GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - Permanent body modifications, like tattoos or piercings, have been worn by men and women for thousands of years; yet these types of skin decor haven't always been widely accepted in the U.S.
In many cases, tattoos and facial piercings have even been seen as taboo or off-putting. Yet, within the last two decades (and especially within the last 10 years) body modifications are more common, especially with younger people under 40.
Plus, it's not just bikers and those in the military with tattoos these days. Doctors, lawyers and business owners are getting inked and pierced. So are stay-at-home moms, waitresses and students.
Even so, having body art isn't always viewed as professional. And having visible tattoos and piercings can be seen as inappropriate and a hindrance to certain types of careers. Others say having body art shouldn't limit one's ability to work in any chosen field.
Only one thing is certain - Grand Valley folks have lots of opinions when it comes to body modification and its place at work. And with so many divergent ideas, there's no right answer when determining what's acceptable.
According to +1 Gallery owner and Grand Junction resident Kristian Hartter, he believes having visible body modifications will make a difference for folks seeking employment, "for better or worse." And though he doesn't have tattoos or piercings, he said he experienced prejudice when he had long hair.
"It is difficult to divorce appearance from performance, but there is little correlation," Hartter, age 38, said. "Blue hair is not indicative of poor decision-making, necessarily. Holes in one's face (other than those placed there by nature or God) aren't either."
He did, however, say there's "an argument for being discreet in that people will judge you based on your appearance."
When asked if he would hire someone with tats and piercings, he answered: "I would like to say 'yes' unequivocally, but I find that I would likely take into account the fact of appearance. Facial tattoos and giant gauges (in ears) are hard to dismiss. I believe I would hire them, especially if the ink or piercings were discreet, but a full-facial tat might make me think twice."
Jason Lee Bradham, a longtime Grand Junction tattoo artist, said visible neck, hand and face tattoos will definitely affect a person's future job placement.
"It's the responsibility first of the client to think about his [or] her future and how a neck/face/hand tattoo is going to affect things," said 37-year-old Bradham, who works at First Issue Studios. "I have talked many people out of that kind of placement, lest they already have a huge collection and obviously know what they are in to."
Wayne Roberts, 55, who works for the U.S. Postal Service in Grand Junction, said that while he doesn't personally have a problem with tattoos and piercings, employers have the right to have policies against it.
"If I have my own business and I think the person representing [it] does not appeal to the customers I am trying to attract, then I have every right to express that in my hiring," Roberts said. "Just as the Constitution gives someone the right to express themselves with their tattoos and piercings, the employer has the same right to express themselves through their hiring practice."
Many folks asked about tattoos in the workplace felt similarly to Roberts, saying visible ink, gauged ears and facial studs have no place in a professional setting. Still others took a different stance, saying body art should be OK.
That said, for students wanting tattoos, Colorado Mesa University's Assistant Director in Residence Life Nathan Watchman, 36, said he advises them "to keep it above the sleeve-line of a polo-style shirt or an area that is easily covered. Even though society is moving toward a wider acceptance of tattoos and piercings, there will always be employers that are less open-minded about body art."
Watchman added that while many big employers - like Google, Microsoft, and other companies on a national scale - "are looking for talented youth and will look past tattoos and piercings," not every business will be as generous.
"Companies based in a more conservative area, such as the Grand Valley, seem more likely to discriminate based on tattoos and such because there is a large part of the populace that is put off by them ...," he said.
Watchman, who has tattoos and piercings himself, also said he's "fortunate to work on a university campus where tattoos are no big deal."
"I see more and more of our university students with full-sleeve tattoos, so the trend will have to start shifting in the workplace to accommodate the talent necessary for a business to grow and thrive."
"Should employers and society move forward with their antiquated thoughts on body modification?" Heidi Bassignani, 32, recently asked on the Grand Junction Free Press Facebook friend page.
Many Grand Valley respondents said "yes!"
Bassignani, who runs her own design and web-development business, Heidi Marie Designs, said she has multiple tattoos (all in easily covered locations). Before starting her own firm, she worked for eight years as the art director at RSW Partners "in a very professional environment with extremely conservative clients." She's also taught web design to local college students.
"I feel that if you carry yourself as a professional, body art, piercings, hair style, clothing and jewelry can be pushed outside the traditional suit-and-tie and still make a good impression," Bassignani said. "There are exceptions, of course: Neck, face, knuckle tattoos, gang and prison appearance, disrespectful anything is going to put people off."
Even so, Bassignani acknowledged that views tend to differ greatly on what's considered professional.
"I just don't think you should be limited to ear piercings only as a 'professional,'" she added. "The world would be missing out on many brilliant, creative and open minds if we are limited to those who don't have visible body art."
Grand Junction resident Jennifer Goodwin, 34, also pointed out the difference between having tattoos and piercings and simply having bad personal hygiene.
"Just because someone is pierced or tattooed does not mean they cannot be well groomed and presentable," said Goodwin, who works at Enstrom Candies and owns Effects Jewelry. "If you met me, you'd never think I had a tattoo on my ankle or my ears pierced three times. I don't think that a person's tattoos or piercings should affect their ability to work or be accepted in society."
Kelley Spehar, a 24-year-old woman born and raised in Grand Junction, said: "I was warned by everyone and their grandmother about what my job-seeking outlook would be when I started getting tattoos. Four years and five more tats since my first, I am lucky enough to have found a great and well-paying job that accepts tattoos."
Spehar works at No Coast Sushi as a server and bartender. Though she acknowledges that it's more acceptable in the restaurant world to have body art, she said she'd never consider removing her tattoos or seek out a job where it wouldn't be OK to have them.
"My tattoos are mostly small, one on each wrist, one on my upper back, and a sleeve in process on my right arm," she said. "Usually, they end up being awesome conversation-starters/ice-breakers with my customers."
Heather Findlay Tobin, a local nurse, also said her many tattoos and piercings haven't hurt her career in the least.
"I'm an RN, BSN, just completed my Master's requirements, and I'm currently working on my DNP (doctorate)," Tobin, 36, said. "I have subtle tattoos on my hands, head, both arms, have short sleeves and I have many other tattoos and piercings. My earlobes are stretched quite large also. I actually got my start in the health profession as a body piercer, working on health legislation here in Colorado."
When she's working, Tobin said she covers most of her body art and removes her facial piercings.
"The rest has become a non-issue because my patients like me," she said. "I work well with others. It hasn't held me back and it's nice to be able to sometimes change some minds."
"I know many people aren't comfortable with body art, so I try to respect that," Tobin added. "I also know that it can be very distracting, so I try to keep it subtle so my patients listen to me!"
And 24-year-old Ashley Kate Gillis of Grand Junction, a stay-at-home mom with a sleeve of tattoos, summed it up: "Don't judge me by the colors of my skin."