Discuss: Drops of Ink

Feb 25, 2011

Ink.  Art.  Tats.  Whatever you call them, tattoos are a constant source of conversation in the professional world. 

Are tattoos unprofessional?  Or immature?  Does it depend on where you work?  Is it okay if they don’t show?  Can people who have large amounts of ink, particularly visible ink, be taken seriously? 

These are some of the questions that I have been pondering this week, and there is a very good reason why.

In 2006, a very good friend of mine committed suicide.  Her death was very hard on me, as it was on all of her friends, but it’s impossible for me to put into words how her death and the tragic circumstances surrounding it changed who I am. It’s like one day I was one person, and the next, I was someone else.

Recently, I learned that her sisters are planning to mark the fifth anniversary of her passing by getting swallows tattooed on their wrists and that they would like anyone who wants to to join them. 

Now, I hate needles.  In fact, I hate them so much that when I was four-years-old, I punched a pediatrician who intended to give me a shot.  So clearly, any thoughts that I might have had in my younger years about getting inked were quickly crushed by the realization that getting a tattoo required being poked with a needle hundreds of times.  No, thank you. 

Even if I could put aside my mind-numbing fear, there are other factors to consider.  Where would the tattoo go?  Do I really want to be a tattooed, 80-year-old grandma?  And perhaps most importantly, would having a tattoo, which due to location would be visible to all, make it more difficult for me to be taken seriously in my chosen profession?

It’s true that society’s feelings on body modifications in general, and tattoos specifically, have relaxed markedly over the years.  But that’s not to say that the stigma has disappeared completely.  A former co-worker of mine was one of the loveliest and most professional women that I have ever known, but it was difficult for me to conceal my shock/horror when I realized that her lower back was inked with a nine-inch-wide “tramp stamp.” 

To her credit, she dismissed my surprise as puritanical, and made no apologies for the choices she had made in her youth.  In fact, her retort hit me back quite hard, “The Staff Assistant with the belly-button ring should probably stay mum on the subject.”  Touché. 

(Tis true.  I have a navel piercing.  Though, since I am no longer the svelte beauty pageant queen of my early-20s, I wear the ring very infrequently.  Also, as I’ve grown older, I’ve thought better of wearing a spike through my abdomen.)

On the subject of tattoos, I am understandably torn.  My traditional, Western sensibilities mixed with a touch of my Mother’s Southern charm, lead me to think that they are never acceptable.  But on the other hand, isn’t a small tattoo in memory of a dearly departed friend different than a sleeve of intricate ink or a band of barbed wire circling one’s ankle?  Or am I just asking for sideways glances from conservative constituents and colleagues either way?

This is one area where I’m really looking for guidance from all of you, because I simple don’t know.  I can’t seem to get past the idea that a tattoo, any tattoo, no matter how small or meaningful is…well, trashy.  I don’t feel very modern or liberated admitting that, but it’s certainly a thought that lingers. 

Beyond the (perceived) stigma on the matter, I’m also not sure that I want to be in a position where I would have to explain to others about my tattoo.  Do I really want to have to justify its existence to detractors by explaining a deeply personal and painful part of my life to others?  Of course, I could simply keep my reasons for getting the tattoo secret.  But I know myself well enough to know, that when challenged, I would feel the need to defend my decision.

Additionally, there are concerns about disease (a family friend died of Hepatitis contracted from a tattoo), family shame (my Father would not be down for this and my Nana would blow a gasket), and the possibility that it would look really bad or I would regret it and wind up paying thousands to have it removed.  There’s also a small bit of concern that I might like the tattoo and want to get more, as is wont to happen with these things.

Yep, I am deep inside an internal debate that has far more questions than answers. 

I’m anxious to hear your thoughts on the matter.  Do you have tattoos?  If so, how many, where are they, how big?  Why did you get them, and do you regret them?  And lastly, have they created barriers or uncomfortable situations in your professional life?

And if you don’t have ink, do you look down on people who do?  If you had a meeting with another staffer/professional, and she had a tattoo what would your knee-jerk reaction be even if you didn’t know why she had it?


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  1. Ms. B says:

    I actually like your idea the best Maria. I'm not necessarily against ink. But sounds like a wonderful memorial that could be passed on or shared as well.

  2. MidwestChic says:

    I have a tattoo on my foot in honor of my grandmother who has been such an amazing woman to me. Since I work at our State Capitol, I wear a lot of skirts with pumps… and I ALWAYS get asked about my tattoo… and even though I never felt I would have to justify my tattoo with a story, I do. Every single time someone asks, I respond with a story of my grandmother. It is awfully frustrating. However, I do not regret the tattoo one bit. Even though it may be annoying to get stares and questions in our unbelievably conservative House of Reps (I am very conservative and work for a Republican Rep), I love that I have something permanent on my body to reflect such an important aspect of my life.

  3. Ms. B says:

    I actually like your idea the best Maria. I'm not necessarily against ink. But sounds like a wonderful memorial that could be passed on or shared as well.

  4. MidwestChic says:

    I have a tattoo on my foot in honor of my grandmother who has been such an amazing woman to me. Since I work at our State Capitol, I wear a lot of skirts with pumps… and I ALWAYS get asked about my tattoo… and even though I never felt I would have to justify my tattoo with a story, I do. Every single time someone asks, I respond with a story of my grandmother. It is awfully frustrating. However, I do not regret the tattoo one bit. Even though it may be annoying to get stares and questions in our unbelievably conservative House of Reps (I am very conservative and work for a Republican Rep), I love that I have something permanent on my body to reflect such an important aspect of my life.

  5. Alli says:

    The only answer for this post is that someone has hi-jacked CapHillStyle from the paragon of style and substance that is Belle, the author of this blog.

  6. Alli says:

    As a follow up, I would like to say that there are many, many ways to remember and memorialize loved ones. One of these ways is by inking yourself, although I think there are other just as permanent and meaningful ways to do so that won't cause judgement (right or wrong) in your chosen profession and from friends and acquaintances.

