Yes, you can be a professional and have a tattoo

8 female and non-binary professionals, including Grok Nation founder Mayim Bialik, share stories about their tattoos
By Avital Norman Nathman  Published on 09/18/2018 at 9:30 AM EDT

I love tattoos. Growing up I was always fascinated by the delicate lines, bold colors, or imaginative shapes that some folks had snaking up their arms, down their legs, or dotting various other body parts. It always gave me a thrill when I noticed somebody had an unexpected tattoo. Stigma and stereotype have long suggested that only weathered bikers and people from the “wrong side of the tracks” get tattoos, so it was always a delicious pleasure when I came across a pediatrician with some visible ink peeking out the cuff of her lab coat or a teacher with a faded tattoo that was only slightly visible when she wore her hair up. As I grew older, I started noticing more and more adults—particularly ones you’d consider “professionals”—proudly displaying their ink.

Despite around 25-40 percent of the population getting inked up, hiring managers cite tattoos as a top reason they don’t hire candidates. Women and non-binary folks in particular, who have long been targeted for how they present in the workplace, are still susceptible to the snap judgements others make, but thankfully, it hasn’t stopped those who want to express themselves through body art. I know, because I’m one of them. I have two rather visible tattoos, both with deep, personal meaning.

RELATED: My tattoo helped me address my own mental health

So, here’s to the people who buck trends, permanently scribble all over their bodies, and still kick ass at work. Below, various professionals (including our very own Mayim!) share their tattoos and the meaningful stories behind them.

Bottom: Dove Shore
Mayim Bialik, Founder of Grok Nation

I got this tattoo many years ago before I took on more of traditional Judaism’s traditions and obligations. The prohibition against tattooing involved distinguishing the Jewish people from tribes who scarred themselves in mourning; this was not my motivation and I felt strongly –and still do– that my Jewishness is not determined by adherence to Jewish law. My Jewishness is the same whether I got a tattoo or not. That being said, while I feel no “less Jewish” having tattoos, I am not sure if I would have gotten it once I was living a more observant lifestyle.

The prohibition against tattoos is real in Judaism, and Orthodox cemeteries will not allow Jews with tattoos to be buried on the grounds; the issue of Baalei teshuvah (when formally secular Jews become more observant) has shifted the conversation somewhat. I am a Baalat haTeshuva actually, but I don’t worry a lot about where I’m going to be buried or if it’s going to be an issue.

My neck tattoos is a bit faded but it was always delicate. It’s a Japanese cherry blossom, the symbol of fleeting happiness and beauty. The cherry blossom is something I learned about when I studied Japanese Zen Buddhism. The cherry blossom is something we wait for all year to bloom; when it finally does, it lasts just a few days. Then it is gone again. This is a metaphor for happiness and beauty which has always resonated with me. My friend Hawk Chait designed it for me and we made sure to add some thorny details to represent the protection many of us have around our beauty and happiness. Sometimes it’s intentional, sometimes it’s not.

I’m as Jewish with my two tattoos as I am without them. (My other tattoo took 6 hours to complete and it wraps entirely around my hips and back. I don’t talk about it a lot because I chose to put it in a private place; it echoes the meaning of my name in Hebrew —water— and it also is Japanese themed.)

I like that my tattoos are in hidden spots. Most people don’t even know I have them!


Rebekah Spicuglia
Rebekah Spicuglia, 39. Bereaved mother, Writer, Advocate, Strategist for racial, gender, LGBTQ justice, and Program Director at Family Story

People used to ask what my tattoo meant. I’d turn the question back on them, “What do you think?” Medusa, Mother Nature, tree of life. It was a woman, with branches and a fairy butterfly whose circular flight path out of those branches was marked with a dotted line that landed it above my heart. When I was 31, I took my sketch to a shop in Brooklyn with the words “feminine, ethereal, nature.” (Trust the artists! Advised my very angular drawing had more of a hard, masculine, alien feel, we worked together on the final design:) I wanted a piece that spoke to who I was in mind, body, spirit, and one of the things I loved about it was how open, creative, mysterious, and light it was, from top to bottom, where the lines of her hips ended. It had an unfinished feel to it.

It doesn’t have that anymore.

My son Oscar (pictured above) wanted to get matching infinity sign tattoos with me, but we never got that chance. When he was killed at the age of 17, I buried him with an infinity sign lapel pin, and a matching ring for me. I designed a tattoo to honor Oscar and tell the story of my grief that would wrap around my arm and serve as a landscape for the figure to spring from. It began with a heartbeat, then three mountains and stars (for me, Oscar, my partner Dru), evolving into waves that curl and flow into an infinity sign, with a dotted heart to complete it. Oscar was a Cali boy, loved the beach, and spent a lot of time listening to music, writing, and rapping lyrics, practicing his flow. I went to a different artist for this, an incredible woman who’d done another piece for me, whose work is dark and intense, with a creative process that is incredibly dynamic and collaborative.

These days, I receive many compliments on the tattoo but am rarely asked questions about it. I may take the initiative and tell the story of the infinity sign, or the other symbols, taking advantage of a much needed opportunity to talk about Oscar and our loss. I don’t usually talk about the woman, who now appears to be a sadder, quieter, reflective figure—but she is very alive

Find more from Rebekah Spicuglia at Family Story.

