Inside the City of Angels tattoo shop in Boyle Heights.
The glass door swings open as Angie Escobar steps into the store, and the loud buzz of the tattoo machine immediately fills the room The smell of ink intoxicates customers with excitement almost as much as the wide array of tattoo options.
From feminine pink roses to flaming skull biker tattoos, the possibilities are virtually endless. Customers scan the colorful catalogs one by one, hoping to find a unique tattoo to represent their distinctive personalities.
“My tattoo just means I just love ‘Hello Kitty,’ and I like to show it on my body,” said 30-year-old Escobar, a customer at the City of Angels tattoo shop, located on César Chávez Avenue. She has a Hello Kitty tattoo on her calf and planned that day to add a second Hello Kitty tattoo on her upper back.
Tattoos are no longer exclusively for gang members and foul-mouthed sailors. These days, people from all walks of life often proudly display their tattoos as badges of individualism. Approximately 45 million people in the United States have at least one tattoo, according to a 2012 Pew Research Center study.
Tattooed? Help not wanted
However, the tattoo that people hope will set them apart could keep a job applicant on the unemployed list.
Employers often make negative decisions about potential employees who have visible body art, according to a 2005 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. George Boue, board member of the discipline committee for the Society for Human Resource Management and vice president of human resources for Stiles, a real estate development company, agrees. He gives this advice to job seekers with body art: Hide it during interviews.
An employer can require in a written policy on body art that employees cover up and can possibly fire them for not following the written policy, according to Michael Waterstone, professor of law at Loyola Marymount University.
Starbucks is one of many companies with a body art policy. Although Starbucks employs people with body art, it requires them to cover their tattoos and piercings.
Escobar said she used to cover up her Hello, Kitty tattoo to comply with the rules. “I used to work at Starbucks, and I had to cover [the tattoo] with a Band-Aid,” she said. “I didn’t like it, but I needed the job, so I had no choice but to cover it.”
Luis Vega, the owner of City of Angels tattoo shop in Boyle Heights, where Escobar came for her second Hello Kitty tattoo, said he was only 11 years old when he got his first tattoo.
“I don’t regret it. It is what it is now,” he said. Even though he owns a tattoo shop, he disapproves of his children getting inked before their 18th birthdays. If they “work and go to college and they’re getting good grades, then I’ll consider it,” he said.
Laws regarding minors and body art differ in every state, but in California anyone who tattoos or offers to tattoo someone under 18 could be charged with a misdemeanor.
The growing popularity of ear gauges, tattoos and pierced lips makes it hard for some youth to resist the latest body art fashion.
People who regret a tattoo can remove it — if they can afford it. Tattoos range from $40 for a small and simple tattoo to more than $400 for a more intricate design. The cost to remove an average tattoo (about the size of the palm of a hand) is roughly $1,500.
And tattoo removal can be painful. Siobhan, who didn’t want to give her last name, a patient at Dr. TATTOFF, a tattoo removal clinic in Beverly Hills, howled with pain as her 21st birthday dragon tattoo was being removed recently from her lower back.
“A walking cliché”
“I got my tattoo when I was 21,” she said. “While I don’t regret the tattoo itself, it’s sort of become a walking cliché in the 17 years that I’ve had It.”.
If removing a tattoo is beyond your budget or your tattoo has sentimental value, then a simple Band-Aid can satisfy an employer’s requirement to cover up.
Seventeen-year-old Ruby López, who lives in Boyle Heights, likes to keep her personal and professional lives separate, so covers her piercings whenever she is working.
“There’s a difference between your professional life and your social life,” she said. In our “social life, we choose what to do,” she added, but a professional life is “a different story.”