can I say something about my coworker’s graphic, violent tattoo?

A reader writes:

I work for a large company with a very diverse workforce and a very relaxed dress code (it’s basically nonexistent, unless you work in the field or are in a customer-facing role).

Recently, my group hired a few contractors to help us manage our workload. One of the contractors, a woman, has a lot of tattoos, one of which depicts a nude woman being hacked into pieces by a butcher, complete with blood spray and meat hooks. To say it’s graphic is an understatement. The contractor had been wearing long-sleeved shirts up until a couple weeks ago, so it had been covered up. Now that the weather is warmer, she’s been wearing short-sleeved shirts, revealing the tattoo.

I normally have live-and-let-live attitude about what people do with their bodies and how they dress, but honestly, I really find this tattoo upsetting and distracting, and I’m doing my damnedest not to let it color my interactions with her. I’m not in the position to ask her to cover it up, but would I be out of line to bring it up with our supervisor? I’m really not sure how (or if) I should approach this.


On one hand, I feel like her tattoos really aren’t her coworkers’ business, since the company allows them to be displayed. On the other hand, if she had a graphic, violent drawing like that up at her desk, you’d have every right to speak up about it and expect your workplace to insist it be removed. So I’m coming down on the side of it being okay for you to speak up about it, but with the caveat that I feel icky about the whole thing.

Anyway, you have a couple of choices:

1. Say something to the coworker directly. If I were in your shoes and had decided to speak up, I think I’d say, “Hey Jane, I support you having whatever tattoos you want, but damn that’s some graphic violence. I find that particular image really unsettling.”

2. Say something to your manager. If I went this route, I think I’d say, “Have you seen Jane’s tattoo of a naked woman being hacked into pieces? I have no issue with tattoos in general, but that’s a really unsettling image to see every day. Is it something the company would ever ask to have covered?”

Actually, you’re in a large company, so you might skip your manager and talk to HR instead. HR is generally pretty aware that imagery of naked women being chopped up poses all sorts of issues in the workplace, so they might be your best bet.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 265 comments… read them below }

  1. Annika*

    This is REALLY unprofessional and I don’t know why anyone should be uncomfortable with complaining. I am a WOC. If someone had a tattoo of a black person being lynched, I would d*mn well be on my way to HR. I wouldn’t care about the circumstances, excuses, anything.

    1. Zillah*

      I completely agree. It would be completely out of line for her to have a poster or wear a t-shirt with an image of a nude woman being hacked apart; I don’t see why this is any different because it’s on her body. (Also: why on earth would one get a tattoo of that in the first place?!)

      1. Rose*

        Absolutely agree. She knew when she got the tattoo that it would not be acceptable in a corporate office. That’s fine! It was her choice and she made it. Good for her. Now she needs to live with that decision and keep it covered. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was perfectly happy to cover it if asked.

        I’m surprised Allison even feels icky about this.
        Personally, I would like to always feel that my right to not look at images of graphic violence against women in the workplace trumps anyone else’s right to display body art.

      2. Jess*

        I am dying to know what she was thinking when she got that tattoo..was it a lost bet? Does it depict a *particular* woman she despises? Inquiring minds want to know.

        The point about the lynching tattoo is good point, though I think the fact that the bearer is also a woman muddies things a bit. If it was a man with that tattoo I doubt it would be considered acceptable for a hot second.

        1. Crow T. Robot*

          It could be symbolic of some trauma she experienced in her life. I agree that it would make me uncomfortable, but the intention of the tattoo may not be to shock people.

        2. Penny*

          Agree! It makes me feel icky to think I’d have a manager who would question asking someone to cover up a violent and graphic image because of some made up “right” to show off their tats.

          And her intent to shock others or not really doesn’t matter but it does and it’s a workplace so it’s reasonable to cover it.

          I’d skip the coworker and go to HR or a manager. First, you shouldn’t have to have that conversation. Second, though I’m assuming she isn’t since you’ve been working with her, she could be aggressive or violent (she likes that imagery)– and for anyone who says that’s not a fair assumption, that may be true, BUT everyone knows first impressions are often based on what we see so we know that what we put on display for others to see will affect their judgement of us…fair or not, accurate or not.

    2. Steve G*

      I totally agree. With the way our society has gotten so “free” (slack in certain ways) in recent times, some people equate freedom with the ability to do whatever the heck they want, such as get a tattoo like this and think it is normal to show it. but it is not OK.

    3. The IT Manager*

      I think the fact that the co-worker with the tatoo is a woman is throwing many people off.

      If this were a man with this tatoo I think most people would assume that he is a violent misogynist. Even if the inked guy were to loudly proclaim that he has no intention of performing such an act, I’d assume someone who likes to look at the image so much that he tatoos it on his arm at least desires to perform such a henious act.

      I do not quite subscribe the same meaning (misogymy – does she hate all women including herself?) to tatoo on a woman’s arm (although maybe the dismembered woman has the face of a hated enemy so it’s not misogymy just hate for a specific woman), the LW should not have to be confronted with it everyday at work.

      There is no reason that LW shouldn’t ask management/HR whatever to have the person cover it up at work.

      1. Jazzy Red*

        I know it’s a woman who has this tattoo, and I think she’s a violent misogynist. Just because someone has ovaries doesn’t mean they can’t perform violent acts.

        And if this person would never ever in a million years actually do such a thing, why does she have it where she herself can see it 24/7?

        Distubing, to say the least.

        1. Jazzy Red*

          And I would find it just as disturbing if the image in the tattoo was male (or a cat, or a dog). It wouldn’t matter to me if the person wearing it was male or female, it’s the violence of the image that’s so disturbing.

          1. Eudora Wealthy*

            It’s funny that people find it unacceptable to see an image of an animal being hacked to death, but they go eat lunch at McDonald’s or Chic Fil A.

            So it’s wrong to see a portrayal of it on someone’s arm, but it’s ok to pay for the actual behavior and enjoy the meat?

            That’s f**ked up.

            1. KrisL*

              For one thing, we don’t have to watch the cow being turned into hamburger.

              Actually, I avoid meat partially because I don’t like thinking about where meat came from.

              1. nep*

                Again something went wrong in posting that comment — In the p.s. I was referring to the comment about we don’t watch the cow being made into a hamburger. Anyway a subject for a Sunday thread, not here.

            2. Editor*

              Eudora — Having seen animals slaughtered for meat and having then eaten some of them, I would say that one difference is when an animal is killed for food, generally the slaughter isn’t done so the people doing the work experience sadistic enjoyment from it. The food chain involves lots of deaths, starting with microorganisms and plants and going up in size. I’m quite a bit more disturbed by war — humans killing humans — than I am by humans eating animals. There seem to be an infinite number of variations about where people draw lines regarding killing. I think objecting to the tattoo is consistent with the taboos against murder that many humans seem to have.

              1. Eudora Wealthy*

                And yet Picasso’s “Guernica” is lauded.

                Perhaps the employee’s tattoo is her version of “Guernica”– her way of expressing anti-violence and exposing awful truth to the world.

                1. Zillah*

                  I would argue that there are a few massive differences between Guernica and having a tattoo of a nude woman being murdered by a butcher… and I don’t think that drawing the analogy makes the nude woman being murdered any more work-appropriate.

                  Ultimately, how we present ourselves does affect how people view us. This woman chose to make a part of her immediate presentation that is pretty much inescapable a very disturbing scene. It’s not unreasonable for people to be disturbed by it.

                2. Eudora Wealthy*

                  As KrisL suggested, exposure to images of atrocity can make the world a more humane place because it makes us choose to be better people. You’re right that a lot of reasonable people would be disturbed by it, and perhaps that is the employee’s goal–to make the world a better place through her political statement. I don’t know.

                3. nep*

                  I dig that Guernica has come up on AAM.

                  I’d be interested to know why someone would choose to have such an image inked on his/her body. Provocative to say the least.

                  (p.s. Part of the problem, I reckon. People are allowed to ignore the cruelty and violence. But I digress.)

                4. nep*

                  Last bit corrected / reference added:

                  (p.s. Part of the problem, I reckon. People are allowed to ignore the cruelty and violence. But I digress.)

                5. nep*

                  Ouf! Meant for this to be here: Again something went wrong in posting that comment — in the p.s. I was referring to the line about we don’t watch the cow being made into a hamburger. K — stopping now.

            3. Anna*

              I think you’re working very hard to make a connection so you can get your personal political views out there. But I do have to commend you for bringing up Guernica. The story behind the town and the painting is beautiful and tragic. I’ve seen Guernica in person and it is arresting.

              1. Eudora Wealthy*

                I don’t feel like I’m working very hard. I don’t have a crazy tattoo on my arm, and I’m sitting in an air-conditioned building. But it would be interesting to understand how to manage these traumatized people.

              2. nep*

                Simon Schama’s Power of Art / Picasso worth a look, for countless reasons — Schama’s magnificent — but particularly for the bit about Guernica.

    4. Sarah*

      I absolutely agree. One wouldn’t assume it’s okay to hang a picture of a naked woman being dissected just because company policy says you’re allowed to decorate your office, or that a t-shirt with this imagery is okay just because the dress code allows workers to wear t-shirts. This tattoo should be no different – the contractor shouldn’t assume it was okay to reveal just because tattoos in general are allowed, and she definitely shouldn’t be upset if it turns out that someone finds the imagery offensive.

  2. BRR*

    If you choose to bring it up, I would also take into consideration your HR dept and your manager. I have worked places where my manager would have handled it professionally while HR would have gone around the building mocking either me and/or the coworker. I have worked other places where my manager wouldn’t have done anything or would have said, “Jane is offended by your tattoo,” and then on top of creating an awkward work environment, the manager wouldn’t have enforced it where HR could have handled it.

