You know when you tell your mom you’re getting a tattoo and the first thing she says is, ‘But won’t that make getting hired more tricky?’ We asked a woman who’s covered in tattoos if this concern is a valid one – and if it’s something you should think about before you get inked. Enter Aimee Eveleigh (pictured above and below), founder and owner of a Cape Town-based PR company, and a radio DJ on 2OceansVibe. She’s got two full tattoo sleeves, and plenty of other artwork dotted around her body, including on her torso and legs. Here’s what she thinks about how tattoos can affect your career prospects.
When did you get your first tattoo?
I got my first tattoo when I was 16, after my BFF died. I wasn’t legally allowed to get one at that age, but somehow I got away with it. My best friend’s name was Soleil, so I got the letter ‘S’ inked onto the back of my neck framed by the corona of the Sun, since Soleil means ‘sun’ in French. From there, like most people find, the whole tattoo thing became addictive!
What do tattoos represent for you?
To me, they represent a modern form of body augmentation. I don’t see any difference between being tattooed to, say, having your breasts augmented or your lips plumped up with fillers. ‘Beauty’ is such a subjective concept, and tattoos are the way that I choose to ‘beautify’ myself – like wearing makeup. Tattoos give me a sense of feeling my most gorgeous, beautiful self.
And while some people see tattoos as ways to ‘defy the system’ or rebel, that’s not why I have them at all. In fact, in today’s day and age, I don’t think tattoos are particularly rebellious or non-conformist at all. So many people have them! And in so many other ways, I’m conformist – even my dress sense is pretty regular, and through my job working with clients I spend plenty of time corporately dressed. I think if you saw me dressed up in one of my business suits, you’d have no idea I’m covered in tattoos underneath.
Why do you think some potential employers could hold tattoos against someone they’re looking to hire?
We’re all conditioned by our society when we make judgements. For example, if I was from a Maori village in New Zealand, and I was a boy, I’d be treated differently if I didn’t have any tattoos. Or if I was a female member of the Yakuza tribe in Japan and didn’t have a fully-body tattoo, I’d be considered unusual. It’s all about what we consider the ‘norm’, and I do think tattoos are becoming increasingly normal in our society.
But in white middle-class South Africa, for example – the social context I’m most familiar with – it’s only in the last decade that tattoos have become more acceptable. I was in a queue in Checkers in 2006, and an old lady turned and said to me, ‘In my day, it was only whores and sailors who did that sort of thing to their bodies!’ #Awkward. But that kind of judgement has happened less and less as time has moved on. And it’s become more likely that strangers will comment with compliments on my artwork instead of criticisms.
There’s a fear with the unknown, so for me a potential employer would discriminate against someone with tattoos if they were familiar only with the outdated stereotypes around them – you’re a rule-breaker, you’re not professional – and unfamiliar with the real people wearing those tattoos. There are also some industries that are based on first impressions, like sales. In those kinds of jobs, where you need to impress people and gain their trust quickly, how you look and any judgements a client may make just on sight are important.
Have you ever been discriminated against by a potential employer because of your tattoos?
I can only recall one time in my life where my tattoos were an issue. I was 22 and applying for a job as an au pair. I was wearing a tank top and blazer, but I had to take my blazer off because it was such a hot day. The interview was brief – the mom interviewing me was visibly unimpressed when I took off my blazer and showed my tattoo sleeves. I definitely felt an inherent prejudice from her as a result, and I didn’t get the job.
In most of my other job interviews, I’m always careful to dress in a way that my tattoos aren’t the first thing you see. Not because I’m ashamed, but because the best way to make it a non-issue is to impress the interviewer with your charisma, intelligence and professionalism first. When they see that, the tattoos become irrelevant – they want to hire you, not your looks.
That approach has always served me well. I was a project manager for a glossy travel mag at a major publishing house, often dealing with high-end clients. I got the job because my personality and skills impressed the recruiter, and I excelled in that role for six years, proving that who you are and what you can bring to the table will always outshine how you look.
Have your tattoos ever helped you land a gig?
Well, it definitely helped me land the PR account for the South African International Tattoo Convention! Also, the tattoo community is amazingly tight-knit and has provided amazing contacts for me when it comes to networking.
Have you made a conscious decision not to tattoo an area because it might affect your career prospects?
For me, I would never tattoo my face – I think that would definitely have a negative impact on my work life, mostly because I think our society is still a long way away from being able to refrain from judging a corporate woman who has, say, a big sunflower inked on her cheek.
What should everyone ask themselves before they get a tattoo?
I think the main thing is to think long and hard about the industry you want to work in, and whether visible tattoos would make your growth in that area harder. For example, if you work in a customer-relations environment for a big, pre-existing brand, it wouldn’t be uncommon for managers to make you sign documents which state that you won’t wear facial jewellery or have visible tattoos. Those rules are in place to protect more conservative public brands, and could be barrier a for you if you can’t comply.
But if you work in an environment where visible tattoos are more acceptable – like in a creative field – that’s less of an issue. And if you’re unsure, it’s generally safer to get your tattoo done in a place that you can easily cover up with clothing, if you ever needed to.
If it’s your first tattoo, it’s always best – regardless of your kind of job – to start with something small so you can live with that for a while and see how it goes. You’ve got your whole life to build up a bigger tattoo collection. Besides, we change all the time, and our tastes and styles change too – even though you may know inside that you’ll always love being tattooed, you may not still love that skull and crossbones you got on your chest when you were 21.
How do you deal if a potential employer questions your tattoos?
If I ever decided to go back to a job where I was working in a big company for an international brand – as I’ve done before in the past – I’d rely on my education, intellect, charisma and professionalism to sell myself, proving to a potential employer that my tattoos were a non-issue. So if an interviewer asked me something like, ‘How do you feel potential clients may react to your tattoos?’ I’d respond with something like, ‘I don’t know, but I do know how they’ll respond to my ability to do a great job for them: positively!’
The South African International Tattoo Convention is happening from 24 to 26 March at Cape Town’s CTICC, featuring a host of international guest tattoo artists. Find out more and get your ticket here.