  7. lala says:

    When I was 18 a got a tiny tattoo on my hipbone- the tattoo is about the size of a quarter and always covered by a bathing suit. I would suggest that any professions who wants to get a tattoo should follow the same rules. While it is unfair that people will judge others for tattoos, that's the way it is so play the game to the best of your advantage. Get the tattoos in a more discrete location which also has the added bonus of avoiding the awkward discussion of the meaning behind the tattoo every time someone asks.

  8. Jersey says:

    I have ink on my shoulder of a guitar in black. It's artistic in that it looks like paint brush strokes with my initials inside. I've never gotten anything but compliments when I chose to expose my shoulder. I understand why others would find it unprofessional, but as a musician, it's become just as much a part of me anything else that makes up who i am.

  9. MB says:

    Tattoos are an extremely personal choice. If you're thinking it through and seeing so many negatives, it may not be for you. Maybe it is for you but only in a covered location. I specifically talked someone I knew out of one because I knew it wasn't right for her. She is happy she didn't get one.

    Don't feel the pressure to do it for a specific occassion, even if it gives more meaning. The real meaning will always be there no matter what. Everyone else will always have their own opinions. What really matters is your own.

  10. Keck says:

    Alli, that's an unnecessarily harsh response. Plenty of tattoos are absolutely stunning (https://www.contrariwise.org/ comes to mind), especially when there's a deep personal meaning. Belle, have you considered getting the swallows on the inside of your wrist, which could easily be covered with a watchband or bracelet? Additionally, some tattoo artists do white ink, which not only looks really unique, but it also much more easily hidden and doesn't take on that icky green tone black tattoos sometimes do.

  11. Rachel says:

    This is certainly a surprising post to read here! I don't know you, but after reading enough posts here, it's hard to imagine you with a tattoo. That being said, I think a discreet tattoo with a personal meaning does not shout “unprofessional.” The biggest thing to think about is what you will think when you look at your tattoo years down the line. As your body changes, so can a tattoo (wrinkles, extra weight, etc.). As your life perspective changes, so can the way you view your tattoo. Getting a permanent mark on your body is a big decision, so it's good to spend time thinking about it. Ask yourself whether this is the best way for you to commemorate your friend. Would a swallow necklace or some other memorial suit you better? My biggest piece of advice is not to rush into it and not to feel peer pressured to do it.

    Since you work in a conservative environment on the Hill, I would think about getting the same swallow design–but consider a different location perhaps.

    Disclosure: I have a tattoo that says “Believe” on my inner foot that I got when I was 20. I took time to decide what I wanted and where I wanted it, and am so glad I have it on my body years later.

  12. k-t says:

    how about finding a ring with a swallow motif? You love wearing rings, it would honor your friend, wouldn't raise eyebrows and it won't bleed or wrinkle with age. Tattoos are trendy and are right up there with multiple piercings in the ears or face, IMHO. You look down on people who go too casual on casual Friday; others will look down on you for having tattoos that are visible in professional attire.

  13. JB says:

    I think the swallows on your wrist would be a wonderful, meaningful way to remember your friend, particularly if you have the opportunity to share the actual tattooing process with her sisters. I don't think this design/location is at all trashy or over-the-top (as some tattoos are known to be) and you shouldn't have anything to worry about with colleagues/constituents looking at you differently. If people do choose to make comments for whatever reason, you can simply tell them it is in memory of a friend you lost. Good luck with whatever you decide!

  14. Holls says:

    I'd get the swallow engraved on some sort of charm you can wear as a necklace or bracelet. I don't think a tattoo is the way to go.

  15. Meghan says:

    I'm a young professional, and I can tell you I have quite a few large, meaningful tattoos. Granted, they are easily concealed for work (even during the summer!), so I never have had to explain them to co-workers nor do they impact my professional image. And no, I don't consider them trashy in the slightest, because they mean something to me. Even amongst my closest friends and relatives, it's been my experience that most people understand that tattoos can be deeply personal (though not always), and don't really pry.

    Also, for what it's worth, my dad was very unhappy with my decisions, but it only lasted for about 24 hours before he realized that being mad ain't going to make that tattoo go away anytime soon. He grew to accept it.

    Given all your hesitation though, it seems like tattoos are not necessarily the right choice for you. They might work for some, but not everyone. And that's okay! I agree with Alli–you can find a beautiful way to remember your friend that doesn't require you to make an uncomfortable decision for yourself. When it comes down to it, the final say in all body modification belongs to you, and there's no need to feel pressured to memorialize a loved one the same way others do.

  16. Rory says:

    If the tattoo were similar to the one in the picture, I think that would be okay. It's small enough to not attract too much attention or look unprofessional. I know a fair amount of people in conservative jobs who have visible tattoos on their wrists or ankles.

    To echo others above me, though, maybe look into a really nice piece of jewelry featuring a swallow.

  17. KW says:

    It sounds like maybe you want to do the tattoo, but aren't too sure about having it visible, which is totally understandable. I'd consider maybe getting it on your ribs/side of your ribs, which is a spot no one will see unless you want them to, but still somewhere you could see it. Or, I have a line of text running down my inner, upper arm, right where the muscle ridge is.

    The thing about tattoos, and especially memorial tattoos, is that you're going to want to be able to see it without looking in the mirror. Have you considered inner arm, where it wouldn't be visible unless you were making expansive gestures while wearing a sleeveless top?

    I have three tattoos: One small one on my back, the text on my inner arm, and a larger paper crane on the front of that same arm. All are easily covered by a t-shirt, and only peek out if I'm wearing a more fitted short-sleeve top.

    Also, if you worry about people asking you about the tattoo, just saying “it's a memorial” will probably shut them up quickly, and save you from having to recount a lot of details.

