According to U.S. News & World Report, tattooing has become one of America’s fastest-growing categories of retail business over the last 10 years. There are now an estimated 15,000 tattoo studios in operation. And by best estimates of what I could find online, approximately 15% of Americans have at least one tattoo. In 2010, according to the Pew Research Center, it was noted that 39% of millennials (those born after 1980) have at least one tattoo. (At NAILS, four out of 12 of us have tattoos. I have several visible tattoos myself.)
“I have a lot of tattoos and have never had a problem with clients and how they feel about them. As a matter of fact the first thing they usually do is compliment my tattoos and get on the subject of getting one or showing me their own. It’s definitely a good ice breaker. I think being in the beauty industry, keeping up with the trends, and being expected to be creative helps people not judge us as much as they would on the street. I think tattoos are more accepted these days than before. All in all, I think people are looking at the whole package, for instance the way you carry yourself, your clothes, makeup, hair, and most importantly your attitude. If you can pass that personal test with clients, the tattoos are just an added bonus and conversation piece.”
— Dianna Medeiros, Woodbury Heights, N.J.
“I know firsthand how it is to be turned away for having tattoos and piercings. It had to come down to me coming up with the money to booth rent at a salon studio in order to do nails. There are so many people who are close-minded about the whole thing. I have to cover up what I can in order to get new clients, then slowly start to show my tattoos so they don’t judge me right of the bat. I have a noticeable chest tattoo and almost a complete arm covered in tattoos. All of my tattoos are non-offensive and are (in my opinion) tasteful. I feel like cosmetologists can get away with tattoos more than nail techs or estheticians. I have never gone into a salon where the nail tech or esthetician had tattoos like the cosmetologists do.
A lot of people, especially the older generation, do not accept them. My generation has a lot more people getting tattooed than ever before. I try to market to that generation. But I hate that salons won’t even give me a chance to show what I know and the talent I can offer. I am always smiling, in a good mood, always dressing appropriately, and I’m very reliable. But I still get judged and turned down for the job due to my tattoos. I actually had one salon tell me that if I ever decide to get them removed they would be glad to hire me. Yet they had a cosmetologist with full-sleeve tattoos. I think people need to stop judging a book by its cover and start looking at the credentials and how the person is in their heart. But we live in a society that is constantly judging others by the way they look.”
— Kendra Budjenska, Nailz by Kendra, Tempe, Ariz.
“This story is particularly interesting to me. In the spring of 2010, I got my first two tattoos at the age of 35. I got mine after coming out of an abusive marriage. One larger one on my shoulder is my reminder of the strength I had to get out with the unspoken encouragement of my teenage daughter. The second is my maiden name on my neck — Love — as a reminder of the good wholesome home I came from.
I am re-entering the beauty industry after about six years of being out of it. My larger shoulder tattoo can be covered for the most part and the smaller one on my neck is sometimes covered depending on what shirt I wear. When I first got my tattoos I was concerned about the stigma that would go along with having them. However I have found tattoos are far more accepted today.
I still do not believe that having your entire body marked up in the workplace is acceptable (my opinion only) but I do believe that tasteful tattoos that can be covered if needed are completely acceptable. We live in a world where stereotypes are becoming a thing of the past and acceptance is encouraged. We are all individuals with a very personal right to express ourselves. I feel that tattoos are simply a permanent expression of one’s individuality. I personally don’t try to cover my tattoos. I’ve had older women comment on how pretty they are. I am a professional woman and I conduct myself in a professional manner. My tattoos do not affect how I interact with people, my clients, my family, or my friends.”
— Tara Love, La Sage, Battle Mountain, Nev.[PAGEBREAK]
“I am an Orly educator and a full cosmetologist. I have six visible tattoos on my right arm. I started as a hair assistant and nail tech in Beverly Hills, an area where Paris Hilton, the Lakers, and many more stars frequent. I was not treated differently because of my tattoos. Then I worked in other places and for reality shows and awards presentations. My tattoos have gotten a couple of ‘please wear long sleeves to cover up your tattoos’ and also ‘you have beautiful art work on you.’ I think the beauty industry is open to whatever anyone looks like, including tattoos, piercings, and different looks. My piercings never get negative feedback. I do wish companies didn’t make me wear long sleeves but I understand completely when they do. My hair is blue and turquoise and everyone seems to love my look. I often have clients say ‘I don’t like tattoos or crazy things but it really looks nice on you and you pull it off gracefully.’ This is the best compliment to me.”
— Roxy Carrillo, Los Angeles
“As a salon owner who is heavily tattooed, I feel that people in my area are accepting of people who are tattooed as long as it’s tasteful. All of mine can be covered with some type of clothing but I have a large leg piece that has been in process for a couple years now and my clients love seeing when I’ve added more to it. You could say I’m a walking advertisement for my tattoo artist, as I send him lots of business via my clients.”
— Cherie Plank, Simply Polished Nail Studio, Fort Morgan, Colo.
“I am a college-educated individual with two degrees who left the teaching profession to pursue my life-long interest in the beauty industry — and my forearms are visibly tattooed. While working as a teacher in both private and public schools in New York City it was never an issue. My students and their parents, as well as faculty and supervisors, were extremely accepting of my appearance and it never occurred to me that it would be a problem in any other modern workplace in New York City.
For two years now, I have been employed in the corporate side of the nail industry and have also been a professional nail technician for a little over a year. During that time I have been fortunate enough to work with several high-profile nail companies as an educator and for events such as New York Fashion Week, beauty shows, and photo shoots. My experience at these events has always been positive and I am happy to see that backstage a great number of nail technicians, hairstylists, and makeup artists are also visibly tattooed. These are highly professional, educated, and talented individuals who choose to express themselves creatively through their style of dress, hair color, and body art.
