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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Women Wearing Tattoos and the Silent Contempt of the Snobs

It appears there has been an explosion in young people (particularly women under 35) wearing tattoos starting about ten years ago. Lately this craze has accelerated, perhaps thanks to tattoo-covered entertainment stars like Angelina Jolie.

This self-branding is a form of self-exclusion. I believe wearing tattoos is a sign that one comes from the proletariat class, what used to be the "unwashed" working class. People discriminate against others based upon physical appearance, and this includes tattoos.  In a day when the larger "U-6" unemployment benchmark is around 17 percent, tattoos just give a hiring manager another reason to find someone else. 

There is a nefarious, evil and discriminatory motive behind the tolerance, acceptance and even encouragement of tattoos among others in the regular population (that is, as long as you're not working for us or marrying into the family).

The upper class plebeians -- the snobs -- have customarily desired to keep the classes apart, partly to secure their status at the top of the social power pyramid. In America, as traditional barriers between the "upper class" and the rest of society have been broken down or eroded over the last 50 years, the snobs at the top have wanted new marks with which to identify Them.   This allows the snobs to keep the proletariat slobs out.  Tattoos become a new marker, a scarlet letter of sorts, that help gatekeeper determine who gets in and who stays out.

Tattoo exclusion becomes important, since the traditional barriers keeping out the commoners -- elite colleges, wealth, membership in the ruling class, and vowels at the end of surnames -- have been overcome thanks to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, affirmative action, immigration, technological innovations and hedge funds. The snobs generally despise the "nouveau riche" and want to keep their distance.

Tattoos serve the purpose of making identifiable those who are not wanted. The tattoo culture -- some claim it originates from prisons and the maritime industries and spread through the underclass into Gen Pop - helps identify those who are not of "good breeding." A purebred blueblood, after all, would never have a tattoo. At least not where its visible.

You will never hear this spoken by the nobility. It's not polite. It will be expressed, through disapproving glances and a different, cut tonality of words said only before rarified audiences. Many times, there is also an expressed relief, as tattoos help identify and distinguish the pretenders, the faux nobility, from the true "betters" in our society.  To be clear, this is a case where silence is a form of contempt.  That is why you won't hear too many people mention it -- it is to their advantage (and your disadvantage) that you have that tattoo because you keep yourself out.  It makes their task easier. 

Mention this to your friends, and your children. Having a tattoo is not just a "tramp stamp" -- it is a mark of being "lower class" and one day may subject its wearer (especially women) to some very subjective, negative judgments. A woman with a tattoo may be considered a "good time girl" from the "wrong side of the tracks" but not someone to bring home to meet the family at the Hamptons estate. Not unless the boyfriend/prospective husband wants a scene out of the 1960s Sidney Poitier movie, "Look Who's Coming to Dinner."

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer who mentors young professionals from time to time.  He can be reached at

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