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Body Art: Judging A Book By Its Cover

This young man in the photo is Sam. He's my 25-year-old son.

I'm not sure exactly when he got his first tattoo, but he had been waiting to do that ever since he was in middle school. It wasn't just a whim, nor was it peer pressure. He simply LIKED tattoos.

He still does! He never asks for material things for Christmas or his birthday. Guess what he spends his gift money on? Tattoos, yes! "The more the better", he says. I'm sure if money weren't the issue, most of his body would have been inked by now.

How do I (as his mother) feel about that? I'm not going to lie to you; I'm somewhat worried.

On one hand, I want him to be happy and I respect his personal choices and decisions. On the other hand, I'm apprehensive that one day he might regret those choices. I worry about him feeling too much pain, getting an infection, developing a tattoo addiction, or... spending all his money on tattoos and becoming flat-broke. But what I'm most concerned about is the stigma and the judgment he has to deal with for the rest of his life.

Despite the fact that body art has now become commonplace among younger generations like millennials and gen Zs, tattooed individuals are still frowned upon and particularly vulnerable to workplace prejudice and discrimination. They are largely stigmatized as being more aggressive, dangerous, rebellious, unreliable, prone to substance abuse, and less competent.

That’s mostly due to the fact that tattoos have generally been associated with marginalized groups of people, such as skinheads, hooligans, criminals, drug addicts, lower-class citizens, and gang members.

While similar stereotypes may contain a kernel of truth, they represent an antiquated, flawed, and equivocal picture of modern-day tattooed adults.

More often than not, negative tattoo perceptions are based on learned beliefs and perpetuated stereotypical representations in movies and the mass media, rather than on facts or even personal experience.

The truth is that tattoos are not an innate aspect of a person’s identity (like gender, race, or sexual orientation). Nor are they a predictor of a person’s behavior, reliability, or professional skills.

Tattoos are simply a personal aesthetic choice, just like someone's hairstyle, makeup, accessories, or outfit.

Whether you share all the negative stereotypes against tattooed people or not, keep in mind that making assumptions about someone’s personality and abilities based solely on their looks is a sign of prejudiced thinking and unconscious bias.

Outward appearance is not always an indicator of one's integrity, empathy, abilities, knowledge, skills and talents, moral values, and worth.

Judging a book by its cover is a typical and automatic human reaction. But there's always a WHY behind every subconscious thought that crosses our minds, which, if unchecked, may easily degenerate into a negative bias, then prejudice, and finally, discriminatory behavior.

It takes courage to question our unconscious biases, but one thing that helps is trying to see the person behind the label. Had it not been for my son, who I love dearly and accept unconditionally, and all his (fantastic!) tattooed friends and colleagues, I would probably still be stuck in my old way of thinking about tattoos.

You may or may not continue to see tattooed people in the same way after reading this, but I'm going to leave you with this final thought: human potential goes beyond social stereotypes, which have always been used to divide people, to justify the denigration of certain groups, and to legitimize the discrepancies between people of higher and lower social class.

So, next time you see a tattooed person, I hope you see a human being and not some hypothetical threat. A cover may be misleading; we never get to know the true value of a book until we read it.

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