LIMA — When Travis Stevick goes to work, he wears his heart on his sleeve, literally.
For the 34-year-old pediatric nurse, his body is a canvas, and the tattoos are all metaphors of his life. Along his left arm, there’s a tiger and cherry blossoms on his forearm, and a coy fish on his upper arm. This is mostly what is exposed when he wears his scrubs to work. Stevick has 20 tattoos in all so far, from his arms, legs, back and chest. He plans on getting more, too.
And Stevick said at Health Partners of Western Ohio, where he works, they’ve been very accommodating with his visible tattoos.
“There’s different nursing homes and other health care facilities that have policies: no visible tattoos, because of contact with patients. But not here,” Stevick said. “It mixes with our clientele. A lot of our patients have tattoos, so they’re not frowned on here. That’s why I’m here. I feel accepted. I like the way they feel with it.”
Ironically, he does immunizations for children. The tattoos are not only a calming mechanism for them, but some children tell him they want tattoos someday, despite wincing from a single shot he just administered.
“It kind of gets their mind off whatever they’re here for, if they’re not feeling well,” he said. “If they have to get a shot, something like that, and they take just a second and look at my tattoos, we relate a little bit. So it helps, I think.”
Self-expression more acceptable
Many agree that workplace tattoos and piercings have become more acceptable in the workplace in recent years. Once thought of as the mark of a degenerate, almost 25 percent of Americans now have tattoos, according to a Pew Research poll from 2010. This likely makes having them in a professional setting more acceptable than before.
“I have definitely seen a shift in the acceptance of tattoos and piercings” in the workplace during the past decade, said Kathy Dickson, Director of Career Development at Bluffton University. “For some employers, it’s still very much a big deal, but it depends ... not only on the field, but the individual employer, because every organization has its own culture.”
There are some fields, though, that have remained more traditional about the issue.
“The business and education fields are still two of the more conservative as far as having piercings and tattoos right out there in front of customers or students,” she said. “Some of the professional etiquette rules are more conservative about everything: The color of your suit, the color of your tie, the color of your shirt when you go to an interview. Whether your shoes are closed tie or open. So when you get to these types of rules, any trainer is probably going to encourage you to err on the conservative side when making first impressions and they’re getting to know you.”
It all depends on the organization.
Lorne Howden Sr., owner of the Tat-2-U tattoo parlor on Elida Road, said the majority of his clients work in professional fields, such as law enforcement and health care. He likes it that way — most of those customers take body art very seriously, meticulously planning what they would like to get and where.
“The newer thing is to have a tattoo,” he said. “Society just need to be more accepting of it.”
Being in the field for more than 25 years, he’s seen a dramatic shift in the kind of clients he gets. He’s owned Tat-2-U in Lima for about 10 years, but had previously owned a shop in Seattle.
“I’ve seen it go from sailors … to professionals,” he said.
Aversion to tattoos, piercings still remain
Angela Wilbert, who mostly has had good feedback from her tongue piercing, once had an informal marketing meeting that left a bad taste in her mouth.
A marketing man said he may have a job opportunity for her at a bank, and could set up an interview. But he had a caveat.
“You have to take out the tongue ring,” he told her.
“I was floored,” said Wilbert, 34, of Lima, who does freelance writing. “It wasn’t in his place to say something to me about my tongue ring.”
Normally, she would have taken it out for an interview, she said. But because this was more informal, she made the decision to leave it in. She had the piercing for years in early adulthood, but had taken it out and had gotten it re-pierced when she was 30. She said she made her own decision, and it’s not easily noticeable.
“No one outside of that ever said anything to me,” she said.
Dickson said the most important thing for young people to do if they decide to get a piercing or tattoo, is to do research about potential companies where they’d like to work someday. Others make decisions on where they work based on whether they have tattoos.
“People set decisions,” Dickson said. They may say: “My piercings are part of my identity and who I am, and if they don’t want to hire me, based on this on this industry, then that’s probably the industry I don’t want to be working in.”