  18. Espie says:

    First of all, I am sorry for you loss. I too am a young professional, but I work in the arts world where ideas about tattoos and “business professional” are often more lax and forgiving. But, I have thought about getting a tattoo-for a similar reason though, I hate needles and can barely decide what I want for lunch let alone where to permanently ink myself.
    Last year I thought about getting a tattoo and sought the advice from a friend who has three visible but small, tasteful tattoos. She gave me some fairly sound advice,

    Give yourself 9-12 months to think about getting the tattoo, while I understand the commemorative value for you in this year, permanent commemoration is a big step. If you still want a tattoo then, do it

    I ended up not, I'm happy inkless and honored the person I wanted to in another way.

    Another friend suggested doing a “test run” with permanent marker-while this may seem cheesy it will give you a chance to think about how you handle having a tattoo as a part of you.

    Hope this helps!

  19. a says:

    I too have long thought tattoos are taboo. However, I have also long thought that discrete (aka not visible in normal work attire – not inside of the wrist) small tattoo commemorating the loss of a loved is one of the few acceptable tattoos for someone working in a professional environment who plans to have a long successful career. Get the swallow – but not on your wrist.

  20. Allie says:

    I have a tattoo – it's on my lower back/right hip. I got it in college, I created the design, it is meaningful to me, and I don't regret it.

    My father passed away a couple years after getting that tattoo and I wanted to get another to remember him. I had it all designed, and planned to have it on the inside of my left wrist. I never got around to it – too busy one time, no extra money another time, my artist moved, etc. Now I am 36 and I am glad I never got that ink.

    It's really hard to know the person you will be in a decade, two decades, more. It's not about whether it is professional – I work with extremely successful, high-powered people who have tattoos – a high ranking person in my company has a full sleeve. It's not as much about that, as how you will feel wearing that memorial in that location for the rest of your life.

    I love my father, I miss him terribly. He made such an impact on my life. I recall when I told him (not my mom) about my tattoo, I knew he would understand why I got it. He asked to get a good look at it and slapped it (if you have had fresh ink done, you know this is an extremely painful thing to do). He laughed, said I was crazy, but loved my independence and creativity and craziness. I am glad that now I don't have a constant reminder of him on my wrist. Instead I have his memory in my thoughts, my heart, around my home. I wear his sweater, his flight jacket. His picture is at my desk, his smile is on the face of my toddler. These are the ways I am glad I personally have decided to respect and remember him.

    Each person is different. And each person changes with time and experience. There is no right answer.

  21. L says:

    One of my friends has a tattoo that was done in white ink, and I think that could be a great idea for you if your skin is similarly fair. It's not bright white. It's just a bit lighter than his skin. Interestingly, it's visible to friends who know about it, but it isn't noticeable to a casual observer. And, of course, he always knows that it is there and remembers the personal journey it represents. Maybe you could get the outline of the swallow in white so that you have both the tribute to your friend, the bond with her sisters and others who know about it, and the privacy of a discreet tattoo.

  22. Valerie says:

    I don't have any tattoos, but I do have vague/distant plans for one. It's a long story what it would mean and why I want it, but the point is that it would be very personal, and something that I've thought about for a long time. I wouldn't get it anywhere that could be seen while I'm fully dressed, because it would be for me and not for anyone else (I'm also not the type to put bumper stickers on my car, so there you go).

    I think if you decide that a tattoo is the best way to honor your friend, you should get it. Because of your job and to spare your Nana, you might consider getting it somewhere other than your wrist.

    But tattoos are not inherently tacky or trashy, just like high heels are not inherently tacky or trashy, but I'm sure we've all seen versions of both that are horrifying.

  23. LM says:

    I have 2 tattoos, and I have worked on the hill and in politics for several years. The first is on my hip so nothing that will ever been seen in a professional environment. The second is on my wrist, and it is a memorial to someone who passed away several years ago. In my experience, most people do not notice the wrist tattoo very often, and most days i wear a watch so it is even more discrete. Additionally, because of the professional environment in DC I have amassed a pretty impressive collection of chunky bracelets that I can rotate into outfits in the summer with shorter sleeved outfits. Usually when people I have worked with notice my tattoo I get the opportunity to share the memory of someone who was very important to me, and so far I haven't missed out on a single professional opportunity because of it, that said though I have zero hesitations about hiding it at work.

    The long and short of it is, if you want it do it. It is all about how you incorporate it into your work looks and how small/tasteful it is.

  24. Half-Pint says:

    So I'll share a story that my 13 year old camper told me several years ago:
    She wanted a tattoo and begged her mom. Her mom, to her surprise, said, “Of course you can have a tattoo!”. In disbelief, the teen said, “Wait, really?”. The mom explained her plan further: “Yes. We'll go to the tattoo place and you can pick out what you want. Then, we will wait one year. When we go back to the tattoo parlor, if you want that EXACT same tattoo, then you can get it.” Of course, the wise mom knew that there's no way her young daughter would ever like the same tattoo for a year, because that's what being a teenage girl is all about!

    Your situation seems different, but that story is food for thought.

    I like others' suggestions about getting a swallow ring or bracelet or some such accessory.

  25. trip says:

    I'm about as conservative as they come (at least in style, I guess I'm a bit more moderate in politics), but I have been pondering the same thing as well lately. With that said, I really like Craig Ferguson's tattoo, which is of a political cartoon from the American Revolution period (here's a picture of it). Since I wear long sleeved shirts basically every day of my life, I feel like it wouldn't be hard to conceal in a professional situation, nor is it an area that will age very badly over time

  26. Trina says:

    IWhile I typically think tattoos are trashy, I think there are some ways to go abuot doing it somewhat tastefully: I would either get the tattoo (but only one swallow) on a discreet place, so no one but you would ever really know it's there. Or get a nice charm necklace. Either way, it's a sweet gesture to remember your friend by.

  27. Holly says:

    Many of the above posters have already made comments that I agree with in terms of making the decision, whether a tattoo is/is not professional, etc. Ultimately, this is your decision to make, and it sounds like you are already giving it the type of thought that it demands. I'd like to address one of your other concerns: that of safety and health.

