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By Nicole Gustafson
Iowa State Daily, Iowa State U.

(UWIRE)—In a college classroom of 50 students, about 20 students have a tattoo somewhere, according to trends reported by the Pew Research Center.

When those students graduate, they are entering a workforce that, for the most part, does not feel the same acceptance toward tattoos. Tattoos are much less prevalent in older generations and often come with a stigma. These older generations are the employers that graduates of universities such as Iowa State have to impress to get a job.

"I think that maybe it's just something they're not used to seeing, or because they kind of have these stereotypes that people who have tattoos are irresponsible or maybe don't have a background that they approve of or think is appropriate for the work world," said Taren Reker, Career Services coordinator for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Iowa State U. "I think it's just a lot of old stereotypes."

"Everyone always told me growing up that, if I got a lot of visible tattoos, people could deny me jobs because of it." 

One solution young adults have turned to is getting tattoos in places that are easy to cover. The Pew Research Center found that approximately 70% of people born after 1980 that have tattoos got them in places that are not usually visible.

"Everyone always told me growing up that, if I got a lot of visible tattoos, people could deny me jobs because of it," said Shelby Leahy, ISU sophomore in child, adult and family services who has three tattoos. "I didn't find it very fair, of course, but I figure that's how the generation that's running the business thinks, so I might as well get them in easily hidden places for the time being."

Other students are willing to sacrifice fashion choices, such as short sleeves, for more tattoos. Cole Nedved, ISU junior in pre-journalism and mass communication, said he was not as worried about the possibility of being denied jobs because all of his many tattoos can be covered by a suit.

"My dream job would be working for a rock station so having tattoos isn't a big deal there," Nedved said.

Josh Alex, ISU sophomore in pre-liberal studies, said when he started getting tattoos, he was not concerned at all about how they would affect his future career.

"I went on tour when I was right out of high school," Alex said. "Everyone had tattoos and things like that, so that's kind of what drew me to it. I hate to say, 'Oh my friends were doing it,' but everyone I was in a bus or a band with had tattoos, so I started getting them."

Alex's career plan at the time didn't cause him much concern about his tattoos.

"I was never worried about that because then I thought I was going to tour for my whole life," said Alex, who now wants to work for a sports agency.

Nedved and Alex have both chosen to stay away from tattoos on their hands and necks for career reasons.

Young adults now are getting tattoos as a form of art or self-expression rather than as an act of rebellion.

"It might sound silly, but I think of my body as a canvas—a billboard that advertises my creativity and personality," Leahy said. "I really enjoy that I can take something meaningful to me and create something that I can always wear as a reminder of how important it is."

Alex agreed that tattoos are a way to show personality without using words.

"I'm not a person that expresses a lot of feeling or anything, so I think that it's an outlet for me," he said.

There is also a tattoo culture that attracts young adults.

"I like being a part of something greater," Nedved said. "Just being a part of that culture is great. You're kind of being the minority, but that minority is growing [larger] now."

Tattoos are much less prevalent in older generations and often come with a stigma. Only time will tell if, in the future when today's college graduates become tomorrow's bosses, employees will be hired regardless of any tattoos and not have to cover them if they wish.

Nedved said the thought of hiring someone with tattoos does not faze him.

"Having tattoos doesn't affect the person you are as a whole, so I would encourage it," he said.

Leahy said she would actually prefer to employ the type of person who is open to tattoos.

"I definitely plan to hire people without taking into consideration their tattoos or body modification in general," she said. "I think that, from what I've seen at least, the people with the most body modification like piercings, colored hair and tattoos actually are more artistic and open-minded in the way that they operate."

Published February 19, 2012

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