It was only three years ago, and Pamela Graboso still can’t remember what she said to irritate her professor.
“I guess she didn’t like me, you know, beggars can’t be choosers,” said the recent New York University graduate.
As she was leaving her morning clinical, her professor pulled her aside, and asked her about her tattoo of -- you guessed it -- a tooth.
“She was like, ‘Oh is that a tooth tattoo?’ And I was like ‘yeah it is,’ said Graboso. “And she was like, “Well it’s anatomically incorrect and it’s ugly.’”
Millennials are a favorite topic among the older generations, and usually for all the wrong reasons. Millennials are always in the news for killing industries such as casual dining, American cheese and banks.
But there is one industry that may be doing better than ever before, much to the dismay of the Baby Boomers. According to a study done by Pew Research Center in February of 2010, nearly four-in-10, or 38 percent, of Millennials, said they have at least one tattoo.
And they’re not just stopping at one.
Gone are the days of singular, little tattoos, carefully hidden where nobody could see them. Now there’s so many, some have lost count.
“I don’t really count, I just get them,” said Allison George, who estimates her tattoo count is somewhere in the “10, 11, 12” range.
Adorned in tattoos on her arms, legs and torso, the 21-year-old still remembers the first time she got a tattoo.
“I think I was about maybe 18 and a half, you know I didn’t want to go straight after my eighteenth birthday, I really sat on it for awhile. And it was of this floral pattern on my sternum, so on the top of my stomach,” she said in a phone interview. “I wanted to make sure that it was something that I could’ve easily hidden.”
The desire to keep her tattoos hidden did not last long for George, who stands at 5’3”. She’s one of the few females studying neuroscience and computer science in the honors program at the University of Delaware, and her ‘12ish’ tattoos, stretched ears, nose rings and shaved head and eyebrows make her stick out like a sore thumb she said -- something she’s learned to grow comfortable with.
“I definitely stand out, in not only my major but also just my school in general. There’s a lot of frat culture I guess you could say, most people tend to do the very specific image that comes with this school, and I definitely don’t follow that norm,” she said. “My entire identity is not the way I look, like my work speaks for itself.”
In a meritocratic society, maybe a person’s work would solely speak for themselves, but a 2013 survey done by Salary.com found that body modifications can hurt a person’s chances at finding a job.
Out of the 2,765 people surveyed, almost 80 percent believed that “tattoos and piercings hurt an applicant’s chances of being hired during a job interview.” Thirty-nine percent felt that “employees with tattoos and piercings reflect poorly on their employers.”
Sondra Edwards Buesing Riley, Director for Internships and Professional Development at Saint Peter’s University, works directly with the students to assist them with finding internships with the goal in mind of getting hired after graduation. Despite the rising trends in tattoos and piercings, she hasn’t had any serious conversations with students yet.
“But I really think, especially at Saint Peter’s, the students who would be inclined to have visible body mods would be those in the arts where it’s not, where it’s a non-issue.”
While recruiters may not explicitly say to remove any and all body modifications, Riley said that it’s usually assumed based on the line of work.
“It’s more about your behavior, your fitting into the company’s culture, knowing what they expect,” said Riley.
Riley, who aids students in getting internships that could potentially turn into full-time jobs, suggests looking on the company’s website to see what the people in the pictures look like, but to always air on the conservative side.
And especially in that initial face-to-face interview, a bad first impression could make or break a candidate who seemed perfect on paper.
“The workplaces has been evolving and have gotten more inclusive, tolerant, seeing the applicant as someone who offers skills but you’ve gotta come looking clean -- you just do,” said Riley.
Once you’re hired and you get a feel for the workplace, Riley thinks then you can “get away with it,” unless of course there’s a written policy, which isn’t something she’s seen.
Millennials aren’t the only ones flocking to the tattoo or piercing parlor the minute they turn 18.
Many Baby Boomers have tattoos and piercings, just not nearly as many. In the same study done by Pew Research Center, 15 percent of Baby Boomers from ages 46 to 64 have at least one tattoo. At least 32 percent of Generation X’ers from ages 30 to 45 have at least one as well.
Dr. Rachel Wifall, head of the Honors Program and English professor at Saint Peter’s University, is one of those adults with tattoos, although she considers herself to be a “late bloomer” in that regard.
“I didn’t get a tattoo until I was maybe 30, I waited,” she laughed. “What I did was when I was young was I did multiple piercings, I just did like four in one ear and one in the other,” she said. “I had, my hair was like shaved and spiked and stuff like that, like 80’s style. I looked like Depeche Mode or somebody.”
Wifall -- with her tattoos, multiple ear piercings, large jewelry and “trendy” clothing -- seems to have grown out of her punk rock days, but hasn’t had any issues with her appearance at Saint Peter’s.
“If I still wore spiky hair, ripped jeans and thick eyeliner, would that be more of an issue? I think that would depend on the institution and my field,” said Wifall.
The customers, business and role that the person would be filling would also be taken into account, Riley also mentioned.
“I’ve always been a person to see past exterior and to see qualities and talent and gifts and skills so I’m extremely flexible,” she said. “Now if I had two candidates for the job, and of course they were equally gifted, skilled, I’m going to go with the one who doesn’t have all the ‘adornment.’ But if it’s just one, if this candidate outshines the others, there’s no issue.”
Tattoos are believed to have been practiced by just about every human culture in ancient history, from the Greeks to the Egyptians. Deriving from the Tahitian word “tatau” meaning “to mark or strike,” the word tattoo refers to the ancient method of application where the ink is ‘tapped’ into the skin using wood or bone. Very few places in the world still use this ancient method today.
Certain professions are a little more accepting than others. While Saint Peter’s junior Alexis Dulko is double-majoring in Economics and Finance and minoring in Business Law, she’s planning on pursuing a career in law enforcement or the military; two fields that shouldn’t take issue with her three visible tattoos.
“The military accepts them as long as they’re in the regulations -- and all of mine are -- cause I looked up that beforehand, before making that life-changing decision, essentially putting something on my body forever,” said Dulko. “And law enforcement, it’s the same thing, it goes with the same regulations.”
As someone who interacts with young adults on a daily basis, Wifall has noticed a sharp increase in their body modifications within recent years. As she keeps her 14-year-old niece in the back of her mind, she admits it makes her worry.
“I’m a little shocked, actually, at the number of tattoos I see on young people, to where I’m almost like ‘Are you sure you’re gonna want that on your body later on?’ Like they’re really going to town,” she laughed.
As the more conservative Baby Boomers begin to retire and the liberal Millennials begin to fill their positions, Americans may be seeing a more lenient workplace within the next 10 to 15 years, where ‘clean cut’ is no longer a bullet point on a resume, and where someone’s personality and work ethic are the only things taken into consideration.
“I think if a job was to exclude people based on their physical appearance in any sense, you know you’re really not understanding that person. You could be losing out on someone who’s a really good fit for your company,” said George.