My Hand Tattoos Don’t Hold Me Back

I had threatened my friends and family for a while that I was going to get a YOLO tattoo. They thought I was joking. In that I thought it would be spectacularly funny, I was joking, but nonetheless I knew I was going to get the tattoo eventually. I think everyone’s prescient enough to know that “you only live once” was a well-known phrase well before Drake made it into an acronym, and the idea that you only have so much time and you should use it wisely had become a core tenet of my life after I started studying the art of Felix Gonzalez-Torres (who made his best work while he was dying) and becoming an atheist in 2012.

Then I heard about the internet acronym FBGM in January of 2013 — it means “Fuck Bitches, Get Money,” or, in other (more elegant) words, “do away with distractions and follow your greatest pursuits.” It’s in the same vein as YOLO in asserting that you should use your resources the best you can. A friend of mine told me she’d seen it tattooed on the side of someone’s smoking finger, which I thought was absolutely brilliant.

I had eight tattoos already. I don’t remember ever not wanting tattoos; even as a kid, it seemed like an inevitability, and to this day I can’t wrap my head around why people don’t get them much in the same way that my mom, for example, can’t wrap her head around why I do. Different strokes, I guess! I always thought tattoos were beautiful, so I put beautiful and affirming things on myself in the same way that other people dye their hair, paint their nails, put on makeup, wear jewelry, or get cosmetic surgery. Sure, it’s permanent, but if you really love the way something looks, why would it ever bother you to always have it on?

I got YOLO tattooed on the sides of my left fingers and FBGM tattooed on the sides of my right fingers in March 2013, just hours after I’d been assaulted. In the aftermath of the assault, one thing was clear in the confusion: I needed to get to the shop. I needed to have something on me that would bolster my sense of identity. I put my core beliefs on my hands so that I would only have to look down to feel like I had an anchor in what was necessarily going to be a harrowing part of my life. It gave me the courage to report, and it gave me something to have a sense of humor about.

Later, of course, I got the same spiel about my hand tattoos that I got about all of my other tattoos — they’d hurt my job prospects, I’d have to get them removed. This sentiment has been repeated ad nauseam to the tattooed regardless of the fact that hiring discrimination based on tattoos is very low despite professed negative attitudes on the part of hiring managers. The older you are, the more likely you are to associate tattoos with criminality or negative character attributes, but even so, most corporations are accepting of tattoos or don’t have formal policies regarding them. This might be because a third of Gen Y has tattoos, and it’d be silly to discriminate against 33 percent of the incoming workforce for aesthetic reasons.

So while there are an abundance of companies that frown on tattoos, there are an abundance of companies that don’t. I apply for and take jobs with companies that’ll value diversity and the quality of my work over management’s personal senses of style. I don’t want to work for a business that cares more about posterity than quality, because my priority is being a quality employee who delivers quality service and products to customers, not a mannequin who looks the part for the job.

And here’s an interesting thing: The recession has forced growing numbers of workers into entrepreneurship. Self-employment has grown four percent in the US and a whopping eight percent in the UK. Maybe if more young people are able to set their own dress codes, businesses and corporations will eventually be forced to follow suit. I’ll keep my fingers crossed — you know, the ones with “YO” and “FB” on them.

Rebecca Vipond Brink is a writer, photographer, and traveler.  You can Where’s Waldo her tattoos here, and follow her at @rebeccavbrink or on her blog, Flare and Fade.