{I originally posted this on my HR blog, but thought it would be appropriate  to post on this one as well.}

This picture is of my left forearm. As you can see, I have a tattoo. This is not my only one, but it’s by far the largest one. For now anyway. I love tattoos. I think they’re beautiful (most of them) and am always intrigued when I see someone with a full sleeve or other extraordinary body art.  I do; however, always find myself wondering what type of job the person has.

As the name of this blog denotes, I work in HR – your typical buttoned-down, PC, office type job.  I consider myself to be fairly conservative (not in the political sense) however, I have a healthy anti-authority streak and I’m far from PC.  This is a running joke between myself and one of my colleagues.  I’m something of a rebel with a cause.

I’ve had two recent experiences that have gotten me thinking about image in the workplace, especially as it relates to tattoos.  An intern that worked in our main office asked me about my tattoo. He said that he wanted to get one in the same location but was fearful of how it may affect his job prospects and asked me if it had affected mine.  I had to be real with him – it had never been a concern of mine. My feeling is that a job is just what I do during the day; I have to be ME 24/7. I wanted this tattoo so I got it. Quite frankly, any employer or client who chooses not to work with me because of it is not someone I want to work with anyway. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. It has no effect on how I do my job.

A few weeks ago, I co-presented an HR 101 seminar and one of the attendees asked about the risk of setting policies surrounding appearance, to include ‘no (visible) tattoos or piercings.’  My question to that person was “how is this job related?” The response: “Well, people with tattoos and piercings can be perceived negatively by customers.” Wow. Really? Of course, at the time I was wearing a suit, so the person did not realize that I have a tattoo.

Now, I’m no dummy – I realize that a lot of people associate body art with a (sub) counter-culture, but should people have to live their lives repressing their true nature because of that? Should someone be deemed unemployable because they want to express whatever it is they’re expressing on their bodies? I say a resounding “NO, NO, NO!”  There are so many much bigger things in the world to deal with; and when it comes to the business world, people should always and only be judged for their ability to perform.

I’m sure some people reading this will believe that I am biased on this issue because I have tattoos (and maybe also because I have bright red hair) but that is not the case at all. I just believe in a person’s right to exercise a freedom of personal appearance and not have it hinder his/her ability to make a living as he/she so desires.

Now, hygiene, that’s a different story- poor hygiene is just plain unacceptable!

Update: December 14, 2009- Last week the Washington Post ran an article about the acceptance, or lack thereof, of tattoos in the workplace in DC. A co-worker emailed it to all staff and a few of them (including the Pres/CEO) made comments basically agreeing with the mindset that people should cover up their tattoos at work.  I honestly took their response as a slap in the face b/c I DO NOT cover my tattoo at work, so everyone knows about it. I will continue to not hide it. I will wear it proudly and I will get more. It annoys me that people can be so small-minded on some issues.

Be who you want to be today.