The New Face of Diversity

Garth Tardy of the UMKC Miller Nichols Library shows his body art. | Photo Credit: Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

Body art is a hot healthcare and workplace subject

Diversity encompasses more than race, religion, sexual orientation and age. The newest emerging category: body art.

One in five American adults is inked with a tattoo, and more are pierced on faces and places other than ears. As body art becomes more common, it has erupted into a hot topic in health care and the workplace.

“Currently, those with body art aren’t a protected class of employee like those who are in the other diversity categories,” said Joy Roberts, an attorney who is also the assistant dean for student affairs at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Nursing and Health Studies. She delivers presentations locally and nationally about treating those with body art — as a patient and a person.

While there are some case-by-case issues with body art related to religious beliefs, modern dress codes typically specify the amount of body art allowed because people either love it or hate it. Those dress codes have been backed up in court.

In most hospitals and clinics, health-care employees are limited to two earrings, and clothing or makeup must cover tattoos. The rest of corporate America still tends to play it safe, but the rules are gradually loosening, Roberts said, although offensive language or imagery still falls outside professional boundaries.

People might not get fired for their body art — but they might have a hard time getting hired. According to Forbes magazine, most human resources managers say that all things being equal, they will hire the more clean-cut employee. In fact, piercings (37 percent) are the top physical attribute that may limit an employee’s career potential, according to, followed by bad breath (34 percent) and visible tattoos (31 percent).

So most career advisers suggest job seekers remove piercings and cover up visible tattoos in this market, where there are many qualified applicants for every open position and interviewers are looking for any excuse to eliminate candidates.

Although body art is a polarizing issue, it most likely won’t reduce your chances in getting into a university because college admissions offices have grown so accustomed to seeing it. Data from the Pew Research Center suggests that 38 percent of Millennials (people ages 18 to 30) have at least one tattoo, and 23 percent have body piercing beyond the traditional ear lobe.

“Age seems to play the biggest role in how people perceive tattoos and piercings,” Roberts said. “A 69-year-old man woke up from anesthesia and saw a bald man with tattoos on his face and head and literally thought he had died, was in hell and the tattooed man was the devil. A 19-year-old might think that same tattooed man looked cool.”

But a growing number of middle aged people are opting for their first tattoos, according to “Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo” by Margot Mifflin. So the perception keeps changing.

“More everyday people are getting tattoos, not the stereotypical biker or criminal,” said 43-year-old Garth Tardy, a library specialist at UMKC’s Miller Nichols Library who has both sides of his neck, his arms, a calf and his full back tattooed. “They’re seeing better quality artwork. I like the personalization behind tattoos. Each one means something and tells a story of a certain point in your life, something you believed in.”

Roberts agrees that tattoos have gone mainstream, along with other forms of body art.

“He’s not a bad dude,” said Roberts, clicking on a photo of a young man sporting a lip stretcher snuggled up to a kitten. “Most people with tattoos and piercings are nice people, no meanness to them. Some might want to look shocking but that’s the extent of it.”

Tardy said he hasn’t experienced any negativity in the workplace regarding his tattoos.

“I got a few questions about whether my neck tattoos hurt,” Tardy said. “But that’s the extent of it.”


If the equipment used to create a tattoo or piercing is contaminated with infected blood, you can contract various bloodborne diseases including tetanus, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. That’s why doing advance homework to find a licensed, safe body art business is critical.

Roberts also showcases the lumps, bumps and redness various infections and allergic reactions piercings and tattoos can cause.

“Prevention is key,” she said. “Some of the care with piercings seems counterintuitive and is much different than how we treated them not so long ago. In fact, it used to be that you’d get your ears pierced with a piercing gun – and that’s a no-no. Those guns are hard to sterilize and can be full of bacteria.”

Bacteria are typically the culprit of piercing infections. In the case of an infected piercing, this is occasionally interpreted by a health care provider to require removal of the jewelry.

“Don’t remove it,” Roberts said, showing a photo of a woman whose “Madonna” piercing above her lip swelled with pus. “Keeping the jewelry in helps to create a drain for the infection. This lady was removing the new piercing before going to work and replacing it when she returned home. The constant touching a removal caused the infection.”

For post-piercing healing:

  • Use a mild PH-balanced soap, cleaning the skin on both sides of the hole.
  • —Apply a warm sea salt compress twice daily (1/4 teaspoon sea salt in 1 cup of water)
  • —Avoid rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, triple-antibiotic ointment, ear care solutions, lotions, moisturizers or antibacterial soaps.
  • Don’t rotate the jewelry like piercing professionals years ago ago recommended. Keep your hands off! And for at least two weeks after the new piercing, don’t apply gauze or bandages, or use hot tubs, whirlpool baths or chlorinated pools.

For new tattoo care:

  • —Days 1 to 3, wash the tattoo four to five times daily with a mild antibacterial soap and pat dry with a soft clean cloth. Don’t rub. After washing the tattoo, apply a thin layer of an emollient or fixative cream.
  • —Days 3 to 30, don’t scratch because it may damage the healing skin, causing the tattoo to have light spots. During aftercare, the tattoo will itch as part of the healing process. Wash tattoo two to three times daily with a mild antibacterial soap and pat dry with a soft clean cloth. Don’t rub. Discontinue use of emollient and instead apply a vitamin E moisturizing lotion six to ten times daily. This will help with healing and reduce the itching.
  • —Don’t: expose a new tattoo to direct sunlight for one month, allow the new tattoo to dry out, soak a new tattoo in water (no swimming or baths but showers are fine, but try not to let it get too wet), scratch or pick at a new tattoo or apply gauze or bandages to any new tattoo for any reason.


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