    Really, in the current day, there is a very, very low risk of disease or health concerns, assuming that you take the time to find a reputable tattoo parlor. I have two tattoos, and I spent at least a year before getting each doing significant research into the places where I could get the tattoos, talking to others who had gone there, etc. If you take the time to do the research and find a professional parlor, you should not have this concern. My current tattoo artist works at a shop that does only custom artwork and will actually turn away walk-ins….you are required to make a consultation appointment before they will consider booking you for ink. Finding a location of this type should put at ease your worries of health concerns. Again – it's not impossible to contract a disease, but I think that the risk has been reduced so drastically that it is really comparable to the every-day risks we take in our lives.

    Good luck in making this decision!

  28. Lauren says:

    Similar situation, though significantly less painful than losing a very close friend. For several years I've hesitated to do something permanent and finally settled on not. Why? Because while I do truly think about my “motivation” at least some point in the day, having to stare at a constant reminder on my body for the rest of my life seems like a bit of torture. Honestly, while you love your friend and will continue to miss that person, the best thing you can do to honor that person is to be yourself. Sounds cheesy, but if being yourself isn't ink, do something else to remember them. That's the part that really matters.

  29. Lin says:

    I find this post heart-wrenching mostly because I am in an slightly similar position. My best friend from high school just died inexplicably one day senior year of college. She just collapsed and that was it. Recently I have been thinking of getting a white ink tattoo of her initials on the inside of my wrist as a remembrance of her and am going through the same thought process of what my co-workers will think and if my parents will talk to me afterwards. Currently I am waiting and in a year if I still want it then I am going to get it, but who knows. I find tattoos fascinating and terrifying all in the same breath and also wonder what if I want more after the first one. Basically I am trying to say, I get where you are coming from and I hope you make a decision you are happy with.

  30. Jay says:

    I personally have two tattoos (one on the inside of each wrist). They're fairly discreet and I've never encountered any negativity towards them. In fact my boss of three years never even noticed them until about six months ago and even then she just smiled wistfully and said they were very “me.” A conferences I've been stopped by other professionals in my field (science) who have stopped to tell me how much they love the design or even to stop and share their own tattoos with me. The entire concept of getting a tattoo and having one is personal. If you want to share it with someone else you can but you're always free to put it out of sight and just know that it's there for your own benefit.

    I think there's something beautiful and moving about having a memorial tattoo. The great part is you're always welcome to share as much or as little about the tattoo as you want. A lot of times it opens great conversations with others about either the person the tattoo is about or about tattoos in general.

    Also I think the professionalism aspect of it can be addressed in the design. Go for small and simple and non-obtrusive. I really like everyone's suggestions of the white ink. The great part about that is, if later you decide you'd like it to stand out more you can go back and have some black ink done over it.

    I think tattoos can be done professionally and that the acceptance of them is generally pretty widespread at this point. Just do it in a way that pays tribute to what it's meant to portray but that also reflects your own personality.

  31. Jess says:

    Belle, I think we are similar in personality and career goals. I am kind of uptight and conservative in that southern belle type of way, and I always thought tattoos were trashy. When someone close to me died, I finally understood memorial tattoos. I wanted to do something like that for her, but I was hung up on the thought of becoming one of “those people” who have tattoos. What I wound up getting is a small tattoo on the inside of my right wrist. I really dislike the color black on people with my skin tone (I am olive colored). I'd seen white tattoos before, and they are pretty but not what I wanted on the inside of my wrist. I settled on brown, which sounds yucky (I hate the sound of the word brown) but turned out really well. Many people assume that the tattoo is henna, and the color is pretty similar. Also, it looks closer to a natural body mark than black or white ink, which is a quality I appreciate.

    Having said that, I often pick up on it when people notice my tattoo and don't say anything, but I haven't received any openly negative responses. In fact, if anyone has reacted negatively at all it has not been reflected in my treatment or job consideration. Many people will ask me directly about it even in the workplace, at which point I explain in as much or as little detail as I feel is appropriate and I'm emotionally capable of at that time.

    I did have a short moment of panic right after getting the tat about how I was now forever in a different class of people, but it was fleeting. The bottom line is that if you're secure in who you are, you can be secure in the choice you make regarding whether or not to get ink.

    And I think the design you posted is beautiful.

  32. Montana says:


    I'll make the decision for you. NO.

  33. k says:

    my personal opinion aside, you should be really sure you want a tattoo before you do it–the removal process, apart from being crazy expensive, can be really dangerous, as we don't know exactly how it affects our bodies.
    good luck making a choice.

  34. H says:

    Like you, I lost a friend to suicide a few years ago, and it had a huge impression on the person I am today. I really feel for your loss. I think that tatoos can be really beautiful, and I think you should go for it. But I'd get it somewhere not visible, for the professional reason, but more importantly, so you don't have to constantly explain it to people. Most people assume that if you have a visible tatoo, you're proud of it and are eager to talk about it. Perhaps you deal with grief differently, but for me, if I had to constantly explain about my friend's suicide it would make me resentful of the tatoo. Even if you just say, it's a memorial, it's uncomfortable for the asker and for you. Just something else to think about.
    Whatever you do, you are a good friend. Even if you decide not to ink your skin for your friend's memory, her memory will live on in you.

