Society isn’t quite ready for facial tattoos

Story highlights

Tattoos have come a long way; in 40% of households somebody has one, according to a poll

Highly visible tattoos on the face, neck, head or hands may not be as accepted by the mainstream

Seattle tattoo artist says those with visible tattoos face rejection from employers, landlords

Famous people can get away with face and head tattoos, but regular folks have a tougher time

CNN  — 

“I am a canvas of my experiences, my story is etched in lines and shading, and you can read it on my arms, my legs, my shoulders, and my stomach.” – Kat Von D, tattoo artist

Tattoos have come a long way.

Once lambasted as professional kryptonite and social sabotage, inked skin has now rooted itself in mainstream culture.

In May, NBC News/Wall Street Journal released a poll that found 40% of Americans have someone in their household with a tattoo, up from 21% from 15 years ago. Last year, Forbes magazine said tattoos were becoming “increasingly unproblematic across the board,” even in the workplace.

But the workplace doesn’t seem to be ready for tattoos in certain areas – mainly the face, head and neck.

In 2011, 31% of employers nationwide told job website Career Builder that having a visible tattoo would hinder a candidate’s likelihood of being promoted.

Earlier this year, Army Regulation 670-1 enforced new rules prohibiting soldiers from displaying tattoos on the head, face, neck, wrists, hands and fingers.

“Tattoos are getting more and more accepted,” said Alivia Foley, a 24-year old tattoo artist who has been inking clients full-time for six years in Seattle. “But we’re not there yet.”

“People will start treating you differently once you become a heavily tattooed person,” said Foley, who has head and neck tattoos.

Potential employers, law enforcement and even landlords can look askance at facial tats, in her experience.

“I just don’t think they’re for everybody,” she said.

The accepted few

Of course when Foley says highly visible tattoos are not for everybody, she means everybody who wants a professional job.

For years American society has openly accepted celebrities who choose to sport highly visible tattoos.

  • Don’t miss out on the conversation we’re having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter @CNNLiving or “like” us on Facebook to have your say! Get the latest stories and tell us what’s influencing your life.

    Boxer Mike Tyson, who had his face tattooed with a tribal symbol in 2003, was an early adopter of the look. Rapper Gucci Mane said he inked an ice cream cone on his cheek because he’s “cool as ice” and top-selling rap artist Lil Wayne has teardrops and “Fear God” on his eyelids.

    Neck tattoos can be seen on anyone from urban youths to international arbiters of style. Rihanna and David and Victoria Beckham each have them.

    Even Oscar winner Jamie Foxx appears to have gotten a tribal symbol permanently drawn on the back of his head.

    “Tattooing has gone from being counterculture to being something everyone is doing,” Foley said. “But societal repercussions are still there, especially with highly visible tattoos on the face, neck or hands.”

    This is certainly true with nonfamous men and women.

    Canadian rapper Drake was irate when a young fan followed the instructions from his song, “Free Spirit,” and got a tattoo of his name on her forehead.

    And take Jeremy Meeks, the “Hot Felon” who boasts a Facebook fan page with more than 228,000 likes, but has had his teardrop tattoo PhotoShopped out of some Internet memes.

    The teardrop, often associated with gang culture and violence, does not fit the high-fashion aesthetic of his dreamy blue eyes. Perhaps our culture is more willing to overlook a criminal history than a conspicuous blotch of ink.

    Anyone considering a facial tattoo should be warned about the repercussions, said Foley, the Seattle tattooist.

    “If a tattoo artist is not giving a lecture on a face tattoo, they’re not doing their job.”

    Foley will ink clients’ faces only if they are already heavily tattooed – and even then she will meet with them beforehand to ensure they have a clear understanding of the societal risks.

    But those who want them can still get face, head and neck tattoos without proper consultation and warning. In fact, some crude designs are done by nonprofessionals at home or in prison settings.

    “Honestly, the tattoo community used to be very tight-knit,” she said. “But now you can buy kits off of Ebay and call yourself a tattoo artist without any apprenticeship or traditional training.”

    ‘I feel more like myself

    No amount of warning deterred Vin Los.