    1. AM*

      this so so true! it’s unfortunate in many companies when HR employees, having been entrusted with confidential and person information, become the gossip-mongers of the office.

      1. Concerned*

        Even around co-workers you have to be careful. A “friend” of this woman might overhear/learn about the concern and perhaps pass it on. That happened at my old company quite a bit. Nothing was truly confidential.

  3. brightstar*

    Has the supervisor seen this tattoo?

    Also, considering the tattoo represents a nude woman and one being essentially quartered, I don’t see how that could fly in a work place. I would be deeply disturbed to see such a thing once, much less every day.

    1. LBK*

      It sounds like she covered it when she was hired and has been covering it for most of her time there, so it’s completely possible the supervisor hasn’t seen it yet.

  4. Katie the Fed*

    I’m really NOT uncomfortable with complaining about it. If a coworker had a picture of such things displayed on their desk, they’d be asked to remove it. Just because it’s on your body doesn’t give you a free pass. She needs to cover it up.

    1. Clinical Social Worker*

      Indeed. She can cover it with makeup if she wants, put some red over the darker parts and then put concealer and foundation on top. If she uses one of those things that “sets” make up she should be good for most of the day. If it’s on her arm she can tie a bandana around it. Not hard to cover up.

    2. KarenT*

      Me either. In fact I’d probably be more uncomfortable not speaking up.
      The woman has the right to have the tattoo, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to be flashing such a graphically violent tattoo at work, even in a place where tattoos are acceptable.

  5. Apollo Warbucks*

    I really like tattoos and don’t see any problem with displaying them in the work place IF they are not offensive. I think the tattoo described crosses the line on what is acceptable and you should talk to your manager about it and see if they will have a conversation with your co worker.

  6. CTO*

    An employee would never be allowed to wear an image like that on a t-shirt while at work (at least I hope not!). I don’t see why this is any different–the employee should be asked to cover it up. Even without a dress code, common sense and basic decency still exist. I hope your management does something about this.

  7. Adam*

    Woof. I personally don’t “get” tattoos. I mean I understand why people have them. I just personally don’t really get the appeal. But hey, it’s their body and to each their own.

    But I was under the impression many tattoos have stories behind them, so I can only imagine what prompted this person to have this image permanently inked on her. And even if it was a “just for the heck of it” decision, I still can’t fathom why they’d consider it a good idea, especially in a place that can be frequently seen.

    I’d really love a follow up to this one.

    1. AMG*

      I don’t understand what anyone would be trying to say about themselves or their lives in general with something like that. And to think I opted not to get a nose ring because it would come off unprofessional…

      1. Katie the Fed*

        It doesn’t really matter in this context. THere is some really edgy art out there that is full of meaning – doesn’t mean it’s workplace appropriate.

        1. Koko*

          Agreed. Better and easier to define “workplace appropriate” as something entirely distinct from “art.” Art can be appropriate or inappropriate, and workplace appropriate could be the highest unique pieces of art or mass-produced commercial flash art. Whether it’s art should properly be tangential to the question of whether it’s workplace appropriate.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I agree, especially since art is so subjective. I mean, I love H.R. Giger’s bio-mechanical stuff, but I’m pretty sure if I put a poster of some of his more out-there work up in my cube, I’d be asked to take it down pretty quickly. That doesn’t mean it’s without value, just not appropriate for the workplace. What thrills me would give someone else nightmares.

            Wait….the Alien DID give me nightmares. Maybe this was a bad example! (But I still love it)

      2. Adam*

        I can speculate on a couple possibilities that might indeed hold meaning to her (however strange it would appear to us), but I don’t think it matters. Something like that image is generally not acceptable in most workplaces. If the company needs to tighten up their visible tattoo policy to ask her to cover up I guess that’s just a necessary consequence.

        1. Jessa*

          I get your point but I don’t like it. It smacks of punishing everyone for one person’s problem. It’s okay to allow all tattoos to be visible, yet still tell someone with a violently graphic, racist, or other unacceptable content to cover theirs. You can say “tattoos are okay but not violence, or misogyny or misandry or homophobia or racism or whatever.” When I managed an overnight shift I didn’t care what people wore as long as it was safe (no flip flops near machinery,) and “neat, clean and not obscene.”

          Unless by making a policy you mean “tattoos are fine except for x kind of content.”

          1. Adam*

            “Unless by making a policy you mean “tattoos are fine except for x kind of content.”

            That is what I meant yes.

            To be honest, if a company said “no visible tattoos” I wouldn’t really care, but I don’t think it needs to be that strict.

            1. Chinook*

              As someone with a tattoo that is visible, I would have no problem with a company policy requiring all tatoos be covered. In fact, when I got mine, I knew perfectly well it may not be suitable in all circumstances (tatoos in general, I have yet to meet someone offended by eeyore standing on his head. Confused, yes). DH has lost out on ceremonial roles due to his tattoos in the military (we laughed at the irony).

              When you do body modification, you have to understand that not everyone/place will find it suitable and accept that this choice may have negative consequences.

              1. sometimes reader*

                Dang, I was gonna ask if your tattoo was a salmon, or aircraft…

                Eeyore is fine of course, and not that I know you personally, I just never would have pictured you with a tattoo for some reason. (I mean this at face value, hope that’s not creepy.)

                1. Chinook*

                  That is part of why I like my tattoo – I am not someone you expect to have one and, when it is eventually spotted, it can break down the invisible barrier some people but up against “church ladies.” My most positive comments have come at church from people who often feel they don’t fit the stereotype or belong (even though they believe). It is also a great conversation piece with teens who are thinking of tattoos, especially when explain about DH’s Japanese adverb on his calf (don’t get foreign characters if you can’t spell check them) and RCAF tattoo (after 6 months in the air force, he spent 7 years in the army having to defend his impulsiveness).

    2. kristinyc*

      Yes! I hope the OP asks the person with that tattoo to explain it. I really don’t understand why someone would get a tattoo like that.

      1. TL*

        Hmm. I wouldn’t actually ask for the meaning behind the tattoo unless you were fairly close. I get kinda annoyed when people ask about my tattoo – I think it’s a fair question, because it’s out there, people see it – but it’s a fairly personal question, especially for such a graphic work.

        1. Jamie*

          I agree. I don’t have tats but I wouldn’t like it if felt they could ask me about why I chose this article of clothing or my reasons for picking this eyeshadow.

          It’s not something I’d ask about – but close friends talk about theirs and I’m interested when they bring it up.

        2. LBK*

          Yeah, I don’t really like when people ask me about mine either – not so much because the explanation is personal/private but because I’m sick of having to give the same spiel over and over.

          1. Diet Coke Addict*

            Yep. It’s not that it’s personal or anything, I am just tired of explaining the same thing over and over. It’s not offensive, or overstepping a boundary or anything–it’s just dull. I don’t mind when it comes up in regular conversation about tattoos or anything, but I get tired of the instant reaction being “Hey, you have a tattoo! What does it say?”

            1. LBK*

              I have one on the back of my arm that’s a line of text and if I’m wearing a t-shirt, the beginning of the sentence is covered by my sleeve but the rest is visible. You’d be amazed how often strangers/people I don’t know very well pull back my sleeve to read the full thing – uhhh, hello? Personal space?

              1. Diet Coke Addict*

                I have one on the top of my foot that’s only visible with certain shoes and no socks, and people have pulled up my pant leg or brushed my skirt aside to see it. Strangers! People I’ve spoken to once! And then to ask “What does it say?” is the height of chutzpah.

                1. fposte*

                  Eh–I’m kind of with Ash, though. If you possess a deliberately chosen decoration in a visible space, it’s public, and I don’t think it’s any ruder than “What’s that symbol on your necklace?”

                  Grabbing your clothes, however, is punishable by biting.

                2. TL*

                  I meant ew to the unwanted touching and moving of clothes. I had someone grab my ponytail once to see what my shirt said and it was most unpleasant.

          2. Calla*

            I sometimes get annoyed when people ask about my usually-visible one because I either have to give a super short, kind-of right explanation, or give way more background than they probably care about.

            (For y’all: It’s from the 90s cartoon/manga Sailor Moon, a colorful version of a crystal she has, on my chest. But only like 2 non-friends I’ve explained this to had any clue what I was talking about. So I usually say “It’s a crystal lotus” which is right but not right.)

            1. LBK*

              Ooh, which version of the crystal? Sphere/heart? With the accompanying chalice/locket/wand/etc. or just the crystal?

              (Sorry, I am a huge SM fan and that is an awesome tattoo. I would totally compliment you on it if I saw it.)

              1. Calla*

                It’s the ginzuishou fully opened up. I have it in pinks and light purple with yellow at the top of the center diamond. I loooooooooove it. And am planning on getting more SM tattoos!

                1. LBK*

                  That sounds awesome! Although yes, I can imagine most people would be very confused by the explanation.

            2. VintageLydia USA*

              Looooove Sailor Moon! I have a largish piece drawn out that I don’t have the guts to actually get with the four weapons of the outer senshi.

              Slightly off topic but I commissioned an art piece that has a little Luna stuck in it and it’s going over my mantle. I’m not brace enough for body mod/art, but I’m still gonna show my SM fandom in the most visible location in my home :)

              1. Contessa*

                I have a huge limited edition Sailor Moon lithograph in my living room (it’s bigger than a standard poster–apparently it came from Spain all the way to a Kansas comic book shop). By now everyone who comes over has seen it, but initially, my in-laws asked several questions about my “cartoon” art. The conclusion after hearing the explanation was that I was perfect for my husband, though.

