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

Remember the letter-writer wondering if she could speak up about a coworker’s graphic, violent tattoo? Here’s the update.

Thanks so much for your help with that situation. The readers were helpful, too, in making me feel like I wasn’t overreacting to the tattoo. My company is generally rather liberal when it comes to clothing choices and visible tattoos and piercings, and I just didn’t feel comfortable approaching the contractor myself. I went with your second suggestion. I discreetly approached my supervisor at the end of the day and, as neutrally as possible, explained that the tattoo (which he had not seen) was rather graphic and sexually explicit and asked him if he would speak to her about covering it up at work. He said he would take care of the issue. She always had her arms covered after that day and never spoke of her tattoos, and we maintained a good working relationship. She ended up leaving our company after about 3 months, for a position with another company. My conscience feels clear!

{ 23 comments… read them below }

  1. louise

    I’m glad the solution turned out to be so easy. I do still have questions about the story behind that particular body art choice, but I suppose those will never be answered.

    1. Artemesia

      Not only no guilt but this experience may be helpful to her as she searches for work and advancement. She has had solid feedback that it is in her interest to cover this up in public professional settings.

    2. Bea W

      Yes, the original post left me both horrified and curious. People don’t just walk into a tattoo parlor on a whim and say “I’d like a tattoo of a woman being butchered, and make it bloody.” There’s a story to it and a meaning to the wearer.

      1. OP

        I really didn’t want to ask because it would only have brought unneeded attention to it, but also because it really wasn’t important to me to know. If I had to guess, though, I’d say it was primarily for shock value. She was very heavily tattooed- right up to her chin, on her hands and fingers, both arms, chest, everywhere. From what I gathered from my interactions with her, she probably had a VERY different life before going to college and working in a professional capacity.

    3. misty

      I’d be willing to bet that it’s an image lifted directly from a horror movie, most likely a relatively obscure example from the gore genre. I’ve seen a couple of tattoos of iconic scenes from that category of films, most notably two forearm tattoos depicting the “woman impaled on a sharpened stake” image from “Cannibal Holocaust.” And only one of them included the bicycle seat the actress sat upon to film the scene, which was actually quite visible in the film itself ;)

  2. Jamie

    Goes to show pointing something out doesn’t need to lead to drama – I’m glad it was handled in a low-key way for you.

      1. NoPantsFridays

        Yup, good behavior all around. She covered the tattoo and continued to maintain a professional working relationship with the OP (if I’m reading the update correctly) — good for her! And good for the OP and OP’s manager.

  3. Cupcake

    I’m glad it was all handled successfully and professionally. I also want to thank Alison and the LWs for sharing these updates. It kind of wraps the end of the year up like a present for the rest of us.

  4. RishaBree

    I doubt the contractor was particularly surprised or offended by the request. As the owner of a very large, very visible (non-offensive) tattoo, you know going in that some workplaces will want you to cover it up. That’s what long sleeves and heavy makeup are for.

    I actually got far less attention for my tattoo than when I started dying my hair hot pink. After receiving (largely positive) comments from my coworkers all day, including during a team meeting, my manager pulled me into his office. He was personally rather conservative, though managerially mostly uninterested in policing his employees’ personal lives and appearances, so I thought that he was going to ask me to get rid of it under the “no extremes of personal grooming” rule. But it turned out that he just wanted to make sure I wasn’t upset by all the comments. My response to him was, thank you for the concern, but if I was going to get upset about having my hair commented on, I wouldn’t have dyed it that color.

    But if he had asked me to get rid of it, or if a coworker had complained to him, I wouldn’t have been mad or upset. I knew it was a possibility from the get go.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger

      Aw, what a great manager, though, to look out for you like that!

      And while you’re right that the contractor shouldn’t have been surprised, a graphic, crude, offensive tattoo is something that you would think they would have known to keep covered up while around their customers/employers (the OP, since they contracted the tattooed lady), so it’s not a stretch to say that maybe they’re not exactly workplace/office savvy.

      1. My two cents...

        scanning the comments in the original post, i really appreciated the parallel made of “would you allow a coworker to have a picture of this in their office/cube?”

        i think that’s a pretty good litmus test, provided that the workplace is at least somewhat ok with body art.

      2. RishaBree

        Yes, definitely. My response does sound rather flippant, but I genuinely appreciated his concern for me!

        That’s a fair point about the content of the tattoo making all the difference between displaying and keeping it covered permanently at work. My gross speculation as to how something like this might have gone down: contractor is hired and keeps the tattoo covered. Many people around her have visible ink, so she knows the workplace is relaxed about that sort of thing. After a few weeks, she’s spotted some mildly potentially offensive ink displayed by other people in not as in-your-face areas of their bodies (I’m continually surprised by what people chose to put on their bodies), so she relaxes further and feels free to wear short sleeves. Manager speaks to her – whoops! too far! – so she shrugs and goes back to covering up.

        1. OP

          That is basically how it went down, though no one else, to my knowledge, has any visible AND offensive tattoos. My supervisor, actually, is very heavily tattooed himself, but it’s all traditional Japanese tattoos, of flowers and dragons and koi. I do think the contractor just dropped her guard.

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