Are Tattoos Still a Stigma?

There was a time where body art or tattoos were associated with lower class, uneducated and rude people. Fast forward a few years later and tattoos have become quite commonplace in Maltese society. As the new generation of millennials is more tolerant and willing to experiment with tattoos, one raises the question as to whether tattoos are still a stigma in today’s society. A study by Broussard and Harton addresses just this.

A stigma is defined as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.”

The study asserts that although there has been an increased adoption of tattoos over the past ten years, people with body art are still viewed negatively.  Popular perceptions include negative attitudes and personalities, unreliability, lack of competence and sociability. Studies also indicate that tattooed women are judged harsher than men. Negative associations include that they tend to be more inclined to bad vices such as drinking, and are deemed to be less caring, intelligent and honest. 

In this regard, people with tattoos are particularly vulnerable to workplace discrimination. Some leaders do not employ people with tattoos, whilst others ask potential candidates to conceal them if they are visible. This is due to the fact that tattoos can be perceived as tainting on a company’s reputation.

In their study, it transpired that participants judged images of individuals with a tattoo on their arm more negatively than the same image of these individuals with their tattoos digitally erased. A noteworthy finding in this study found that people with tattoos, women, in particular, are perceived to be stronger and more independent than their counterparts with no tattoos. Another interesting finding is that tattooed people held equally negative perceptions of people with body art.

The study concludes by highlighting that these views may not have a factual basis, being just stereotypes.

I argue that such stereotypes bring with them more harm than good. Why ostracise a group of individuals simply because they have decided to experiment with body art? In an era where we are pushing forward acceptance and tolerance, what space is there for such stereotypes? This is more the case when popular role models have embraced body art. Take a look at leading footballers and brand icons such as David Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lionel Messi. Do we look at them negatively because of their tattoos?

When it comes to the workplace, I argue that situations relating to tattoos are to be addressed on a case by case basis. Whilst it is understandable that one may not be too inclined to allow front office staff for having visible tattoos, the same is not necessarily true for someone in a non-client facing role.

What is your view on tattoos? Do you think that body art is still a stigma? Or have they become widely accepted?


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