We’ve all seen them here in Durango – the waitress serving us a hot plate of food while adorned with an intricate display of flowering ink, and the retailer with the embellishing tribal piece dancing down the curves of his leg.
Researchers have documented that humans have been decorating their bodies in such ways for thousands of years, so how has this ancient art form modernized in the Wild West?
A look at various Durango industry workers and employers indicates that some companies in town are a bit more relaxed than others when it comes to a person’s public display of body art.
Durango Joe’s Coffee is one of the more accepting customer service businesses when it comes to employees with visible body modifications. Britt Cook, a barista at Durango Joe’s on Camino del Rio, proudly debuts her tattooed arm sleeve while working.
She applied for 19 jobs in the area, and Durango Joe’s was one of few employers who called her back. Cook successfully survived her interview with the hiring manager but was hesitant for her first in-person encounter with Joe Lloyd, owner of the franchise. She soon felt comfortable after reviewing the coffee shop’s tattoo policy – or lack thereof.
Cook said the company primarily focuses on hiring employees who practice good hygiene and have exceptional customer service skills. Tattoos and piercings don’t hinder an employee’s ability to be clean and polite.
Cook also runs a side business as a personal pet sitter and feels that she has prospered regardless of her decision to permanently ink her body.
“I try really hard to make sure that my personality is bigger than my body art,” she said. “And for me, that’s easy to do.”
Mike Rich, owner of Wagon Wheel Liquors in Town Plaza, said he evaluates applicants on their skill sets and not on their physical appearance. Of course, there are always exceptions. Rich says he is unlikely to hire a person if his or her self-expressive work is blatantly offensive.
Banking on tattoos
How about a more conservative working environment? Can you be a successful bank teller and have tattoos? The answer: sort of.
Neck, hand and facial tattoos, otherwise known as “job wreckers,” would pose a problem for someone looking to get hired at a bank. But if the tattoos can be covered, they are fair game.
Banks view the display of tattoos and piercings as a violation of their professional dress code. Many banks in the area have specific policies when it comes to employees with tattoos and piercings.
Deborah Shuler, human resource assistant with First National Bank of Durango, said employees can have tattoos. But a condition is that their tattoos remain covered via Band-Aid or long-sleeve shirt; employees also are not allowed to have facial piercings.
Other banks in the area have similar policies regarding employees with visible tattoos and piercings.
Lisa Orndorff is manager of employee relations and engagements at the Society of Human Resource Management, a national association of human resource professionals. Orndorff said companies are free to create their own policies regarding dress code and acceptable body modifications in order to represent and brand their company’s image.
“Tattoos and piercings don’t define a professional,” Orndorff said in an email from the national headquarters in Washington, D.C. “The individual’s background, education and experience are some of the usual factors that help mold an individual into a professional. Body art, including tattoos, may be part of an individual’s religious observances and not a reflection of the individual’s ability to present him or herself as a professional in the field.”
Polls by Harris Interactive, a custom market research firm, regarding views on tattoos, shows those views might be changing. In 2003, 57 percent of those surveyed said those with tattoos are more rebellious than those without. In 2012 the percentage dropped to 50.
Jane Looney, communications director for the San Juan Basin Health Department, said the department doesn’t have a specific state regulation to follow regarding employees with facial piercings working in restaurants, but there is a policy regarding safe food-handling practices that can be interpreted at the discretion of the employer.
She stated the rule: “Proper hygienic practices must be followed by food-retail employees in performing assigned duties to ensure the safety of the food, prevent the introduction of foreign objects into the food.”
Essentially, if the piercing is secure enough to not fall into the food, then it is deemed acceptable.
The abstract Durangoan
Bob Lyon, owner of the Blue Tiger Tattoo shop at 1480 East Second Ave., has been tattooing for 33 years. He said he has tattooed a wide variety of professionals across the United States, ranging from housewives to electricians to federal court judges. He feels that this town is relatively open when it comes to people with body modifications. He also says his clients tend to be more abstract when requesting a design.
The abstract Durangoan tends to request nontraditional tattoos, often drawn on napkins, that lack bold lines and require intricate coloring. These pieces are difficult to do because, as Lyon says, skin is not paper, and in about five years’ time, these works of art will converge into a shapeless blotch of color.
“Here in Durango, if you really look about, you probably won’t find anybody of any class who is not tattooed,” he said.
Lyon occasionally has declined tattooing patrons who have requested face or neck pieces, with the exception of people who already have them. Lyon doesn’t want to be responsible for “wrecking” someone’s life.
“The integrity of the artist is more important than the money,” he said.
Lyon has noticed changes in tattoo trends through the decades.
In the 1980s, when he first started tattooing on Long Island in New York, there were only three tattoo shops. He needed a second job to make ends meet because tattoos were regarded as a hobby reserved for sailors and not the average citizen. Through the late 1980s and early 1990s, he noticed a peak in the trend, which dropped in the late 1990s. Lyon says tattoos became popular again in the 2000s. He’s been through the rise and fall of this phenomenon twice in his career.
Tattoo reality shows have brought popularity to this fashion statement once again. Though Lyon feels the shows are influencing more people to rediscover this art form, he has a strong distaste for what he regards as a false portrayal of a tattooing experience.
After speaking with various Durangoans, there appears to be two common themes: everything in moderation, and character and expertise trump physical appearance.
“To me, a tattoo doesn’t change a person,” Lyon said. “I don’t want to be judged, so I don’t judge people.”