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Debunking Tattoo Stereotypes: Are Tattooed People Less Intelligent, Professional, Healthy, or Lawful?

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A dragonfly might be a stereotypical tattoo, but there are many unique dragonflies.

A dragonfly might be a stereotypical tattoo, but there are many unique dragonflies.

Tattoo Stereotypes

Tattoos have been around for a very long time and were part of many ancient cultures. Their long history hasn’t prevented people from developing negative stereotypes—both of people with tattoos and of tattoo culture. While these stereotypes are gradually waning and fewer people are judging tattooed people as harshly as before, stigmas still exist, and tattooed people still have to face them on occasion.

I’ve had tattoos for years, but my first one was always covered up due to its location. This was intentional because even though I was ready to get a tattoo, I wasn’t quite ready to hear my mother’s commentary about it. She isn’t completely judgmental of tattoos as long as they're on men but apparently, in her opinion, tattoos on females are trashy.

I decided that her issues with tattooed women were hers and not mine, so I get my second tattoo in a visible area. I’ve never judged people who don’t have tattoos because that’s their body and their choice, but I've seen the repercussions of negative stereotypes firsthand:

  • My best friend has several tattoos. After her father discovered them, he stopped speaking to her.
  • My uncle didn’t cut ties with my cousin, but when he found out about her tattoos (that she bought with her own money as an adult) he left the house, saying, “It’s all going to hell in a handbasket!” while slamming the door on the way out.

We should understand that body art isn’t for everyone and not everyone will like it or agree with it, but there is no good reason to cut ties with a loved one over tattoos. That’s ridiculous. It’s that individual’s body. Nevertheless, people still hold onto some stereotypes, and below, you'll find a list of a few of the most prevalent.

Stereotype: People with tattoos are less intelligent and less professional.

This whole idea that people with tattoos are less intelligent is ridiculous and completely unwarranted. My best friend is a medical assistant. My cousin, who has three tattoos, has two degrees in the sciences and has a Mensa-level IQ. I have a B.S. in Psychology and am working on my Master’s. I’m pretty sure there are many more very intelligent individuals out there sporting tattoos.

As for less professional? Hardly. You'll find doctors, lawyers, journalists, scientists, religious leaders, and government officials all sporting tattoos. I do my job to the best of my ability, dress professionally, and continue striving to improve and contribute in any way I can. People with tattoos have dreams, ambitions, and goals just like everyone else and just like everyone else, they strive to meet those goals.

Stereotype: People with tattoos are more likely to do bad, deviant, or rebellious things.

I’m sure there are some tattooed people out there who do less-than-stellar things, but I’ve worked as a corrections officer before and I’ve seen plenty of people without ink enjoying an extended stay in jail.

My best friend did do a few rebellious things when she was younger, but now she is a devoted mother of five and a medical assistant. Her youngest child is actually her sister’s kid whom my best friend adopted because her sister was incapable of taking care of her. My brother has a tattoo and he’s probably one of the most straight-laced, upstanding guys I know.

Again, like every group, there are good eggs and bad eggs.

Stereotype: Tattooed people live unhealthy lifestyles.

I don’t even drink coffee, much less smoke, drink heavily, or do drugs. I don’t even stay out late. Now, my stepmother has done all of these and she has not one tattoo. So you just never know. Don’t judge people by their looks or their ink. Especially don’t judge someone’s looks like they are some crystal ball into their character. That’s messed up.

According to a review of research in Medical News Today, data doesn't show any strong relationship between having a tattoo and having poor health. The authors of the reveiw said, "Our results indicate that having a tattoo in general, and the features therein specifically, [is] not significantly related to overall health status.”

Stereotype: Tattoos are dirty and only dirty people get them.

Reputable tattoo shops have to be certified depending on state laws (in the US anyway) with regard to sanitization and sterilization of equipment. Inspections and permits for tattooists may also be required.

As for who gets tattoos? It seems these days that people from all walks of life are getting tattoos.

Stereotype: Tattoos are impulsive.

A lot of people get tattoos of something meaningful to them, something they want to carry around with them forever. That was the reason behind both of mine. Neither was an impulse decision for me. Tattoos are not always a symbol of rebellion as a lot of people seem to think. I suppose a tattoo could be an impulsive decision some people, but for the majority, it's probably not. Despite the stereotype, researchers have found no solid evidence that tattoos are a sign of inpulsivity or lack of self-control.

All I’m suggesting is that before judging someone who has a tattoo based on their tattoo alone, stop and try to get to know that person first. The majority of us don’t bite, have goals we’re working toward, and are caring, productive members of society.

The Problem With Stereotypes

The problem with these stereotypes is that because of them, it is often difficult to get people to do any research and open their minds to new information. Perceptions may be real, but that doesn’t mean they’re right.

It seems there may be a lack of understanding about why people get tattoos, who gets tattoos, and the whole tattoo process. The perception seems to be that only people who don’t care about themselves or don’t think about their futures are the ones who get tattooed and that the tattoo process is dirty and unhygienic.

Aside from my mother, I haven’t personally experienced any negative reactions to my tattoos. My workplace has been really laid back about it. In fact, a few of my coworkers have asked about them and the stories behind them. Complete strangers have occasionally stopped me when I’m out and about to ask about them and I love telling the stories.

Even though my experiences have been largely positive, the bottom line is these stereotypes exist and oftentimes advice from tattooed people include caution about choosing locations on the body for tattoos with respect to one’s profession. You know, just in case, one’s workplace frowns on visible tattoos. There’s still a lot of work to be done in breaking down these stereotypes.

What needs to be understood about the tattooed population is that we are like any other group of people (if we even want to be lumping people into groups); there are a lot of good ones and there are some bad ones.

Article on tattoo psychology

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.