  35. M says:

    I got a very small tattoo on my back when I was 18, frankly, just for the fun of it. You can only see it if i have a bathing suit on, and it's actually started to fade a little bit. at that point in time my dad was pretty upset when he found out about it (about 6 months after i had gotten it) but he didnt stay upset for very long. I think he had been more upset that i didnt talk to him about it first or ask his permission, rather than being upset that i actually did it. Now that i'm 25, I aknowledge that the design isnt as sophisticated as id like, but i dont regret getting it at all. I just look at it now as a symbol of my life at that time and it helps me remember who i was back then. I've actually been thinking of getting another very small tattoo on my hip bone for the past year and i just havent gotten around to making the appointment. I work in a professional environment in downtown DC, but its not as conservative as the hill. Several of my coworkers (who are in senior positions) have tattoos on their arms and ankles, that are usually visible on casual fridays or during the summer. As long as the quality of your work is consistent, a small change in your appearance shouldnt deter people from repecting you. as long as you go to a respected artist who uses sterile equipment i wouldnt be too concerned about health risks (and if you've had a hepititis vaccination at you doctor's office in the past few years you might be covered). You could get the same tattoo as your friends and just not put it on your wrist. i also think someone's suggestion of a ring or necklace is a great non-permanent tribute.

  36. Anonymous says:

    How about just one swallow on one of your fingers, where a ring would normally hit? That should be discreet, and it could be covered up with a cocktail ring, if need be.

    I suggest that you be really, really sure of your decision, and if you decide to do it, make it something that will be subtle.

  37. R says:

    I had a similar circumstance. I decided to have my very small flower design on the inside of my foot, under my ankle. That way it's something you notice as a rememberance, can display it if you wish, but it can easily be hidden behind any shoe that is worn in a professional setting. Since I know you don't wear flip-flops, it shouldn't be an issue. Good luck with your decision!

    Also, when you're old and wrinkly…who would ever notice a small tattoo on your foot? I sure don't plan on wearing flip flops at 80 years old. 🙂

  38. E says:

    Please Belle, don't do it. Tattoo fashions will come and go but this isn't one you can toss out of your closet. Imagine buying a purse when you're in your 20's and being told you have to carry that accessory EVERY SINGLE DAY, FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.

  39. dm58 says:

    Wow. This is such a sensitive topic. I will only add one point – I have been in the conservative law world for about 6 years. I have never seen a partner with a tattoo. That means either (a) they inked in a location that could be covered while at work; or, (b) no one had one. I have, however, met one associate who had one in a noticible place (the back of her neck and she wore short hair when I met her). She eventually grew her hair long to avoid the “negative” consequences she said she endured. The comments were usually like you anticipated — that it was trashy/unprofessional/juvenile, etc.

    Please note, I am not saying that the above is right or wrong. I would never get a tattoo because I change my makeup/hair/clothing taste every other month – no way I would like the same tattoo for the next 75 years. Other than that, I think a lot of body art is tasteful and beautiful. I do, however, believe that if you plan to pursue a professional career in a conservative environment, you might reconsider this plan.

  40. Caitlin says:

    It's crazy to me that so many harsh things are being said about tattoos. I'm in DC now but I spent 2 years in LA where virtually everyone has tattoos. Follow your heart and do what you want!
    Screw everyone else.

  41. KLo says:

    Belle, I'm terribly sorry for your loss. My knee-jerk reaction is no no no no. And it's for a couple of reasons. It sounds like, from the way your story is written, that you were not contemplating a memorial anything for your friend until you were approached. And that's absolutely okay. Like Allie and her dad, we remember those who we lose without any reminders. Also, think about a morning when you're in a bad mood, the day's not going well, and you really don't want to put on yet another big cuff to hide the tattoo at work. I just worry that for me (and we seem similar in some ways), I would be incredibly upset and I'd feel guilty about my frustration being tied to my friend. I agree with so many others that a ring or a pendant with swallows is a much better way to go. That way you can remember her whenever the jewelry works, and you aren't obligated to always memorialize. And finally, as someone in finance and law, I absolutely view tattoos as impulsive, unprofessional and immature. I know that many tattoos aren't, but my initial impression of someone with a visible tattoo is not as high as the exact same person without the tattoo. I think there are other ways that you can memorialize your friend and still be very happy with the results.

  42. SB says:

    I agree that tattos are a very personal choice. I have two…the first one that I describe as my “18-and-rebellious” tatto, which is too tiny and hidden for me to worry too much about 13 years later. The other, a star on the top of my foot, is something I will never regret and never remove. My father passed away from cancer 4 years ago, and while he was sick, my 2 sisters and I got the same star as a way to honor him. We knew what his fate would be, and although of course he will always be a part of us, we wanted to have a symbolic tribute to him on us always. Nowadays, people at home know that it's a part of “The Blair Girls”; a very loving tribute from daughters to father. Some may think tattos are juvenile and silly and a trashy waste of space…but I don't really care. My first was carefree and whimsical…which is who I was at 18. I don't regret it, but if at that parlor today, would probably make a different decision in whether or not to stamp my big toe. But the star…that is something that I will always be proud of, because it means so much to my sisters and me. Professionally speaking, yes, it does sometimes show when I'm not wearing tights or pants. I've never heard a word about it though, even while suited up in the Capitol. I get that some think it is inappropriate, but for me, it is tasteful and meaningful. And really, that's all that matters.

  43. ali says:

    In my hometown, there were two young men who passed away within two weeks of each other in equally horrifying situations. Our town was stricken with grief, and it was incredibly difficult to figure out how to pay tribute to their memory. The first letter of both of their names was “H”, and the mothers got H stickers printed for anyone who wanted one; they are now scattered all over the world. The men were a year apart in age and had a large group of mutual friends. Their friends all decided to honor them by getting very small H tattoos on their inner wrists (or, as some of the men did, on other parts of their body). I know that many of these people with the tattoo have highly respected jobs where tattoos would be frowned upon; however, when it came to getting a tattoo that meant something to them or getting ostracized about “ink”, there was never a moments hesitation on whether or not to do it. My advice to you would be to listen to your heart. If it would mean something to YOU to have a small sparrow on your inner wrist, then by all means do it. Don't worry about what others think, because ultimately, if it's tastefully done and would bring you joy to see it and think of your friend, to me it seems it would be worth it. If you have a big meeting and felt self conscious about it you can always use concealer to mute the color and wear a watch over it. Obviously people have very different opinions on this subject, but even if we debated for a week, the decision would ultimately come down to whether or not you felt comfortable with it. I hope that you can find peace with whatever decision you make. (And as an afterthought, why don't you give it a trial run? Find someone who could draw something similar on your wrist with sharpie and wear it for a week. That might give you an even better indicator of how people would react to it.) Good luck!