Suffice it to say, I felt at home among these individuals and never suspected I would run into any discrimination in this industry because of my personal style. However that is exactly what happened a few months ago. To make a long story short, I was told by a nail company that my appearance is acceptable in certain venues (such as beauty shows), but it is not how they wish to portray their corporate image in more intimate settings such as business presentations. During the conversation they reassured me that they highly respect my skill and professionalism, but their concern was that my ‘tattoos and black clothing’ are not the type of image they want to exhibit during business dealings as they are a ‘conservative and traditional’ company.
To say that I felt shocked and insulted is an understatement. When I interviewed with this company, they were aware of my appearance and it was never communicated that they objected to my body art. In fact, when I was hired and began to build a steady working relationship with them I believed my preferred color of clothing and tattoos were viewed just as they had been in my previous profession — as a non-issue. I was deeply hurt by the comments they made to me and the fact that my ability to function in my position was being unjustly limited. As a nail technician, I have never had a client, coworker, or any other employer make a negative comment based on my tattoos. One company that I regularly work with even encourages the nail techs who work with them to show off their tattoos, piercings, funky hair, and individual style.
Now that time has passed, I have to believe that such short-sighted opinions are the result of ignorance. To judge someone based on their physical appearance alone is superficial, but to know them and acknowledge that you highly regard their skill and work ethic, yet still look down on them for something as trivial as a tattoo is discriminatory — plain and simple. In this situation, the best revenge I can think of is to become a better nail technician for having gone through it and gain wisdom through the experience. This injustice only motivates me to continue to pursue my passion and dedicate myself to my art — and to never, ever compromise my individuality and self-expression along the way.”
— Teresa King, Nailing It, Brooklyn, N.Y.
“I am 22 years old and have been a successful nail tech for four years. I also have several visible and large tattoos, as well as a few facial piercings (side of lip, nose, and stretched ear lobes). I rent a booth in dFine Salon in Sonora, Calif., which has won several awards including Salon of the Year in Tuolumne County. My work has always spoken for itself. I feel that if a client was ever unsure about my appearance (which has never been brought to my attention) then it would have shown by now. I have built an extremely full clientele and maintain it. On top of working six days a week, averaging 10-13 hours a day, I have also in the past had two side jobs that required me to be in a customer service position. I still keep a professional appearance and am well put together. My pin-up/rockabilly appearance may be more forgiving with tattoos, I suppose, as they have never posed a problem at the workplace or when interviewing for a job. I do not cover my tattoos either. Both insides of my forearms are covered from wrists to elbows. I have a quote running across my collar bone shoulder to shoulder as well as a half sleeve from the top of my shoulder to my elbow. They are all tasteful and are not offensive in any way.”
— Amanda Holmes, dFine Salon, Sonora, Calif.
“I have three tattoos that I have had for a while. I have worked at jobs where I had to wear a shirt that exposed the tattoos. They were not an issue, but more of a conversation piece. When I decided I wanted to open a nail and tattoo studio (coming soon), plenty of people said, ‘Wow that is unique. But they both are related. I could see going there to get services.
I consider both occupations — a nail tech and a tattoo artist — an expression of art. When I start my hiring process, I will not discriminate if a potential employee has tattoos. I will welcome their uniqueness and their creativity.”
— LaShondra W. White, CRAVE Nails & Tats (coming soon), Macomb County, Mich.
“I don’t think visible tattoos in a corporate setting would be very accepted, but in other workplaces tattoos fit right in. Tattoos are becoming mainstream and almost a fashion accessory in some cases. I think tattoos are very accepted in the beauty industry! We are all creative and it is a form of self-expression. Look at the Barbie that was released last year with pink hair and tattoos.
In my case I have my knuckles tattooed, both arms fully tattooed, my chest done, my calves, and my back. I don’t dress any differently for work then I do in my normal life so my tattoos show — that’s the way it is. I have spent a lot of money on my tattoos and have some amazing artwork so why would I cover them? I have interviewed at a few different salons and my tattoos were never brought up. My talent outshined my tattoos. Every time I get a new tattoo, my mom says, ‘What if you have to change salons?’ And my response is, ‘Out of the last five hairstylists you have had, which one of them wasn’t tattooed?’ That usually ends the conversation.
Do I feel there is a stigma attached? Sure, and that might never go away because people are entitled to their opinion. I have hardly had bad feedback from my clients. I have heard coworkers’ clients make rude comments. I specifically heard someone say, ‘How can someone who makes that many poor choices in her life be good at anything?’ I responded, ‘Oh did I show you the October issue of NAILS Magazine with my published work in it?’ That’s all it took. Her client said she was sorry and was quiet the rest of her service. It didn’t hurt my feelings or make me mad. But like the saying goes, don’t judge a book by its cover. Best quote I ever heard was, ‘The only difference between tattooed people and non-tattooed people is tattooed people don’t care if you are not tattooed.’“
— Amanda Lenher, Posare Salon, Las Vegas
“I have 11 tattoos that I am able to cover up. Several of the gals that work at my day spa and salon also have them. The younger generation seems to have no problem with it at all. It is the older generation — stylists and patrons — that are requesting they be covered up. However, the majority of the tattoo complaints have been made when a person with tattoos shows them off by wearing skimpy clothing. That is more of a problem about the clothing. At the same time, if it was appropriate to sneak a peek at everybody at your salon, it sure would be interesting to see just how many of them have even just a little heart tattoo hidden somewhere and won’t admit it. So in my opinion, we all need to wear our hearts on our sleeves and perhaps be more professional and not gossip by offering our patrons some water, coffee, or even better, a nice glass of wine.”
— Natalie Peters, Capelli International Day Spa and Salon, Yorba Linda, Calif.