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'Body art' gains acceptance in workplace

Some managers look past tattoos and piercings – but not if they distract customers.

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For 12 years, Ann Kinder has sported a two-inch square tattoo on the inside of her left ankle. Because she regularly wears pants, many of her co-workers are hardly aware of the vibrant design, a peace dove styled in blue, white, green, and orange.

"I have colleagues with tattoos that are more visible," says Ms. Kinder, a communications associate for a nonprofit education agency in Naperville, Ill.

But no one can miss the nose ring Kinder added two months ago. "That's something I decided to be a little bolder about," she says, noting that several other women in her office have pierced noses.

Body art, once the province of bikers, longshoremen, marines, and punks, is going more mainstream, showing up in white-collar workplaces. As more young employees – both women and men – opt for ink and piercings, they face decisions about how much decorated skin to bare or not to bare. In the process, they are also quietly forcing their employers to accept them.

More than one-third of Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 have tattoos, and 40 percent of those between 26 and 40, according to a Pew Research study. For those over age 40, the number drops to 10 percent. In all, an estimated 30 million to 40 million people have tattoos.

As a further sign of growing popularity, reality shows on television, such as "Miami Ink" and "LA Ink," promote body art. Last week 7-Eleven even launched an energy drink called Inked, targeted to a rapidly growing niche market – young, tattooed Americans.

Fields such as entertainment and technology often permit relaxed dress policies. "I have clients who work all over the United States and are allowed to expose their tattoos," says Jamie Yasko-Mangum, a corporate-training consultant for Successful Style & Image in Orlando, Fla.

Other businesses remain conservative. "There are many professions where tattoos are not allowed to be exposed," Ms. Yasko-Mangum


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