  44. Liz says:

    You carry your friend in your heart, that's permanent. Permanent in a good, timeless and never trashy or inappropriate way. Don't do the ink, you'll regret it.

  45. Marie-Christine says:

    Tatoos that show are NOT professional imho. They scream 'don't give a shit about this job', and excuse me but that's particularly true in politics. Yes, people can imagine being young and stupid, but it's still stupid. And they also look like hell in about 10 years, and are no fun to remove, which doesn't always work .Find some old punk with 30 year old tatoos, and ask yourself if you ever want anything like that on your body.
    That said, I completely understand your feelings about your friend. It's been 20 years that my friend Sally killed herself, and I still feel deeply unhappy about it when I think about it, and don't really understand it. I can see wanting to mark the time somehow for this anniversary. But surely there'd be better things to do? Going to visit the sisters and telling them how much you still miss her? Volunteering some time to a suicide help line? Or at least get some swallow jewelry you can wear on special occasions to commemorate your friend?

  46. Belle says:

    Wow, MC. Way to state your opinion. A bit over the top, perhaps.

  47. Paige says:

    I don't have any tattoos and I don't forsee myself getting any. That being said, I have no issues with people who do have tasteful and meaningful tattoos. I'm not a fan of huge back tattoos or sleeves, but I really do understand the motive for getting a tattoo to memorialize someone. This may sound silly, but watching Miami Ink and seeing people get tattoos to honor their loved ones really changed my mind on the subject. As long as it is a tasteful, beautiful tribute to someone (or something) meaningful, I have no problems with tattoos.

    (and to me, tasteful means both design and placement. Preferably, it wouldn't be completely obvious when wearing professional clothing)

  48. L says:

    I second (or third, or whatever) the suggestion to take a few months or a year to think about it. If you do decide to get a tattoo, check out Tim (or Susan) at Jinx Proof in Georgetown. Very professional, totally hygienic, and terrific to work with. (I do government affairs work in an extremely conservative industry, and my tattoos are nicely hidden under clothing.)

  49. Hillary says:

    First, I think it is really unfair of people to tell you not to do this because you will regret it. They don't know that, they are not you.

    I have three tattoos, one on my upper back, one on my hip bone and one on my lower right back. All three of them have deep meaning for me and I am rarely asked to explain any of them unless I am already discussing tattoos and choose to share. That being said, I have been having all of the same doubts about getting a fourth tattoo on my arm in a more visible place. Sometimes you can see the top line of my upper back tattoo in regular shirts but I still balk at the idea of putting a tattoo that would be visible in everything but a long sleeved top. This doubt may come from the warnings my mother has always given me about tattoos and professionalism or that I felt the need to email my grandparenst a warning two months before seeing them so I felt comfortable wearing a strapless dress around them (neither my mother nor my grandparents are very conservative, they are just old fashioned Oklahomans). Thinking it through is the only way you'll feel comfortable with your decision and I fully agree with all the folks who are suggesting white ink or an alternate location. Whatever you decide, own it. This is an extremely personal decision and ultimately you are the only one who has to live with the decision.

  50. KC says:

    I personally have two tattoos. One on my left wrist (which is easily covered with watches, bracelets, etc.) and one on my right foot. Outside of Capitol Hill I have never experienced any bad sentiment towards them, however, when I worked for a conservative member of the house, the tattoo on my foot became an issue. The basic issue was not necessarily about the tattoo (since it had special meaning), but more about the placement and it being visible to constituents who may not approve. For me, I do not regret AT ALL getting my tattoos because they both have such special meaning to me, however, I would have gotten the tattoo on my foot in a different place. Moral of this story would be: get the tattoo, but not on neck, foot, or anywhere your boss might see.

  51. Ms. B says:

    Imagine wearing that gorgeous Vera Wang red cocktail dress with ink. So, will they notice YOU, the dress or the ink? Hmmmm.

  52. Charleigh says:

    For the most part, I don't really like tattoos all that much. It has nothing to do with the stigma against them, it's mostly that, personally, there is nothing that I would put on my body that I would want to make a life commitment to. To be able to have it removed later isn't even a factor, because then there would be some scarring, plus the amount of money it would take.

    Saying that, there have been only a handful of people that I have known in my life that I've seen with cool tattoos, where I haven't been faking it (like when you see an ugly baby) saying how neat it looks. They were still young though, when the tattoos are still newer and nice looking, on their equally nice, not-yet-stretched-out or wrinkled bodies.

    So, although the one picture looks pretty, subtle, kindof Urban Outfitters-esque, I would really suggest you think about your sense of commitment to this cause.

    I like everyone else's suggestion about maybe getting a nice piece of jewlery to wear often, or if you do want the tattoo — get it done in white ink, on your ribs, ankle if you wear tights often, or shoulder where it wouldn't be seen. It might even look nice around the bikini area, though careful of stretching in this area (as with the ribs) White ink also fades with time, so you wouldn't have to pay to have it removed.

    If I were to ever get a tattoo myself, it would definitely be in white ink.

  53. Ms. C says:

    In short, I would get the tattoo but not in such a prevalent place.

    I think memorial tattoos can be wonderful, personal reminders of the person you lost. However, you want to be reminded of your friends life, not her death. Getting such a prevalent tattoo could have you repeating the story of her death (not her life) to each person who asks about the marker. Alternatively, if you were to get the tattoo in a less conspicuous place, you could see it and remember her wonderful spirit in life without constantly rehashing her passing.

