What happened to the days when only punks, criminals, gangsters, and sailors had tattoos? Now you can’t walk into a Culver’s without tripping over 17-year-olds with butterflies inked onto their ankles. Counterculture fought back and pushed the boundaries of socially acceptable body art: Extreme piercings and dermal modifications became more common—as did the once-outré neck, face, and hand tattoos.
Well, the tattoo may have gone mainstream years ago, but only recently has it become a signifier of privilege. “As ink spreads beyond the button-up,” observes Good’s Amanda Hess, “the visible tattoo has emerged as a new middle-class status symbol—a stamp for those rebellious (and privileged) enough to pull it off.”
Hess is referring, of course, to the perceived unemployability of someone with a tattoo anywhere not concealed by their business casual garb—for example, a skull-and-crossbones stamped on the side of their neck. But Hess explains that those who have ample job experience, who aren’t seeking entry-level experience, or who are among the creative class are less likely to miss out on job opportunities because of visible body art than young workers, service-sector employees, or minorities. “Ironically,” a software-industry sales consultant told Hess, “I reckon I’d have more problems getting a job in McDonald’s than doing what I do.”
In other words: Body modification is now a class issue.