delicate tattoos that are thoughtful, not "cutesy". I caution them not to get carried away with tattoos as teenagers - what is important at 18 may not be at 50. Because I think the tattoos tell part of a life story, I tell them that they have decades of life left to choose the experiences to display on their bodies.

You may have seen a peak of my most favourite tattoo - the bottom of it is barely visible if I wear a skirt. I'd like to take the opportunity to tell the story - for interest sake, and perhaps to challenge your perception of tattoos in general.

I got it during a particularly tumultuous time in my life. The plan I had for my life was in shambles, I was desperately trying to do the best for my children, and I was terrified of the "unknown" path I was forced on. The nest represents my home, my family and my comfort zone. You can't always stay in the comfort zone - life goes on.

The turtles represent my boys and I, and their paths toward the water is our Life Journey. The journey is not always straight, and there are obstacles to overcome along the way. Turtles represent the vulnerability I felt and the courage I needed - regardless of the dangers and challenges, baby turtles know they must continue their journey towards the water.

Water has always been a source of comfort and peace to me, and while I didn't feel either one at the time, I had to have faith that it existed somewhere in my future.

My other tattoos hold similar meaning to me. If you are interested in hearing the stories behind them, just ask. If you see someone else with tattoos, don't make a judgement about them or their ink because the story or the art just might teach you something. If you have a tattoo and feel comfortable sharing your experience, then feel free to comment on my blog post!!!

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I like that you said, it has to have meaning. My son just turned 21 and he has wanted a tattoo for a few years. He gave it serious thought and with help from one of his older sisters settled on an admittedly unique design.


He was robbed of the opportunity of being a big brother, due to the loss of our youngest son 17 years ago. So he will be combining his love for his brother with his love for the current TV show Dr. Who. He has designed his brother's name to be in the language from Dr. Who's planet, Gallifrey.


Some may question why, but life is too short not to enjoy watching your children grow up and express themselves in their own unique way. Carrying and expressing the memory of his brother is what is important; and we love him to pieces for it.


He has even got me considering what (meaningful) tattoo, if any, is out there for me.  :)

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I was 32 years old before I had my first tattoo after the death of my father.  I never really thought about them before or why I would want one.  After his death I wanted to remember him and carry his memory around with me forever.  Ink seemed fitting.  Once I started it was a small addiction, slower over the past 13 years.


Every one of my tattoos has a meaning, which I am sure everyone who decided to mark their body with ink has a meaning.  I enjoy talking to people about their tatts and what they mean to them.  A story board of life to many.  


My tattoos have been mostly hidden do to my work and profession, I have not been comfortable showing them in that setting.  But last year I inked my lower arm and so it begins.  Now I am finishing my sleeve on one arm, the point of no return.  For now I have chosen to keep my ink covered at work but once summer comes I am not sure if the hot weather will drive me to short sleeves but time will tell.  


So if  you see me on the bike or at a meet and greet, feel free to say hey John what is the meaning of your tattoos.  I would be more than willing to let you know.

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