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'Body art' gains acceptance in workplace

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says. These can include law offices, banks, restaurants, pharmaceutical firms, and insurance companies. In such places, women with butterflies and flowers decorating a shoulder or men with snakes and flame-breathing dragons encircling a forearm must rely on long sleeves to cover their art.

That's the approach David Kimelberg, general counsel for a venture capital group in Newton, Mass., takes to keep his tattoos a secret. "They do tend to be distracting," he says. "They're unique and colorful. Your attention goes to that if they're exposed."

Despite the secrecy, Mr. Kimelberg, who is also a photographer, found a network of heavily tattooed white-collar professionals. They form the subject of his book, "Inked Inc." Sixty percent of those he photographed are women.

After the book's publication in May, Kimelberg had to reveal himself to his company. To his relief, reaction was "quite positive," he says. "We pitch to start-up companies with pretty young management teams. [Tattoos] create a connection on a personal level. You're not seen as this conservative, stodgy group. They see you as more youthful. They can connect with that."

But many other employers and clients fail to make that connection. Despite the growing popularity of body art, some companies are clamping down.

"At first it was like, 'Oh, OK,' " says Brooks Savage, CEO of Executive Staffing Group in Raleigh, N.C. "But it has been taken a little too far. People are starting to tighten policies. I'm taking a stronger and stronger stand on it. I've had managers speak to employees." Some of his criticism is directed to young women whose shirts expose lower-back tattoos when they bend over or reach up.

Susan Potter Norton, an attorney with Allen Norton & Blue in Miami, also finds employers less willing to accept body art. "I've had a number of private-sector employers ask if they can require employees to cover up tattoos or decline to hire them," she says. The answer in Florida is yes.

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