Vu Gandin Le
Jaclyn Friedman, 46. Author and Speaker

This is my one and only tattoo. I got it when I was 35, after leaving a relationship that was, on-balance, pretty good, but which I just had an overwhelming sense was over for me. It was incredibly hard to do — to cut off a loving, fairly functional relationship on a gut feeling — and even harder to explain to other people. But it was the right thing for me. There was so much power in being brave enough to trust myself over every other message I was getting. I wanted to make a commitment, that whenever I was faced with a choice between the right thing and the easy thing, I would pick the right one. I thought it over for a long time, and then, for my 35th birthday, a group of my friends chipped in to buy the tattoo for me. So not only is it my commitment to myself, it’s a reminder that my community has my back when I’m being called on to be brave.

Read more from Jaclyn — including her new book, Unscrewedon her website.

Joanna Valente
Joanna Valente, Content Manager, Editor, & Writer

I have nine tattoos; I got my first tattoo with my sister when I was 22, which is the quotations on my wrist. I started there, which began the theme of getting a lot of punctuation on my body, because I’m a writer and punctuation is a body and structure in itself, holding words and meaning together, quite like a physical body does, with our organs and spirit. (The quotations were followed by a semi-colon, ampersand, and then my non-punctuation tattoos, which are a crescent moon, the word “witch,” the phrase from Twin Peaks, “let’s rock,” a seashell, an evil-eye, and The High Priestess tarot card, and The Empress tarot card.)

The non-punctuation tattoos largely center around the idea of magic and spiritualism; I read Tarot, so for me, I got those two cards because the priestess represents wisdom, the search for knowledge and the self, while the empress represents passion and sexuality and the search for fulfillment with one’s desires. For me, it’s always been about balance; you can’t have one without the other; to understand the body, you have to understand the mind, just as you have to understand your body as existing within a greater universe. My tattoos serve as a kind of reminder that there is something bigger than us that we’re a part of.

I think, overall, I tend to be cautious when showing them in professional settings, and typically don’t until I’m sure it’s OK, especially as a non-binary femme, since I’ve often felt like I didn’t want to draw too much attention to myself – or noticed men tended to be more comfortable showing their tattoos in the workplace versus women or femmes. I’m sure this says a lot about how women and femmes feel like they can or can’t take up space.

Read more from Joanna at her website.

Sarah Fader
Sarah Fader, 38. CEO of Stigma Fighters and Founder Eliezer Tristan Publishing

My tattoo —which I just recently got, and is one of four that I have—  is a traditional compass because I have no sense of direction…literally. If someone tells me to “go west,” I don’t know what that means. When I think of North, I think “up.” I also struggle with a metaphorical sense of direction in life. So, I gave myself what I needed. Also, I have ADHD and gave myself this tattoo as something tangible that made me feel grounded. I got it from an artist at Grizzly Tattoo in Portland.

Read more from Sarah at Stigma Fighters and Eliezer Tristan Publishing.

Carrie Nelson
Carrie Nelson, 32. Archival Researcher

About five years ago, I dealt with some significant hardships, from which I am still recovering. But the two things that helped me get through the darkest hours the most were a renewed connection to Judaism and discovering David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks.” These two things could not be more unrelated, but they are forever bound together in my mind. Which is why, when I got my first tattoo two and a half years ago, I combined the hamsa — a Jewish symbol of protection — with the Owl Cave insignia — a Lynchian symbol that protected Laura Palmer. I’m glad I can carry both of these forces with me wherever I go, no matter what challenges I encounter.

Jasmine Banks
Jasmine Banks, 32. Digital Campaigner, Freelance Writer, and Licensed Therapist

I have many different tattoos. My first tattoo occurred my mid-20’s. It is a symbol of a woman’s body hidden in a lotus. I chose it to honor four years of freedom from my eating disorder. My upper arm tattoo —which I was completed over the span of three years—  is a compilation of tribute pieces and aspects of my culture. When I was young, we raised peacocks. There would be a handful of them just scuttling around the yard. I would wake up every morning to their squawks, full of righteous indignation. These proud birds help remind me to not give any fucks, so I made sure to include some peacock feathers as part of my tattoo.

Kate Bernyk, 36. Senior Communications Advisor to Chirlane McCray, First Lady of NYC

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve leaned into my tattoos as an extension of my personality and “who I am.” And as a plus size woman, my tattoos have been a critical piece of my body acceptance journey, teaching me how to love parts of my body I never thought I could. Each piece represents a person or place that is deeply significant. I got my first tattoo when I was 20. Of the 9 tattoos I have, five are on my arms and shoulders and quite visible in my day-to-day life. The piece on my right forearm, a gorgeous cabbage rose designed and tattooed by the incredible Melis Fusco, is in honor of both my late grandmother, Rose Bernyk, and my little sister, Cassandra Rose Bernyk. They represent the strong, nurturing and creative women in my life–something I love to be reminded of every day when I happen to look down. I can’t say for sure my tattoos have ever been an issue for my employers, but I suspect if they were, I wouldn’t be working for them in the first place.

Explore These Topics:
Grok Nation Comment Policy

We welcome thoughtful, grokky comments—keep your negativity and spam to yourself. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.