    Also, from a professional standpoint, visible tattoos are tricky as I recently experienced. I have a tattoo; it is a meaningful, family design that I have never once regretted. It is on my lower back, hidden 99% of the time. However, last week, I was leaning over to pick up some files and my boss (a federal judge for whom I am clerking) saw it. He scowled and gave me a brief lecture on the injurious effect of tattoos on one's appearance. He concluded with a brusque “at least it's not visible.” What is important is that he said all of this without once asking me why I chose the tattoo or it's personal purpose. And that's the take away point: though it will be a wonderful memorial for you, for many others (including superiors) it will often be just a tattoo.

  54. Nomie says:

    I have a tattoo and have never once regretted it. It's beautiful and meaningful. It's at the top of my back, a little below the collar of most of my shirts, but sometimes it peeks out, particularly in summer. Most people have only ever been interested in it. I've worked in both academia and a corporate workplace. Probably more casual than the Hill, but not exactly a biker bar either.

    I will say that I second the suggestion to wait, regardless of whether you decide to get it on your wrist or somewhere else. I settled on my design but didn't get it till a year later. And I made sure to investigate the parlor and make sure that it was up to code and made me feel safe and comfortable.

  55. Marianne says:

    I find “to ink or not to ink” conversations fascinating for a couple of reasons. First, because I have a tattoo (About the size of my hand, middle of my back). Second, because the way tattoos are perceived tend to be chock full of stereotypes (not to mention a healthy dose of classicism and slut-shaming).

    I've had my tattoo for three years now, and I love it. I'd wanted one since I was a senior in high school, but waited until I graduated from college to actually get inked, so that I could be more sure that the design I'd chosen was the one I wanted. So, I'll say this: if you're at all uncertain about getting a tattoo, give it some time. If you do decide to get one as a memorial for your friend, it will be just as meaningful after 6 years as after 5. If you're concerned about how it will impact your professional life, then follow the excellent suggestions for either a white tattoo or more easily concealed places to get it. Not a lot of special meaning to mine, except that I thought the design was beautiful, and my little sister drew it for me. I know a lot of young professionals with tattoos, which leads me to hope that in 50 years or so, people won't go around assuming that having a tattoo means you're unserious about your career.

    As for whether tattoos are “trashy,” there was a great article on Jezebel about this issue: https://jezebel.com/#!5511021/painted-ladies-on-tats-and-trashiness

    I do get comments like “won't your tat look gross when you're old and wrinkly?” Um, pretty sure when I'm old, I'll have better things to care about than whether my tattoo is sagging. And one ex-boyfriend told me that I shouldn't get one because “guys might get the wrong idea about you.” Luckily, the kinds of guys who make crass assumptions about gals with tattoos aren't the kinds of guys I'm looking to date!

    Finally, I'm very sorry for your loss. A friend of mine committed suicide a few years ago, and I know what you mean about how it changes your life.

  56. Marianne says:

    I know that comment was epically long, but I had one more thing to add: getting a tattoo hurts like the dickens. I have a really low pain tolerance, and it was a really bad hour. Luckily, my best friend was there to hold my hand, and my big brother was there to laugh at me if I wussed out, so I got through it.

    It was so worth it, though. I love having a little piece of art on my person at all times. In fact, I love it so much that I'm considering getting another one!

  57. Adrienne says:

    Hey Belle! Love the new design. I don't know if you're interested in what scripture says, but the Bible gives some direction on this subject: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+19:28&version=NIV (of course there's a whole debate as to whether this still applies, etc) …I have a tattoo myself. Here's another website that helped me a lot: https://christianity.about.com/od/faqhelpdesk/f/tattoochristian.htm

    I got my tattoo before considering any religious beliefs (this may not be an issue for you) but got it in a safe and secure place 🙂 I'm not sure the grieving process ever ends for a friend, but if it wanes would you still have wanted that tattoo? It seems you have a natural inclination against tattoos, go with that – there's no reason you should change what you think about them even if you consider your upbringing a little old-fashioned. Maybe there's something else you can do for your friend – like donate money to a suicide awareness charity. (??)

    Love your blog and I am so sorry of the loss of your dear friend.

    Love, Adrienne

  58. southerner in london says:

    Thanks for sharing this personal, internal debate with your readers–you're brave and beautiful, Belle.

    Something about a memorial tattoo appeals to you, despite fear of needles, disease and outsider judgment, therefore it's worth considering on the next level before you make a decision. Similar to you, I had a lot of doubts and here's what I did: I scheduled a consultation appointment with a highly recommended and in-demand tattoo artist (five weeks out b/c she was that booked up). Her process was that of an artist's; she met and ran a consultation visit with you first, in which she created (with you) a design and placement strategy that was tasteful and conscious of worries/needs/ aging/stretching, etc. And then you could schedule another appointment for the tattoo–or for another design meeting if you weren't completely decided yet. (Also like most things, there is tattoo maintenance, which I suspect you will follow diligently).

    For me this made the process more deliberate and creative, and therapeutic b/c it gave me time relish and reconnect to feelings/memories associated with my tattoo–not that it's the only way to do this, but b/c of this I will never regret it, even when I'm 80 years old b/c there will be many things that are unsightly by then that are beyond our control–so what if there's a blurry, but precious memory too?

    I sense a wrist tattoo would be too personal, in the sense that it would open you up to be defensive or feel judged about a loss that's not easy to express–however bracelets and watches can easily cover a smaller, discreet tattoo that most would not noticed.

  59. Morgan says:

    If you feel it's trashy, that's something that's probably not going to be overcome even if it's meaningful to you. The most common and most sound tattoo advice out there is live with the idea for the year and if you still want it, then get it. When it's something you'll have for literally a lifetime, it's not the time for rash decisions.

    That said, I am a tattooed young professional — I have tattoos on both my feet, my wrist, my upper back, and my shoulder. All are in places that can be covered in modest yet still fashionable work attire. All placement decisions have been made with a professional career in mind (although I wish the back one was a little lower since I didn't realize how much the back of neck lines can droop during the day).