          3. Elizabeth West*

            I usually just say I like it and leave it at that. Mine aren’t visible usually so I don’t have to explain them, and the giant Hogwarts crest on my arm is sort of self-explanatory.

            1. TL*

              Yeah, I just answer that I like anchors, but even that tends to generate a raised eyebrow and a couple follow-up questions. Which is more annoying than intrusive.

          4. Rin*

            One of mine is in another language, and I don’t mind saying what it translates to, but when people (including my husband) ask me to say it in that language, I get super nervous, like, “I’ll get the accent wrong!” Also, I’m not a dog and do not speak on command.

          5. Chinook*

            I will admit that I don’t mind people asking about mine, but it is because I like the conversations it triggers and the stereotypes it busts (I got mine when I was 30, am super religious, etc). Plus, kids geta kick out of Eeyore since he is at eye level (nephew asked my mom during my brother’s wedding why auntie got to draw on herself).

        3. The Real Ash*

          I don’t get why people who have tattoos get annoyed about being asked about them. It’s something you have to deal with. If you don’t want people to ask, don’t show it. I used to dye my hair weird colors and people would comment on it, which I figured was the “price” I had to pay for having weird hair. As long as the questions aren’t offensive or intrusive, what’s the issue?

          1. Nodumbunny*

            I have to agree. When one of my daughters was five she wore a cape to a street fair and then got really upset when people were looking at or commenting about her. As I told her at the time, if you do something to draw attention to yourself then…you’re going to draw attention to yourself. I would never ask judgmental questions, but if you have a visible tattoo, it would never occur to me that you would be offended by me asking about it. Especially if it were text -I wouldn’t touch you or get too close to you to try to read it but you can bet I’ll probably peer at it and crane my neck, same as with your eye-catching t-shirt.

          2. TL*

            Because tattoos are generally personal and it’s a somewhat intrusive question. I don’t mind comments on it, as long as they’re not intended rudely, or people asking me when/where I got it, or if it hurt – those are all fine. But asking me for the deep personal meaning behind my tattoo (even though there really isn’t one) is a little more intrusive than I’d like.

            1. Intrigued*

              If a tattoo is such a personal thing and you don’t want comments then don’t get one that’s publicly displayed! Get it on a private part or one that’s kept clothed. Hence keep it private.

              1. Zillah*

                I feel like you can extrapolate that to a lot of places that I’m really not comfortable with – e.g., someone not trying to hide a disability or scars from self-injury should not be open for unsolicited questions about it, even though that’s a choice, too.

                1. Zillah*

                  To clarify: I do understand the very complicated factors that go into SI – SI scars are something I personally struggle with in terms of my clothing choices – and that calling it a choice can be a little simplistic.

                2. Anna*

                  There is a mile of difference between self-injury scars and a tattoo. I tend to agree. If you don’t want people to be curious or ask about it, don’t put it somewhere people will be able to be curious and ask about it. I may be curious about a scar, but I wouldn’t ask about it because it’s EXTREMELY personal. And it’s far more difficult to scar yourself where other people won’t see. People aren’t generally that flexible. A tattoo may be personal, but not so personal that you decided to put it where people can’t see it.

          3. Jazzy Red*

            +1 (or a hundred more)

            When people deliberately do something attention getting to themselves that shows, they should realize people are going to notice it, and might even ask questions about it (i.e., people are going to pay attention to them, which is what they wanted in the first place).

            1. Tara*

              I don’t think people who get tattoos necessarily want people to pay attention to them… visible =/= for public commentary.

              1. Saturn9*

                Thank you for understanding that we’re not all repressed emo kids who didn’t get it all out in jr high. Some of us enjoy this aesthetic for far less complicated reasons: we just like it.

          4. Diet Coke Addict*

            There’s no issue other than it gets repetitive to answer the same question all the time. My coworker has red hair, and gets asked all the time “Wow, is that dye?” or “Ha ha, bet you have a temper!” or stuff to that effect. It can just be tiresome, is the only thing.

          5. Eden*

            I have a large tattoo that’s usually covered, but the tiger’s tail sometimes shows at the back of my neck. It never bothers me if people ask about it, want to see it, want to know if it hurt, or want to know the reason. I am not even annoyed by people who peer down my shirt (although only women have ever tried that). As others have said, it’s part of the bargain.

            Having said this, I would be horrified by a woman being hacked to pieces, and definitely would NOT want to see that at work. I can’t believe she doesn’t cover it as a matter of course.

            1. Jessa*

              This, but looking not touching. I mean I do not get why people think it’s okay to touch other people unless they’re about to get hurt or something. IE grabbing someone about to walk into traffic because they’re not paying attention.

          6. Broke Philosopher*

            eh, I think the issue is that is gets tedious to answer the same question all the time. People with tattoos aren’t necessarily trying to get attention and then getting annoyed about it (as you imply). Tattoos are pieces of art that people want on their bodies for whatever reason–whether that’s getting attention, being able to look at it all the time, commemorating an important event, or whatever else. It’s true that people will ask/comment about tattoos and it’s definitely not the end of the world, but it’s probably better for us a society to agree not to comment on strangers’ bodies for no reason. (though this is pretty off-topic at this point; the woman’s graphically violent tattoo should be covered up at work whether or not she has a good story behind it!)

            1. Calla*

              Yeah I don’t think of my tattoos as any more “attention getting” than my clothing. While comments on clothing are sometimes nice and appropriate, they’re not always (“Love your shirt!” vs. “Where’d you get that top? How much did it cost? Why’d you pick it?”). And IMO, there’s also a difference between asking about one that’s completely exposed (like the one on my ankle when I’m in a dress) versus asking to see my whole tattoo on my chest because one corner of it peeks out of the top of my shirt.

              And it’s not OFFENSIVE or anything, people should just get that we’re not always thrilled to be grilled, and it gets repetitive, like others have said.

            2. Office Mercenary*

              Also, the more significance the tattoo has, the longer it’ll take to discuss, or the more energy it’ll take to talk about it. A memorial tattoo might bring up lots of emotions, or it might be annoying to have to tell a long story to a stranger in the grocery store line, etc. I’m saving up to get my favorite painting tattooed on my back and I really don’t wanna have to explain how this seascape symbolizes various philosophical and religious concepts to me every time a stranger is curious. I’ll probably just say, “I like that painting,” full stop.

      2. Rayner*

        People don’t have to explain, justify, or tell the stories behind their choice of body mods even if they’re radical, weird, bizarre, or potentially offensive. The OP can ask, but she shouldn’t expect an answer.

        1. Anonsie*

          Well, yeah. It’s not rude to ask but it’s also not rude to say you don’t want to get into it.

          Though the best path, I think, is to have a “mild” version for people who ask that you don’t really want to explain it to. I’ll say my visible tattoo is for my dad, but I won’t usually get into the details of how I got it when we believed he had months to live. In my experience people don’t ask follow up questions, believe it or not.

      3. Turtle Candle*

        I wouldn’t ask, for the simple reason that even if she does have an entirely reasonable and palatable reason for the tattoo, you’re probably still going to be more comfortable with it covered. The answer to “why” is (understandably) not likely to change the desired outcome, so it’s easier for everyone involved to just jump to the request.

    3. Ellie H.*

      I think that any reasonable person would agree that this tattoo has the capacity to make some other people feel uncomfortable. So, it strikes me as appropriate that she be asked to cover it up in the workplace (even if other tattoos are acceptable for the workplace without being covered up). But I don’t think it’s any of our (or anyone’s) business why she has it or what she likes about it.

      1. Adam*

        Natural curiosity being what it is, I can’t help but wonder what spawned this piece of body art. But I agree that she doesn’t owe anyone an explanation as to why she has it. I don’t think HR/Management should even ask her about it. She just has to cover up at work when asked.

        I COULD speculate on why a person would display such an inevitably disturbing tattoo on such a prominent place on her form, but that’s another topic entirely….

        1. Jamie*

          I’m very curious, but if I were the OP my curiosity would be vastly outweighed by not wanting to have the conversation where I have to find out. Because I don’t see any answer that’s going to make me feel anything but creeped out and kind of scared.

          1. Elysian*

            I agree – I would be curious, but nothing the coworker could possibly say would make me more comfortable looking at it every day. It could have a deep and meaningful story behind it, but its honestly not going to make me feel better to know the story. AND it’ll just make it harder to ask her to cover it up.

            1. Adam*

              Agreed. Regardless of why she has it, taken at face value, which is what everyone will do when they see it for the first time, it’s an image that’s just not acceptable in most work environments.

              It’s like Annika said in the first comment. If the tattoo was a of a POC being hung there would be no reason on Earth that would make the tattoo bearer showing it off at work any more acceptable.

              1. Ms Enthusiasm*

                People have asked me the meaning behind my tattoos and sometimes it seems like they don’t believe me when I tell them I just like to decorate myself. Then I feel all shallow like there should be some deep hidden meaning to them. LOL Again, I just like decorating myself :)

                1. Adam*

                  I guess most people figure since tattoos are basically permanent, you wouldn’t get one unless it was special and you’d thought about it a lot. Not saying you didn’t of course, but since it’s not like picking out a shirt you can dump if you don’t like it I guess most people think there must be more to it than just wanting to put art on yourself.

  8. PlatypusPrime*

    I’m wondering how long this contractor has been wearing clothing that shows this tattoo. In my experience, tattoos fade into the background after a while. If I were the LW I would give it some time before I say anything. If you see it every day for a month and it doesn’t just sort of become like a visible version of background noise, then maybe bring it up.

    It might also be helpful to get the contractor talking about her tattoos. If she’s the kind of person whose tattoos have some kind of meaning, learning that meaning might make a difference to how you’re relating to and perceiving it.

