Having tattoos and being in academia

Today through one of my friends on Facebook (thanks ER!) I came across David J. Leonard’s 2012 article, “The Inked Academic Body” from The Chronicle. I, like many people, have tattoos. In fact, I have three; however, all can be covered by clothing though can be seen once temperatures get warmer.

I wish Leonard had taken more time to describe what he means by being tattooed. It is one thing to have a tattoo, while it is another to have one that is visible. Similarly, it is one matter to have a small visible tattoo and another to have sleeves, knuckles, or the neck, head or face tattooed.

I do not think visible tattoos are nearly as popular as Leonard states. Of the approximately fifty university professors I have had since beginning my post secondary education, I can only recall one having visible tattoos. Similarly, of the academic conferences I’ve attended the only professors I have seen with visible tattoos have been male, either white or fairly white-passing. This does not mean that other faculty members do not have tattoos, but merely that they are not plainly visible. I do think the fact the only people I have seen with visible tattoos are males is quite telling about how accepted they really (actually) are.

At the same time, I agree that tattoos are a way of “reasserting control over one’s body” as Leonard states. For myself in particular, they have been very much tied to ideas of body ornamentation since I have often felt that I do not gave true control over my body. Chronic illnesses and birth defects do that to you, I guess.

None of the faculty members in my present department to my knowledge have visible tattoos, and nor can I think of any students with the same. I think the reason why this is the way it is comes from the fact that I am in a faculty of education and many of my peers and instructors worked in the K-12 system. Again, I can only think of two teachers during my JK-12 years that had tattoos, and both were white males.

Tattoos are still stigmatized in Canadian society, especially on female bodies as well as those of people of colour. Quite simply, we are the ones that need to be told how to act in this Eurocentric heteropatriarchal society in which we live.


Coincidentally, there is a tendency for tenure-track positions to go primarily to white males. So, maybe it is “okay” or “acceptable” (or any other similar synonym) for you to have a (small) visible tattoo in academia, but I do not think it is truly acceptable for you to do so unless you are white and male and in a department that looks at cultural differences and/or deviance (e.g. sociology or anthropology).

This summer, if all goes according to plan (please cross your appendages for me), I will be going to the national education conference. I’m curious too see how many academics–all of which who are in education–have tattoos that are visible. I’m fairly confident that if there are, they too will be white or white passing males.

Have others observed the same thing?

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This entry was posted in Observations on Life Outside of Academia, PhDing (in doubt) and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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