Young people are warned about a million professional faux pas when entering the workforce: don’t have weird colored hair, don’t have a wacky wardrobe, don’t have creative makeup, but most of all, whatever you do, don’t have piercings or tattoos! These rules will always be true for some career paths, but as the creative industries grow and expand, those standards shift with them.
Creative jobs are more popular than ever--graphic design, video production, copywriting and music production all used to be difficult to come by, but with the rise of the Internet and personal branding, creative jobs are more readily available than ever before. And with personal branding comes aesthetic, and aesthetic is rarely limited by body art. Walk into any advertising, PR firm, or marketing department and you’re likely to find a pierced nose, an asymmetrical haircut, and uncovered tattoos. What used to be a professional no-no is now a statement--and I think that’s a good thing.
I entered the creative workforce wearing a costume--I wore clothes that were fashionable, kept my hair its natural color, and wore a simple stud as my nose piercing. Despite having 7 tattoos at the time, I dressed conservatively and kept them covered at all costs. I thought that this was what was expected of me. I didn’t quite feel like myself; I had grown up as what I call a “spooky kid”--one of those teens who wore all black with a mohawk, heavy eye makeup and piercings. I was lead to believe that this was a look I would have to “grow out of”. So I put on my professional costume. I felt insecure in my own skin, but I refused to be dismissed from the career I wanted based on my looks alone.
When I began my second job out of college, I started to see tattoos on everyone. All my creative coworkers had colorful hair, a cool unique wardrobe, beautiful makeup, and best of all, unabashedly displayed beautiful art on their skin. I started to shift my image back to being spooky, yet kept a business tone and rapidly felt my professional insecurities wash away. As I’ve continued on with my career and occasionally moved from job to job, the tattoos on my peers have become more and more prevalent, and managers don’t seem to mind. I even think that I was able to secure my latest job in part because of my self-expression--when I’m in an interview for a creative position I literally wear my creativity on my sleeves.
According to an article in Forbes (2013), image is not nearly as important as professional skills or abilities. And that was nearly 4 years ago. I wonder what the research would say now, if more as coming. Millennials seem to care the least about aesthetic and are now also the largest percentage of the workforce, and the Gen Zers are coming. Needless to say, the look and feel of the workplace is starting to shift in favor self expression. I know that I feel more confident in the workplace as a tattooed person, and trust that my colleagues look at me skill-set first instead of spending their free time judging me because of the ink on my arms.
The faux pas of the past and traditional way of conservative dress are no longer the status quo, and a funkier image is starting to become wholly accepted. Professional skills are taking the front seat to image, which will allow more talented people into the workforce than ever before. Opportunity should never be limited to people wearing costumes.