    1. Colette*

      I don’t think waiting a month is the right approach. For one thing, the OP finds it upsetting. For another, if she waits a month, her manager/HR are more likely to think it’s not an issue, since she didn’t mention it for a month.

      1. Windchime*

        Exactly. And does that mean that a different coworker can hang a similarly violent picture in his/her cube and expect that it should be allowed to hang there for any period of time at all? As soon as it’s noticed, it needs to come down.

    2. Diet Coke Addict*

      I don’t know–I don’t think it should be necessary for the LW to have to look at something genuinely upsetting every day for a month. I like tattoos and have tattoos, but I do not like graphic violence, and I can honestly say that having to look at that kind of image, daily, at work, would be a huge morale-dropper and definite negative for me.

    3. CTO*

      I think those are great suggestions if the coworker is allowed to keep showing her tattoo and OP just has to deal with it. But I think this tattoo is so far beyond the “workplace appropriate” line that management should ask her to cover it up. Even if OP gets used to the tattoo, plenty of other coworkers might not. And since this particular tattoo involves nudity, there could even be harassment allegations if management doesn’t respond appropriately.

      I have no problem with tattoos in general, even in the workplace. But just as no one would be allowed to wear a t-shirt with a naked woman on it, or display porn at their desk, or hang a poster in the breakroom depicting brutal violence, there’s a line here and the coworker is crossing it.

    4. LetterWriter*

      It’s been a few weeks. For the first month or so, she wore nothing but long-sleeved shirts, but as it’s gotten hotter, she’s started wearing short-sleeved shirts, too.

      To be honest, I don’t think I want to know what the meaning behind this particular tattoo is. It wouldn’t change how the tattoo looks.

      1. PlatypusPrime*

        Ok, then yea if it’s really bothering you still and hasn’t just become background totally ask either the contractor or you manager if anything can be done about it. It might be background for the contractor at this point and she just didn’t think about it possibly upsetting someone.

        1. Zillah*

          If she truly hasn’t considered that someone might find it offensive, I’d really question her judgment.

    5. TL*

      Most people don’t notice my tattoo – I make no effort to hide it but people just plain don’t see it (I have had people exclaim with shock at seeing it after knowing me for a year or more). I think if it was a fade in the background tattoo, it would have gone primarily unnoticed.

      1. Mints*

        Haha how does that happen? Is it tiny? I’m guessing ankle?

        I have a tattoo on my back, which is very very easy to cover for work, but if I’m wearing a tank top, I don’t think it fades away

        1. TL*

          It’s on the outside of my ankle and it’s medium-sized – like, roughly the size of my palm? It’s blue and white but I think a part of it is people just don’t expect me to have a tattoo, so it doesn’t really register if they’re just glancing at it.

      2. LetterWriter*

        This person is heavily tattooed. She has full sleeves on both arms, her chest, and her neck up to her jawline. It’s pretty hard for that to “fade into the background.”

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Uh. This sounds painful. I met a guy one time, that I thought was wearing a sweater with a pattern (my distance vision wasn’t clear- dim area). I got up close and no, he was shirtless but had a tattoo covering his arms, chest and back. It was a very detailed and massive tattoo. Although I was impressed by the art (how do you start a picture like this and have it cover everything?) I was more stuck by thinking of the pain of having this done.
          I could not shake off the thought of how much this could hurt and I had to move away from the man. This was more about my aversion to pain than anything else.

          Considering the size of her tattoo and the subject matter, I can see where other people might just quietly move away from her. It’s not out of meanness but because there is just so much pain going on there. I would find it frightening, personally.

          1. LetterWriter*

            And that’s my issue- I really don’t want to alienate her or back of from interactions because of her tattoo, but it’s just SO offensive I have been keeping my distance.

    6. Artemesia*

      I think the analogy with a picture of a black person being lynched is apt. This is about a truly revolting sexist image that has no place in the workplace. Letting it slide for a month just makes it harder to make the point.

    7. BethRA*

      The risk with waiting is having the tattooed coworker wonder why it’s a problem a month later. I think this kind of thing is easier to address early on.

  9. Dan*

    Nobody seems to be picking up on the fact that the person with the tattoo is a contractor.

    1. Contractors live by different rules, so this one must cover it up, period.
    2. But it does make the conversation a bit more awkward. Since contractors do live by different rules, does the company actually have standing to enforce this, at least directly? Otherwise, it’s just the ubiquitous “my contract didn’t get renewed and they didn’t tell me why.”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, they have standing to enforce it, just like they’d have standing to enforce it if she were putting that image up at her workplace. They can say they don’t want their employees to have to view violent, graphic imagery.

    2. Artemesia*

      I worked for an institution that had a firm clause in the contracts that the contract could be cancelled if the workmen harassed women passing by the worksite. It as a big deal in the contract and the result was women could wander by the construction sites without being catcalled and whistled at. One of the workers once hung a bathroom scale on the door of an obese colleague; they were gone.

      Contractors should be easier to deal with than employees. ‘Take care of that or it will have consequences’

        1. De Minimis*

          I’d still hope that would be a last resort. Best case would be that she would agree to cover it up and everyone could just move on, especially if she’s doing good work.

  10. Rayner*


    I agree. If people can be asked to remove images that are inappropriate for the workplace from their desk, then they can be asked to conceal a tattoo while on the clock.

    Not sure how I’d approach the coworker – if I had a good relationship, I might pull her aside and say that the problem is not with her as a person or tattoos in general but this particular piece of ink. It’s upsetting you because of a) violence b) overt sexuality in the workplace c) anything else, and if she could cover it would be awesome. (Cardigans, long sleeves, even a bandage if it’s that hot)

    Most of the people I’ve met with tattoos are happy to accommodate if you’re polite about it, your request is reasonable, and you don’t disparage tattoos in general.

    But if I didn’t have that good relationship with her, I would say go to the manager to see what they suggest because tattoos are deeply personal and making demands on other people’s bodies that you don’t know – asking them to cover up/reveal skin etc – can be very contentious.

  11. Hallie*

    If I had a tattoo of a woman being hacked to pieces in a way that also somehow involved meathooks, I feel like I wouldn’t be terribly surprised when I was asked to cover it up.

    1. LBK*

      Valid point – I can’t imagine it would be the first time somebody said something to her about it.

    2. ExceptionToTheRule*

      +1 – I can’t imagine it would be the first time that she’s been asked to do so.

  12. LetterWriter*

    Letter writer here- I’m glad to see that I’m not totally crazy for being upset by the tattoo. I really don’t want to have to complain about it because that’s an uncomfortable conversation, but the tattoo, no exaggeration, is one of the worst and most violent I’ve ever seen. As a woman, it makes me deeply uncomfortable. My company is a big Fortune 500 company, so HR is a pretty safe place to go with these issues. My supervisor is also a very nice, reasonable person (who himself, actually, has full sleeve tattoos on both arms, though completely innocuous ones). The problem, though, is that the company has ZERO policies on dress for most of the workforce, so there is no word about tattoos one way or the other.

    1. LBK*

      I don’t think something has to be listed in the company’s rules to be enforced. Presumably it falls under the general rules of professionalism, which aren’t usually (or at least shouldn’t have to be) written down. I’d think this also falls more under displaying a graphic image than dress code, really – if she’d printed out the image and hung it on the wall of her cubicle, I don’t think there would be any qualms about asking her to take it down.

      1. Laura2*

        Yep. Dress codes don’t have to be written to be enforced, since as far as I know there’s no law to the contrary. If you want to ban jeans and sneakers at work, you don’t need a written dress code to tell an employee that their clothes aren’t appropriate.

    2. CTO*

      This isn’t just about dress code, though, because it has nothing to do with tattoos in general or the fact that she’s wearing this image. The problem would be just as significant if the image were on a poster at her desk or if she regularly described this violent act out loud to coworkers. This is about creating a safe workplace free of violence, sexual harassment, or depictions thereof. Don’t let yourself believe that you just have to cope with seeing this tattoo because there’s no dress code at your company.

      It sounds like you have good relationships with your manager and HR and plenty of good standing to bring this up. Just think–other people are probably equally bothered by this tattoo but aren’t comfortable bringing it up. You could be doing everyone a favor.

    3. Us, Too*

      I really think this has nothing to do with tattoos or even the dress code. The issue here is that your coworker is displaying a picture of a nude woman being horribly victimized. It doesn’t matter whether this image was on a tattoo, a painting or a t-shirt – it’s inappropriate for work.

      I would definitely say something. “I have no problem with tattoos, but I do have a problem with horrible, gory, violent sexist images in the workplace. Any chance you can cover that particular one up at work?”

      1. short'n'stout*

        I agree. As you have been interacting with this contractor and presumably have some sort of rapport, I think the best first step would be to tell her something like what Us Too suggests, and see how she responds. Take it higher up the food chain only if that doesn’t work out.

      2. Lamb*

        I feel like including “horrible” and “sexist” is going to make the contractor defensive even if she would otherwise have agreed that her tattoo was “gory”, “violent” and reasonable to have to cover at work.

    4. Jamie*

      It’s not about the dress code, though. Even without a dress code if someone put that up as a poster in the office, or wore it on a t-shirt as been mentioned it wouldn’t be tolerated anywhere. The fact that it’s on her skin changes nothing.

      This isn’t some birth defect or anomaly over which she has no control in which case if people were squeamish looking at it they need to find a way to deal without involving her.

      She chose this. I don’t know anyone with tattoos who didn’t put some thought it into what they are and where they got them. People with tattoos often see it as a form of self-expression – and what she’s expressing is not appropriate to express in the workplace.

      I get why it’s uncomfortable for you, because it’s her body, but it’s art she’s choosing to display publicly and her body is just the canvas. Of course it would color your interactions with her, she’s telling you something about herself that most people find disturbing. We form judgements about each other, good and bad, all the time and they change as we get to know people.