    And as a defense of tattoos — you seem fairly open minded in this post, but that doesn't mean the “trashy” term isn't still offensive to me. I don't have fully naked or even a half-naked pin-up girl on me permanently. I have images and quotes that have incredibly significant meaning to me, permanent reminders of the most important parts of my life (whether they were important just for a segment of my life or for my whole life). What's trashy about wearing my heart on my sleeve, literally?

    On top of that, they're pretty good at getting rid of the potential partners in life who aren't open enough to except who I choose to be.

    In this day and age, if the tattoo isn't offensive, I just don't think it should be a problem in the work place. Period. I still cover them up because I know even though I feel that way, my bosses probably don't, but I hope this will be changing.

  60. Miss Mary says:

    I think you've answered your own question as you have far more cons than pros listed in your posting. I also work in the less conservative DC contract arena and tattoos (especially on women) are openly judged.

    You should honor your friend in the way it feels right to YOU and no one else. Sometimes that's just fond & loving memories not a 'thing'.

    I lost my Mom to cancer when I was just 33 and I've always wanted to honor her. For me, I do that by living my life in a way that would make her proud and by often saying, “Mom would have loved this.”

    Take care–
    Miss Mary

  61. Femme says:

    I have sincere questions for those of you with tattoos in memoriam. First, let me say that so far in life I have been fortunate not to lose anyone close to me, so please remember that I really haven't been in your shoes. I understand that friends/relatives take a special place in your life, and I understand the thought process behind wanting to remember that person. However, if tragedy strikes more than once, do you get multiple tattoos? Where do you draw the line? And is a tattoo more meaningful than photos or a piece of jewelry or artwork? Does it just come down to personal preference? Looking forward to reading some different perspectives.

  62. Hannah says:

    Belle, I was raised up thinking that anyone with tattoos are trashy. But when I found of that my own mother, who raised me with these beliefs, in fact had a tattoo of her own, I freaked out and reevaluated everything that had ever been instilled in me about tattoos. My mother was in a terrible accident and almost died, so it was to commemorate what had happened, as a reminder to live life to the fullest. This tattoo is on her wrist, but with her profession, it doesn't matter if it's covered up or not. I actually got my first tattoo almost a year ago. Its a small heart and dove, and its on my lower stomach/hip area. I love it. They are addicting, but I feel that as long it is something that really means a great deal to you, then you should go ahead and do it. Maybe do it where no one will see, and only you will know is there. The world doesn't have to know anything about it. You only live once!

  63. Maria says:

    As an alternative, you could remember your friend and show solidarity with your friend's sisters and avoid a tattoo — which you probably shouldn't pursue unless you're confident in your decision — by creating and wearing a swallow charm bracelet. Commission someone on Etsy to do it. That way, your swallows would be on your wrist, where the tattoos would be, but unlike the tattoo, there's little chance of you regretting your decision down the road for professional or personal reasons.

  64. Ms. B says:

    I actually like your idea the best Maria. I'm not necessarily against ink. But sounds like a wonderful memorial that could be passed on or shared as well.

  65. Oregonite says:

    I find people's judgment of tattoos to be pretty ridiculous. Each one of us lives in OUR own body, no one else has to share the tattoo with you, so why do they even care? To me it is just an indicia of people who are way too judgmental in general and only look at a person's surface rather than their character.

    I may be biased, I have a tattoo. Mine is a 'totem' of symbols on my lower spine that represents each member of my nuclear family. It is pretty easy to hide in my chosen profession (lawyer) which is helpful. Often people complain about 'tramp stamps' right in front of me, when they have no idea about my tattoo. I find it funny because it pretty much proves my first point above about surface vs. character. Moreover, when I explain to people what mine is about they always find it interesting.

    PS-I always figure when I am old and wrinkly its not really going to matter whether my skin is a pile of white/brown wrinkles or black wrinkles.

  66. Chris says:

    Belle, I think all of the concerns about professionalism and judgment from family and friends are really beside the point. From reading your post, I think it's clear that you don't want a tattoo for several reasons, but feel pressured to join in the celebration of your friend's life. I lost my spouse to suicide, and I was tempted to do the same thing. And I felt so guilty about downsizing my belongings and getting rid of anything he had liked/done/touched. My therapist freed me of these worries when she told me, “You don't have to have an object or a symbol to have a memory.” I have gone back to that phrase so many times as I have brought myself back into the world of the living. There are hundreds of ways to remember your friend. Instead of spending money on a tattoo, maybe you would enjoy donating that cash in her name to a suicide prevention organization, or whatever cause your friend was passionate about. Don't do this out of guilt. Your friend would not want you to do anything that would upset you or hurt you because of her.

  67. Professional Freshman says:

    this is potentially an extremely lame suggestion, but also a valid one. I have been toying with the idea of a tattoo for many years, and the other week got a henna on my arm wile out with some girlfriends. I loved it until i went to work, and noticed my boss was less than pleased. luckily it washed off, but it has made me re think where and of what my tattoo would be.

    that being said, maybe you should consider getting a henna in the same place of the same design and seeing how that makes you/ others in your professional world react

  68. MidwestChic says:

    I have a tattoo on my foot in honor of my grandmother who has been such an amazing woman to me. Since I work at our State Capitol, I wear a lot of skirts with pumps… and I ALWAYS get asked about my tattoo… and even though I never felt I would have to justify my tattoo with a story, I do. Every single time someone asks, I respond with a story of my grandmother. It is awfully frustrating. However, I do not regret the tattoo one bit. Even though it may be annoying to get stares and questions in our unbelievably conservative House of Reps (I am very conservative and work for a Republican Rep), I love that I have something permanent on my body to reflect such an important aspect of my life.

  69. Cynthialou says:

    Check out this blog's tattoo Tuesday section.

    Truly, if you feel tattoos are skanky, etc. then you will probably NEVER wear one on your skin. And that's ok. To each their own.

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