On Ink and Employment

 “American Idol” viewers know that Carly Smithson, the dark-haired young woman with the British accent, has a tattoo that extends from her shoulder midway down her right arm. Her tattoo has been called excessive but it pales in comparison to the many sported by her husband, who is often in the audience.

Interestingly, when the camera pans in on Smithson’s husband it doesn’t linger, as it does on the family members of others, say, Brooke White’s beaming, wholesome-looking husband. Smithson’s husband also always seems to be sitting in the dark. Even so, if you’ve seen him you remember him: He’s got ink all over, including on his face.

My immediate reaction upon seeing people who have chosen such a definitive form of self-expression is to jump to the employment implications. Maybe it’s because I write about career and employer issues, but I can’t help wondering where these people work and what their future job prospects might be as a result of their body art.

It turns out Todd Smithson is a tattoo artist; he co-owns a tattoo shop with Carly. Okay, maybe he views himself as a walking billboard for the business. Nevertheless, it’s a good bet few other businesses would want him as a spokesperson.

Tattoos and body piercings are prickly issues for many employers. Some have policies that specify what is and what is not acceptable. Most airlines, for example, will not hire flight attendants with visible tattoos.

However, since an estimated 32 percent of people ages 25-29 and 25 percent of those 30-39 now have tattoos (according to a recent Harris poll), some employers may have no choice but to rethink their positions.

Recognizing that body art is literally (t)here to stay, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) features a session addressing tattoos and other appearance matters at this year’s annual conference; it’s called, “Is Beauty in the Eye of the Employer?”

Meanwhile, a number of employers have already questioned their stance and consequently instituted more progressive policies, which have resulted in new job opportunities for inked individuals. I know of a woman with a small tattoo on her earlobe who, after being rejected by other airlines, was recently hired as a flight attendant by JetBlue.

Still, aficionados of body art should keep in mind that hiring companies will only move the line so far. Todd Smithson or a Todd look-alike probably won’t be sauntering down an airline aisle with a server cart anytime soon.

Paula Santonocito

Career Editor, SingleMindedWomen.com