      You don’t need a policy to complain about this – this qualifies on any number of levels as a reasonable complaint.

      And not that her mindset is relevant because it’s the behavior at work that matters, but what would possess anyone to have something like that? I find the mindset frightening.

      1. Lisa*

        “I find the mindset frightening” +100

        At this point, even if she agreed to cover the tattoo, I would not feel comfortable working with her.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Part of the reason that I wouldn’t bring up mindset is that sometimes it can be the opposite of what you might assume. I worked for a little while in college with survivors of assault, and sometimes their emotional response is to be very drawn to what appears to be very misogynist, sexually violent material, because it makes them feel more in control of their experience. Sometimes survivors would make very brutal art; it didn’t mean that they wanted to brutalize other women, it meant that it was their way of processing, basically.

        But that’s entirely beside the point, because even if it’s a way of processing a trauma of their own (which, we have no way of guessing in this situation), it’s STILL not work-appropriate, and it’s still entirely reasonable for other people to be upset or squicked by it. (I would be.) So this person might have entirely non-horrifying reasons for this tattoo… and it’s still 100% fine to ask them to cover it up.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I was thinking about that as I read along, that possibly she is an abuse survivor and this is a part of her world and how she feels.

          The thing about art is that everyone finds their own message and some people find one message while other people find an opposite message- yet they are looking at the same piece of art.

          Even understanding all this stuff, I still find her tattoo very upsetting. I don’t know if I would be able to look at it everyday.

    5. cv*

      I think the fact that your supervisor has tattoos may help you here. It gives you some credibility that it really is the content of the image and not the presence of the tattoo that’s bothering you, whether you bring it up with the coworker directly or with your supervisor. And your supervisor might be better positioned to address it, since he could presumably say something without coming across as against tattoos in general.

      I’d probably start with your supervisor since you say he’s reasonable. “Bob, I have a concern about one of Jane’s tattoos. You know from my three years of working with you that tattoos in general aren’t a problem for me, but the one on Jane’s forearm is really graphic and I find it disturbing. It’s making it hard for me to focus on teapot sales figures when I talk to her. Would it be possible for you to ask her to cover it?”

    6. Laura*

      I don’t even think this is a dress code issue. It’s purely a harassment / inappropriate image / uncomfortable work environment issue.

      As others have noted, the same image in a non-tattoo context would carry the same problem.

      Also, even in a workplace that has “ZERO policies on dress”, inappropriate clothing can still be addressed. You don’t have to have a formal policy to send home someone who, say, shows up in lingerie for a day at the office.

      But this really isn’t a dress code issue. If she were revealing a tattoo of the same size and in the same location, that were a picture of, say, a flower, there would be no issue. Dress code / having tattoos then, isn’t the root of the issue.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, if I were her supervisor the conversation would be that some images aren’t acceptable in our workplace and we’d ask people not to display them here; in this case the image happens to be on her arm, and please find a top or makeup that means you’re not displaying that image here.

    7. Rachel - HR*

      Go to HR. I work in HR and I would absolutely want to know immediately if someone was walking around the office with a tattoo like that visible. You don’t even have to say you’re offended by it, you can just say that you’re concerned others might be.

      Honestly, the whole thing would be resolved in 15 minutes in my workplace. Any good HR person is going to address this right away and not make one judgement about you for bringing it up.

      1. Windchime*

        Same here. Our workplace only recently started allowing tattoos to be visible, but there are still guidelines. They can’t be violent or offensive, so that means that Bob’s huge, beautiful tattoo of a koi or a dragon or a heart with “Mom” is OK, but even a small tattoo of a violent or pornographic image would not be allowed to be visible. At all.

      2. HR “Gumption”*

        Exactly! Very little investigation to do, just a quick meeting with the contractor to confirm. No need to involve managers, consult a lawyer, worry about state or federal laws.

        Simply ask to keep it covered and document after the meeting.

  13. zillinith*

    I’m someone with multiple forearm tattoos (of the non-violent non-misogynistic image variety!) who has never made any effort to cover them up in a professional environment and, yikes, I would not be okay with this either. Agree with those who’ve said it’s analogous to wearing a t-shirt with that same type of image. OP, I know you say you have a relaxed/non-existent dress code, but you may have one buried somewhere in your personnel policies. (In my experience, companies with near non-existent dress codes usually have a written one buried somewhere, even if no one knows what it says.) Clothing depicting violent imagery usually makes it onto even the most bare-bones dress codes, so you might be able to use that to help your case when raising the issue.

  14. HR “Gumption”*

    This isn’t necessarily only your perception OP, that tattoo is public and inappropriate for any office setting. Take it HR or the Boss.

    As HR or Manager I would have no qualms approaching contractor and directing to keep it covered.

  15. Who are you??*

    A friend of mine is a tattoo artist and even he is surprised by some of the things that people want to have permanently inked onto their bodies.
    If this image is as upsetting as it sounds then I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask the woman to cover it. Another poster said it above: “Most of the people I’ve met with tattoos are happy to accommodate if you’re polite about it, your request is reasonable, and you don’t disparage tattoos in general. ” I agree with this and have found it to be true as well.
    And I’d love an update on this one!

  16. Celeste*

    Every contractor reports to somebody, so I would find out and go there. There’s a garment like a footless sock, called a sleeve, that can be worn just for covering an arm tattoo at work. It’s a way that a lot of tattooed people have the best of both worlds. I think it’s appropriate that she be spoken to say that this particular piece of art is not appropriate for this office. A contractor should have more motivation than most to cover up. A permanent employee might fight back with the content of a dress code, but I wouldn’t expect that here.

    It may or may not be the first time somebody has made this request, but it would be good for her to figure out how to cover it up to her own comfort in the name of her livelihood.

    I would not ask the meaning behind it, because no amount of reason would make me be less offended by it, and it might even more personal than I would want to get with her anyway.

      1. Windchime*

        It used to be that you had to cover tattoos if you worked at Costco (not sure if that’s still the case). I saw people wearing these covers all the time there.

    1. Celeste*

      Another thing I’ve heard of people using is a makeup product called DermaBlend, which is for covering scars and port wine stains.

      My point is that she does have options if she wants to wear short sleeved clothing in the summer. She surely isn’t the first person to have been asked to conceal it. Maybe she never considered that it could be offensive now that tattoos are so common, but it matters to some workplaces and she should figure out a solution since that tattoo is here to stay (barring expensive, painful removal).

      1. Calla*

        Not that we’re responsible for finding a solution for the co-worker, but IMO Dermablend isn’t great for frequently covering up tattoos. If you get something graphic/offensive you’ve gotta expect that employers are going to ask you to cover it.

        I think I’ve seen people with that sleeve, though! It’s pretty cool.

        1. Celeste*

          Oh, I know we aren’t responsible. I could see somebody saying they couldn’t get a sleeve to fit, or heat was too much of an issue, or latex, or who knows. There ARE hot weather options if you’re pressed, though, and I think it’s an interesting issue–competing needs of your life, etc.

          I think that a lot of very heavily tattooed people (hands, neck, face) gravitate towards workplaces that don’t have dress code requirements.

          1. De Minimis*

            I remember a classmate [in my accounting courses] who had full sleeves on both arms…I know many people wondered if he’d just decided he would wear long sleeves for his entire career or else focus on jobs at less traditional employers in the field.

          2. Rose*

            If you can’t figure a way to cover part of your arm for a few hours at a time, you’re not trying hard enough or not too bright.

      2. Jennifer*

        I can’t help but think that if you want to have short sleeves at work, major sleeve tatting isn’t the best idea though.

  17. Joey*

    It absolutely IS appropriate to bring it up. It’s part of professional appearance.

    If you work for a large company I’m going to guess you have a discrimination policy that mentions something about prohibiting acts that create an offensive environment based on a protected category (in this case sex.)

    I’d go to her first and mention that she might not realize her tatts probably violate the discrimination policy. If that doesn’t work then mention the same to your supervisor that you find her tatt of a naked woman being mutilated disturbing. I’d go to HR as a last resort. Going to HR kind of heightens the issue and lots of people will have wondered why you couldn’t have taken care of it without them.

  18. Student*

    I think it is okay to complain about tattoos that you would also complain about as images displayed in a office, with the caveat that everyone be understanding that the image is a permanent part of the person in question.

    If she had a swastika tattoo, I’d ask her to cover it up without hesitation. I’d ask because the image is hugely offensive in the workplace to many people, not because I seek to dictate what her tattoos or external affiliations are. I’d ask her to do the same thing if she put one on her desktop, or hung one up in the break room.

    Any image that would generally be unacceptable in an office is fair game to request a cover-up. Sure, things get difficult when the tattoo is hard to cover, or when the image is borderline. It requires judgement of individual cases. But it seems silly to allow nudes-as-visible-tattoos if you aren’t going to allow nudes as cubicle decorations.

  19. AGirlCalledFriday*

    While we obviously don’t know the backstory to this tattoo, if there even is one, I’d be much more disturbed by the very casual reference to violence against women than the nudity, or another generally violent tattoo. If I saw this tattoo on a man, I would immediately wonder what was going on in his mind to make this sort of art relevant/humorous/appreciated, and I would wonder how he relates to women in general. The fact that this is a woman with this tattoo shouldn’t make these questions any less relevant.

  20. Mimmy*

    Hmmm….this is tricky. I’m not a fan of tattoos that cover large areas of the body, but could probably ignore them in the work setting if the person is otherwise neatly dressed and groomed (yes, even in a casual work environment) and that they are covered up as best as possible if you’re customer-facing or work with external constituents in the field. This tattoo, however, I’m not so sure about, even if strictly working in-house.

