Teaching While Tattooed

Jill’s recent Feministe post on dress codes for female attorneys has been rolling around in my brain for quite some time. I’m not a lawyer, but as a person with ladybits, some double standards about “professional” attire still impact me.

In some ways, I’m fortunate to have chosen this career path–from what I’ve read and heard from friends, courtrooms and the corporate world (just as two examples) can be extremely unforgiving for women who deviate from the rules, not to mention those of us who fall anywhere on the gender-variant spectrum (and tend to have kind of a hard time no matter where we work). A public school, on the other hand, is comparatively quite relaxed; some of my colleagues wear jeans on any given day of the week, and I’ve been known to wear flip-flops from time to time.

This relatively casual atmosphere, however, is never a given, and I walk into any interview or professional development event or major administrative meeting with considerably more formality than in my daily work life–which includes covering my tattoos.

Just as many female attorneys apparently disagree that pantyhose is synonymous with “professional,” I vehemently disagree with the notion that visible tattoos aren’t, or can’t be, professional. (I suppose I might grudgingly admit to some exceptions–say, tattoos with profanity, or nudity, or maybe drug references. And amateur tattoos can reflect a lack of professionalism in a different way, but I digress.)

Still, when I interview, I keep my tattoos hidden.

Why? Not because I think that they say anything about my own professionalism or how capable I am in a library or classroom, but because I recognize that many other people–including people who might have the power to hire me or pass me up for a job–think tattoos are unprofessional. Given that reality, I choose to try to let my resumé and my interview skills make the first impression, not my body art.

But do tattoos themselves really have any impact on how well I can do my job?

If anything, I find that my tattoos and piercings (mostly my lip ring) help me do my job better. They’re often an easy icebreaker–plenty of students seem to walk up to the desk solely to ask, “Did that hurt?” (Yes, piercing just about anything usually hurts. And yes, my tattoos were all painful, to varying degrees.) Beyond that, the teens I work with start being comfortable talking to me about other things. What’s the significance of my tattoos? What do I think about belly button rings? Do I get along with my mother?

I think it’s important that teens have an adult in their lives who will talk honestly and openly about things like tattoos and piercings–and emotions, and relationships, and why people are mean to each other, and all those other things that are tough to figure out at any age, let alone those years when it seems adults are all interested in telling you what to do.

If showing off my tattoos (within reason, of course–mine happen to all be confined to my arms) or wearing my lip ring helps my rapport with some teens, and expands my ability to talk about all kinds of things–things that might lead to a new hobby, or looking at another teacher in a new light, or considering a college or a job–then why does showing them off to another adult have to hurt my job prospects?


2 Responses to Teaching While Tattooed

  1. radicalyffe says:

    I have a job interview tomorrow. I’ve spent weeks angsting over what to wear. I started angsting before the interview was even lined up!

    I’m TG Butch. I don’t pass as male in person, but I do over the phone. My legal name is most commonly associated with men, and I work in a male dominated field.

    I know that the person interviewing me is expecting a 24 year old man to show up, and instead a 24 year old butch woman is going to appear. There’s just no polite way to bring up the fact I’m not a man over the phone!

    Deciding what to wear was a nightmare. Thankfully I got a queer femme sales girl when I went to buy a suit, so I had her fussing and telling me how handsome I am, and how a mens suit is exactly the right choice for my interview, but even so, I’ll not be comfortable until after the interview!

    The real kicker? My job will have no face to face client contact. Its all over the phone!

  2. konkonsn says:

    Ah, I know this. I’m lucky because I’m a TA, and my tattoos are “tasteful.” I still worried like heck the first day I wore a skirt to class (my tats are on my ankles).

    It’s funny the way people act around my tats. I always get the, “YOU have tats. WHY?!” I’m very “homely” in dress and manner, but my tats are large and detailed, so I never get the regular assumptions that come with people who have tats. When I tell people how they were a mental/decorative thing for me, discussing how one is my triumph over a mental disorder, and the other is a celebration of my family, suddenly everyone is ok with it.

    Though I do wonder what kind of problems I’d have if I followed the more stereotypical idea of a tattooed person.

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