    I’d say Alison’s answer depends on your comfort level with this particular coworker. If you think she’d be receptive to hearing that her tattoo may be unsettling, then approach her directly, perhaps adding something like, “I know I can’t speak for everyone else, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is unsettling for them as well.”

    As for the option to approach your manager: That’s where it’s tricky for me. I’d be concerned that I’d be seen as a complainer or that it’d get back to the coworker that I said something; I can speak from experience that this can lead to getting some backlash from coworkers and perhaps even feeling alienated by said coworkers.

    You know your own workplace culture better than we do, but my gut instinct would be to not say anything and just hope that management will ask her to cover up.

    I’m so torn on this one :(

    1. LBK*

      Being labeled a complainer is a really, really bad reason to avoid going to a manager about a legitimate issue. If a coworker is doing something that’s compromising your ability to work, they are the problem, not you. You shouldn’t feel guilty about bringing it up and you shouldn’t take stock in their feelings of anger towards you.

      Don’t want to get reported? Don’t do things worth reporting. I believe the workplace is one area where the “no snitching” concept is completely illogical and inappropriate (although I think it’s stupid in general).

    2. HumbleOnion*

      As a manager, I would totally want to know if one of my employees was being made to feel uncomfortable by a graphic, violent image. The manager can’t do anything about it if she doesn’t know it’s an issue!

    3. Not So NewReader*

      The picture is supposed to be disturbing/unsettling. There is no way that she doesn’t know this. I can see where something like this would be a disruption in the workplace.

      Some tattoos/knickknacks/etc fall into a grey area where maybe they would bother a few people but not most people at work. This one would probably be unsettling for a lot of people.

  21. Big Tom*

    This may or may not be useful in this situation, but most people with tattoos have them for a reason, especially tattoos like the one the OP is describing. If you have any sort of relationship with this coworker, I don’t think it would be at all out of line to bring it up from the direction of “May I ask you about your tattoo? It’s unlike any I’ve ever seen.” Keeping in mind that it may have a very personal and upsetting meaning to the contractor that they don’t want to talk about, asking them about what it means to them might open the door to a general discussion about it which could naturally lead to you asking if they would be willing to cover it.

    1. Clever Name*

      I generally enjoy hearing people’s stories behind their tattoos, but I think I’d steer clear on this one. Imagine if the story behind the tattoo is that the tattoo is a symbolic representation of some difficult personal crisis (abuse or rape or something equally awful) that the tattoo-wearer had and how heart-rending and ultimately transformative the experience was. Are you then going to say, “Oh well, that’s nice. Can you cover it up?” ? That makes it even more awkward, IMHO.

      1. Big Tom*

        The point I didn’t make very well was not really to get the story behind it (there’s a really good chance that she wouldn’t want to talk about it anyway) but more to acknowledge that there almost certainly IS a very personal and probably painful story behind it, and to start from there. (I know I’m making assumptions, but I can’t imagine anyone picking what the OP described because it looks nice).

        People with tattoos can be subject to all sorts of judgments and very harsh reactions, and so while any reasonable person should understand why this one should be covered, I’m just saying it might not be a bad idea to let them know that you’re not trying to attack something deeply meaningful to them or ignore that it IS meaningful, but that you just would prefer not to look at it. Again, they should be able to figure that out on their own, but they haven’t.

    2. Windchime*

      Yeah, I’m not so sure that the story matters in this case. I can see where you are coming from, but honestly, I wouldn’t care what the story was; there is no story that would make me OK with having to look at such a graphic, violent image on a daily basis.

      1. Jennifer*

        Seconded. I do not want to know why anyone would want to do this–there’s no way that wouldn’t freak me out to hear it.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      She could acknowledge this by saying “I am sure there is a personal story behind the tattoo and it is meaningful to her for personal reasons.”

      A general nod that “Yes, I understand that there is more to this than what we are talking about now” could be enough said. Other posters have mentioned privacy or fatigue issues involved in relating the story behind the tattoo.

      OP does have to keep working with this woman so that might be a good idea to show some thoughtfulness before launching into the request.

  22. Anon Regular*

    I’ve actually been wondering about a co-worker’s tattoos, too. His are of pin-up girls; I don’t remember if they are actually naked or just suggestively posed and little clothed. It makes me uncomfortable: he’s using highly sexualized depictions of women for some purpose (not being a tattoo aficionado, I’m not sure what the purpose is. Art? Entertainment? Some other sort of personal or spiritual meaning?).

    We all work remotely, so the issue is not whether he should cover them up (although we do work with clients, so I’m sure he and his boss have talked about whether he needs to cover his forearms when he’s with clients). The issue for me is that it significantly colors how I feel about him (as in, I think he’s smart, incredibly knowledgeable about the history of chocolate teapots, and is weird about women).

    1. Jamie*

      I’m not a prude, but if it was nudity that would bother me as much as a naked poster or calendar would bother me.

      The other stuff depends on how suggestive it is – maybe the rule of thumb should be if it would be inappropriate as a computer desktop or hung on the wall it should be covered on skin as well.

      If they aren’t nude this is trickier than the OPs situation because her’s is so OTT, but I get why this would bother you. And if clients don’t have to see sexually suggestive tats than neither should co-workers.

    2. Mints*

      I think it’s completely fair that his tattoos color your view of him. He chose something sexy to be on his body forever, and I’d also guess he’s weird about women or gender relations
      Although this is a situation where the gender of the tattooee (?) affects my opinion, too. Because while I don’t know any men with pin-up tattoos, I know a couple women. And the women’s tattoos are basically idealized versions of themselves. They usually match in coloring, and often have background or props that represent them. Like my librarian friend has a pin-up reading a book, and I saw a photographer have a pin-up with a camera. It’s a pretty big difference when it’s a fantasy version of themselves vs someone to objectify

        1. KerryOwl*


          It would be hypocritical if women got a free pass on pin-ups simply because they’re women. Mints is making the point that the women in her experience have tattoos of pin-ups that resemble themselves. Mints might (though I don’t want to put words into Mints’s mouth) have a similar view of men who get pin-ups that represent specific women who mean a great deal to them, for example their wives.

          1. LBK*

            Ehh…I don’t think representing yourself makes a potentially inappropriate image more appropriate. If your fantasy version of yourself is a dominatrix I wouldn’t say it’s okay to have a tattoo of yourself with your whip and heels displayed at work.

            1. Mints*

              We might agree here; I wasn’t actually arguing that it was appropriate for work, I think the nudity is the deciding factor about showing it at work (assuming innocuous tattoos are accepted). I was responding to her saying it colors her perception of him, and I think that’s fair, and I would guess he’s not #1 feminist guy (although I’d love to be proven wrong about him)

            2. KerryOwl*

              Yeah, as Mints said, I didn’t think that’s what we were discussing. We weren’t talking about appropriateness in this thread, but what a pinup tattoo “says” about the person tattooed.

        2. LBK*

          I think it’s a bit different because women who (typically) like pinups for the styling (clothes, hair, etc.) vs men who (typically) like them for the sexualized aspect. Although when it comes to the actual image being displayed in the workplace, I’m not sure it really does matter why the person likes them.

        3. Zillah*

          I would say no, honestly. What Mints and Anon Regular are describing are two very different things, IMO. The counterpart of what Anon Regular is describing would be a woman with sexualized tattoos of men; of what Mints is talking about, a man with a sexualized tattoo (especially modeled after himself).

    3. Ed*

      As someone who has a couple of pin-up tattoos, I can tell you they typically fall into the category of “traditional” tattoos. Other examples are bluebirds, anchors, hearts, etc. Think of things a soldier or sailor in the 40’s or 50’s might have gotten. They don’t usually “mean” anything, including any specific feeling towards women. Not all tattoos have deep meanings.

      For the record, I’m speaking about the traditional concept of a pin-up girl from the 40’s with a little left to the imagination which may or may not be what you’re describing.

      Having said all that, I’m still not a fan of visible ink in general. I have a dozen tattoos but you would never know unless I told you. It bugs me if I walk into a business (unless it’s a mechanic, art-related, etc.) and see tattoos on places like forearms and necks. I think it shows poor judgement and that makes me wonder if you have poor judgement at work.

      1. Calla*

        This is what I was going to say. I’m not a huge fan of the pin-up style, but I think it’s something a lot of people get without putting much thought into it. That said, I don’t think Anon Reg is wrong to dislike it, and I’d feel okay deducing “Probably not a major feminist guy” from such a tattoo, but not necessarily “Weird about women.”

        1. Ed*

          Personally, I do think a pin-up tattoo falls under the category of “reasonable” things to be considered offensive. I just wanted to point out that it doesn’t automatically mean they feel a certain way towards women. I also know quite a few women with pin-up tattoos.

          And some people simply don’t like tattoos, regardless of subject matter, and I’ve learned there is no changing their minds. For example, my mother thinks all tattoos are low class and she associates them with criminals.

          1. Windchime*

            I think this is because, in previous generations, the people who traditionally had tattoos (at least here in the US) were sailors or people who had led rough lives. That’s not true any longer, of course, but it’s certainly the impression that my parents (born in 1940) grew up with.

        2. Anonsie*

          Yeah, pinups are in the line of traditional tattoos. I wouldn’t read anything into that alone– all kind of people have them.

      2. Tinker*

        Those sort of tattoos, my first thought is pretty much “Pete and Pete”. And I didn’t even watch that show.

        (This would be me kind of dating myself.)

    4. Befuddled Squirrel*

      The pinup is a traditional sailor tattoo. People who get them are usually fond of that history.

      It’s reasonable to be offended by them. Tattoos are traditionally meant to be offensive to untattooed people. That’s part of the point.

  23. Ann Furthermore*

    I’m trying to understand why anyone, particularly a woman, would want a tattoo like that. There must be some sort of symbolic reason for it, but even if I understood what the meaning behind it was, I would still find it hard to look at every single day.

    If you have a decent relationship with this person, I would talk to her directly. It’s possible (even probable) that this has come up before, if she’s worked in other office environments. Although if it has, I don’t know why she wouldn’t just make it a non-issue at the OP’s company and cover it up before anyone had to say anything.

    I have no problem with tattoos. Although I don’t have any, I’ve seen some that were really striking and well-done enough to make me consider getting one of my own. But something like what the OP is describing certainly doesn’t fall into that category. Everyone else is right. If someone had an image like that hanging up in their cubicle, or wore something like that on a t-shirt, they would be required to get rid of it immediately.

    Another way to look at it is if someone had tattoos of obscene language, they’d probably be told to cover them up. Obscene imagery should be treated the same way.

    1. Laura2*

      I think it’s possible she got it because it’s shocking, not because there’s any symbolism or deeper meaning.

      1. Older Anon*

        I do hope this is not true. As an older person, I can tell you one does eventually outgrow one’s need to shock. And yet she’s marked for life.

      2. Office Mercenary*

        I think anything is possible. Maybe she’s trying to be ‘edgy’ like a bad standup comic. Maybe it’s how she processes a traumatic event. Or maybe it’s just a still from her favorite horror movie. I don’t think it really matters what her motivation is, just that it’s not work appropriate and the LW shouldn’t have to deal with seeing it.

      3. MTG*

        Honestly, that’s my instinct. As a tattoo fan myself and a survivor of some violence in my life/volunteer to help other women who have had to deal with violence, I think the suggestion being made that this is her way of dealing with some kind of trauma like that is possible, but pretty unlikely. While some women like to reclaim or reappropriate something to help cope, I can’t imagine any of the women I’ve worked with being comfortable with displaying something that could potentially be so triggering to someone else or that could be so easily misconstrued as seeming like they approve of that sort of thing.

  24. Elysian*

    How big is it? Could she tie a scarf or a bandanna or something around it to cover up that part of her arm? Ugh, I wouldn’t want to have that conversation, either.

      1. short'n'stout*

        Sounds like an loose elbow-length sleeve in a light fabric would cover it well enough, and still be comfortable to wear in hot weather.

  25. BadPlanning*

    I work in what sounds like a similar environment to the OP so I totally understand the awkward part about if/how/who to ask or talk to. There aren’t any particular polices regarding tattoos/hair/jewelry/etc because it’s casual and traditionally not an issue (if anything, we need rules about “you no longer fit it that shirt/pants from 20 years ago, you should buy a new one in the next size”).

    It could be that the coworker decided to test the waters by just wearing short sleeves (given the lack of dress code) and since no one commented, assumed it was okay. After all, she’s used to her tattoo and probably doesn’t think about it through fresh eyes.

    1. Yes, this*

      I am in agreement with the second paragraph. If this is the case, she will likely have no issues if she is asked to cover it up–and will already have the means (sleeve, DermaBlend, etc.) to do so.

  26. Ali*

    Yuck…I’m not against tattoos per se, but why would anyone get something like this? I want to assume that the coworker in question might be a little disturbed…

    1. De Minimis*

      I’m guessing it might be a scene from a horror movie or maybe it’s album art….maybe the contractor is into horror movies and/or death metal.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Kinda what I was thinking. A friend owns a horror t-shirt business & is a graphic artist. It doesn’t directly mean she is pro-violence against women. (I don’t think she supports violence against women at all, but one might extrapolate that by supporting an industry that promotes these images, she does.)

      2. Mints*

        Horror movie aficionado is the best explanation I could think of, too. Even then, I don’t think I’d want to be friends with her. I mean, you can like scary stuff without choosing the most misogynistic thing to represent it.
        Alternatively, some sort of survivor tattoo (not literally that she was butchered, but symbolic), but again, I’d question her judgment of why THAT to represent it?

        Regardless of my speculation, definitely not work appropriate

      3. Ellie H.*

        Yeah, that was my thought too, that it is album art. Or she loves grindhouse movies or something.

        I get that it’s not most people’s taste (an understatement), but I don’t think that someone with an affection for disturbing and violent art is necessarily herself disturbed, imbalanced, violent or misogynistic.

    2. CT*

      Did anyone ever consider that maybe the tattoo is actually meant to be a commentary ON misogyny and the reality of society’s objectification of women?

      NOT that this changes the fact that it’s inappropriate for the workplace. As discussed elsewhere, the intention/meaning behind the art doesn’t change whether it’s appropriate for work.

      Just bringing it up because so many people are saying “I can’t understand why a woman would get a tattoo like this.” I knew someone who did an art piece once — it was of a woman’s torso being torn apart by (masculine-looking) hands, with cash floating in the background. It was not meant to glorify the desecration of women. It was meant to show the reality of how women’s bodies are so often used and abused, esp. by corporations, for profit.

      Again, STILL inappropriate for a workplace. I’m just thinking that if these were, in any way, her intentions behind the tattoo, it’d be ironic for her to hear that she’s being misogynistic by having it.

      1. De Minimis*

        That thought actually occurred to me too….it would not be too out of line with a lot of the art pieces I used to see back in college in the 90s.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        I’m betting you could make a fair guess at whether this was the case by other interactions with the woman. Is she an artsy, deep person active in the feminist community or a hardcore biker with another tattoo that says “Property of Hank”? Or just a dumb, trashy woman? My cousin’s ex-wife was the latter, with a lot of visible, workplace inappropriate ink. There wasn’t any meaning beyond her thinking her tattoos looked badass.

      3. Case of the Mondays*

        I thought the exact same thing when I read it as you, CT.

        I also know a woman with crohn’s disease with a really graphic tattoo of her stomach being ripped open with claws reaching up out of it. She got it so she has an external view of what she is feeling on the inside. It is quite beautiful actually but to someone who didn’t know her, it just looks like she loves zombie/horror movies.

      4. LetterWriter*

        Knowing this person, I think that’s too deep a read. She’s got other tattoos of weapons and scary clowns and other stuff.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          So maybe she just likes edgy stuff.

          I still think that the reason is secondary. Even if she has a super good reason, that does not help those who have to view this disturbing image. It’s still disturbing no matter what the reason.

          (Love your inputs here, btw!)

  27. Anonaconda*

    This is really tough, and I feel for the LW in being in this position. You absolutely have the right to say something, but since tattoos are so personal and permanent I can understand the hesitation. Personally, I think that since the person in question is a contractor, the request to cover up needs to come from someone with authority over her. I’m just thinking that a lot of times people who work as contractors prefer it because they’re less beholden to company policies and having to conform to office culture. A request from an employee to dress differently might not have the same weight as someone in the position to dictate the contractor’s terms of employment. I agree with the person above who said to consider who will be more effective and sensitive in how they handle this, your supervisor or HR. Ideally whoever speaks to her would be able to address it without having to say, “So-and-so complained.”

    Also, as curious as I am about why this person chose this image, I wouldn’t ask for the story behind it. That would just make it harder to ask her to cover it up.

  28. Lora*

    I have a backpiece that runs from shoulders to rear end. It’s a floral thing and the flowers in question are meaningful to me, and when people get a glimpse of part of it, they are usually curious about what type of flowers, how big is it really, how long did it take, etc. I also made sure to get it in a location that could be easily covered up at work, and most people have no clue it exists.

    If you get full sleeves and neck, you definitely know–especially with the neck–that you will be rendered ineligible for certain jobs. It’s not a big mystery or something, you know that you are making a choice that might as well be irrevocable (FYI, laser removal hurts a LOT and costs about 6X as much as the original tattoo). She made her choice and now has to live with the consequences, and the consequences of not getting koi or roses or a tiger are that sometimes, you can’t work at certain places.

    She can complain about it that she wasn’t told earlier, she can complain that other tattoos are allowed, she can complain that there is no official dress code, but really, she has no standing, especially as a contractor. While your company might not have a dress code, her employer probably has one that goes, “dress appropriately for the environment where we send you, and if we get a complaint about how you look, you’ll be in trouble.”

    1. LBK*

      Really true – I don’t think anyone is naïve enough to not be aware of the potential consequences of having a visible tattoo, especially when it comes to employment. Even if you get them when you’re 18 and maybe not thinking about your career, it can’t be a surprise when it comes up later on.

  29. Elizabeth West*

    I have no problem with tattoos, large or small; I have two myself. I have no problem with visible tattoos either. But I agree with everyone that the particular image the contractor chose for her body art is NOT workplace appropriate in the least. The LW should absolutely say something, and they should ask her to cover it. If she refuses, they can let her go. If she or anyone were to argue against it in a freedom of speech/expression context, I would remind them that you can say/do whatever you want, but other people still have the right not to be around you. Including your employers.

    This is not about tattoos, but professionalism.

  30. Elyse*

    There could be any number of reasons the contractor has this kind of image tattooed on her. It could be that she likes those sort of torture porn type movies. In the opposite direction, it could be a symbolic image like the “woman in the meat grinder” as a commentary about

    WhatEVER the reason, it isn’t imagery that people should HAVE to look at and I would feel uncomfortable having to see it at my job too. It’s not professional, and if the contractor-in-question is taken aback by a request to hide it, I’d be pretty surprised. Surely she didn’t think, as she was getting it done, that this wasn’t going to be an issue. Definitely DO bring it up.

  31. the_scientist*

    Agree with the majority. This isn’t an issue of “are tattoos in the workplace cool Y/N?”, this is an issue of somebody displaying a graphic image depicting violence against women, in a workplace setting. If the tattoo is as graphic as I’m imagining, I’m sure there’s a fetishization aspect to it as well that is frankly making my skin crawl just thinking about it. Regardless of whether it’s on the wall or someone’s body, imagery of this sort isn’t appropriate in a workplace, period.

  32. JenTheNiceHRGirl*

    This would definitely violate our harassment policy as well as our dress code. We don’t have a policy against showing tattoos, but being that most of the employees here interact with clients on a regular basis, most do wear traditional business attire which usually covers any tattoos up and the folks here who do show them off don’t have anything offensive. So it just hasn’t been an issue, but If someone here was showing off this sort of tattoo I know that we would definitely ask them to cover it up. It isn’t about the tattoo, it is about the content. If this image was on a poster or put in an e-mail, or anything else, it would still be violating our policies.

  33. Perpetua*

    Others have covered other important points, so I won’t repeat my thoughts on them, but I’m curious, does it matter if it is a woman or a man being portrayed, in this case? I see sexism and misogyny mentioned in some of the comments, but I think that thos tattoo, as described, wouldn’t be any less offensive if it was a man being butchered.

    1. Celeste*

      Quite right, a Lorena Bobbitt scene isn’t going to be okay. It’s a crime to butcher people, the end.

    2. TL*

      It would be grossly violent but not misogynistic. I would still want it covered up – I am not a fan of media representations of violence (they make me nauseated even though in real life I’m very good with blood and gore.)

    3. Calla*

      Totally inappropriate no matter who it’s depicting. But I think for a lot of people (including myself) the fact that it’s a woman adds an extra layer of offensiveness because there’s that history of sexualized violence against women.

      1. De Minimis*

        The violence by itself is enough to make it inappropriate.

        And full disclosure, I’m actually kind of a horror geek and watch all kinds of gross stuff in my free time, but it doesn’t belong in the workplace.

    4. Jamie*

      For me it doesn’t matter at all if it’s a man, woman, or animal. This isn’t a gender issue to me – all equally repellant.

    5. CTO*

      I agree that I’d find the tattoo horrifying no matter who/what was being butchered. But I think having a naked woman as the subject adds in an extra layer of “potential sexual harassment problem” that makes this an especially important issue to address in the workplace. I think taking that angle is one good way to get management to respond if they don’t otherwise.

      (And yes, I recognize that images of naked men can also construe harassment, but not all managers would take it equally seriously.)

    6. Jen RO*

      To me, gender (or species) is irrelevant. It couldn’ve been an unicorn for all I care. I just dislike gore in general.

  34. Lisa*

    Even if it was not a rule to cover tattoos when hired, they can make it a rule now. Get a tattoo sleeve cover, heck.. let them expense the cover. It doesn’t have to be a blanket rule, HR can tell that one person that its now part of their dress code that it can’t be visible. Makeup, cover, bandage, gauze, long sleeves, doesn’t matter how.

  35. Audiophile*

    As a person with tattoos, just two, in visible places I’m conscious of this. I don’t think they’re anything most people would be bothered by but I also know that not everyone likes tattoos and that by having them, you will be perceived differently. So while my last two jobs have involved uniforms and I haven’t really had to worry about hiding them, except for interviews, I know that whatever role I move into next, I will have to be mindful of that.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is that, I wouldn’t be offended if I was asked to cover my tattoos. I’d rather a coworker or management ask, then find out I was being talked about, as it certainly sounds like it could veer in this direction.

  36. Juli G.*

    Agree this is about professionalism. I worked somewhere that basically had no dress code. When a young man wore a t-shirt that said, “Cool Story, Babe. Now Make Me a Sandwich” I had no issue bringing that to the appropriate HR person. It’s offensive to me as a woman and I thought it particularly a dumb move since the very hands-on senior director was a woman.

  37. De Minimis*

    Not in the same category, but while we’re talking about bad t-shirt choices…I used to work for the Post Office and we had a temp guy come in one night wearing a UPS t-shirt! The manager gave him a talking-to, I don’t know what happened but the guy didn’t finish out the holiday season.

  38. LaPR*

    OK, I can see what everyone is saying. I do understand that these images affect a lot of people and the opinion of them towards this contractor will certainly would be negative . But, I have many friends with graphic tattoos and in no way it means that they are misogynist or want to kill every single woman they see. It may just be something as simple as being a horror/gore movie fan. Now, back to the OP. Why don’t you just approach the co-worker and ask her what it means to her? I have tattoos and don’t mind people asking about it. Just approach it as total curiosity. Something that I see very unsettling is the lack of communication between co-workers in the workplace. I’ve worked with contractors and tradespeople, most honestly don’t give a hoot about your opinion. If her reaction or attitude is unsettling, rude or just makes you feel uncomfortable, than by all means, tell your manager. Anyways, hope it all works out.

    1. De Minimis*

      It sounds like this is the type of contract employee that is helping out with the regular workload [somewhat like a temp] not the typical tradesperson/construction type contractor.

      I agree that having that kind of tattoo or liking gory/violent movies or images doesn’t mean there’s necessarily anything “off” about a person, but it’s just not right for the workplace.

      1. LetterWriter*

        You are correct. We work in a typical office environment in a professional, technical, non-trade capacity.

    2. Turtle Candle*

      I have known people who were interested in/drawn to super gory, brutal stuff for reasons other than ‘they’re a violent misogynist,’ but I think that’s sort of a red herring. I’m personally really into video games, and I don’t think that means anything terrible about me, but if I put a picture of the sex scene from Dragon Age as a poster on my cube wall I’d be somewhat unsurprised to have my manager tell me that was not cool. It wouldn’t be because I’m a terrible person for liking video games, it’d be because mostly-naked elves on my wall is not appropriate for work.

      To that end, I don’t think there’s any particular gain in asking why the person is interested in it. It’s reasonable to object to the tattoo even if the reason for it is something neutral.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          You have NO IDEA how happy it makes me that someone got the reference. :D

          (Alistair was totally the best love interest in DA:O. Tho I also have a soft spot for Leliana.)

  39. NavyLT*

    One, that’s a creepy tattoo, and I’d be pretty surprised if she were shocked at being asked to cover it up. Two, it doesn’t really matter what the significance of the tattoo is; unless she’s going to wear a sign explaining it, she needs to be aware that most people are going to find it strange and disturbing. I see exactly zero issues with her supervisor asking her to hide it. I’ve got nothing against visible tattoos, but that one sounds like it crosses a line.

  40. Unwanted Princess*

    Such nuisances at work should be reported directly to the boss. But what to do if one’s boss is having such tattoos?

    I get completely blown by the disturbing display pictures of people on Skype (especially when they are using it for business communications). I don’t know how to ask my boss to change the DP of his skype which is extremely disturbing and a constant source of harassment at work…

  41. yumyums*

    Wow…what a bunch of wussies!

    I really wish we could see the tat, because my mental image of ut is rather exaggerated and cartoonish.

    1. NavyLT*

      There’s being a wussy, and there’s understanding what’s appropriate in an office environment and being respectful of the fact that something might actually be offensive. Two different things. If you can’t tell which is which, then sure, you can call me a wuss.

  42. Tara*

    Yeah, as someone who tends to be triggered into panic attacks if I see gore without warning, I would definitely be going to HR about it.

    (On a side note, I can think of lots of explanations for it that aren’t her being a violent misogynist. Does it look like her? It could be represenative of how she feels about herself or society or something. Doesn’t make it appropriate, but I wouldn’t necessarily write her off as a terrible person because of it.)

  43. short'n'stout*

    It’s not about the fact that it’s a tattoo.

    It’s not about her reasons for choosing that tattoo.

    It’s not (entirely) about what choosing that image for a tattoo says about her as a person. If she were a violent misogynist, that would be apparent in many additional ways, the tattoo being only one of them.

    It IS about the fact that this is a disturbing image which, if it were displayed anywhere else (on a t-shirt, poster, computer desktop, coffee mug…), would never be workplace-appropriate, no matter the reason for displaying it.

    End of.

  44. Befuddled Squirrel*

    I have edgy tattoos and I work in an office. I wear long sleeves and thick bracelets at work.

    Try talking to the tattooed woman before going to HR or your manager. People tend to find out who’s said what about them behind their back. It will create fewer issues for both of you if you try to deal with it directly. Making a general, friendly comment about her tattoos is a good way to bring it up.

    1. BritCred*

      I agree with this – talk to her first. “I have no opinion on the tattoo itself but due to its nature could you keep it covered?”

      I have a cartoon/film character who is normally soft and nice with a chainsaw (in joke) with a *thin* like of red to represent blood. I kept that covered whilst at work.

      1. Befuddled Squirrel*

        Right. Or if LW really wants to avoid sounding confrontational, “I know we have a relaxed dress code, but some people are bothered by graphic images and I wouldn’t want it to cause any issues for you.” Frame it as if it’s been brought up by someone else and you’re just looking out for her.

        1. fposte*

          I would disagree with this–I think it sounds like ducking ownership of the speaker’s own problem with the tattoo. It’s kind of like the “People have complained about you” intervention. “Some people are bothered” is a way to avoid saying “I’m bothered.” It doesn’t need to get into anybody’s feelings at all–“That’s not a work-safe image–please keep it covered here” is a perfectly fine thing to say.

  45. Preston*

    I would just go to HR or a manger. A tat like that must have a story, one that the LetterWriter doesn’t want to hear… probably.

  46. Ric*

    I’m going to HR you have too much makeup and look like a a clown. It scares me.

    You’re ugly don’t look at me I can’t work.

    You’re too pretty and I can’t work I’m too distracted.

    You people are sad and whiny that make me glad to not be in an office any longer.

Comments are closed.