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This is the deal: I have a tattoo on the back of one of my shoulder blades. It's a science geeky tattoo. Small (about 2 inch by 2 inch?), not flashy, but noticeable. I often forget it is there. I also usually wear sleeved clothes.

It's the summer now and I have been wearing more sleeveless tops, and in some of them, the tattoo can be seen.

Last week, I wore a sleeveless cotton shirt and during lunch, went to sit outside to enjoy the weather. One of the guy profs in my program was eating his lunch outside and we acknowledged each other. When he was passing me going back in, he said "I really like that tattoo on you" and then winked and left.

I'm really self-conscious now. Was that behaviour okay? I have never thought about covering it up, but now I am not so sure. However, I wasn't "flashing" it or anything. Honestly, I forgot it was there.

Is inking inappropriate for school?

Should I cover it up to prevent the whole...if you show it, it means you want me to see behaviour?

I was really creeped out by the prof and his comment.

Help!

Edit: Would your answer to my question be different if the prof had said "Nice tattoo" or "I really like that tattoo" or "Cool tattoo" without the "...on you" and winking?

Edited by orange turtle

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I know a lot of Ph.D students with tatoos, piercings, blue hair, unconventional clothing..... 

I really do not think it is inapproriate in any ways. If you are teaching, you might want to check that it is ok to show it. For instance, I could go to class in shorts but was advised to teach with long trousers only.

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I think tattoos are appropriate for graduate school. A lot of my friends and myself have tattoos that are shown daily! 

I think if it made you uncomfortable about your tattoo then you should cover it. But he might have made that comment because he didn’t expect you to have a tattoo, which was the case with my advisor. I have two tattoos on my shoulders as well (and I often forget they are there too). Maybe he added the on you because it fits your personality or something  

However, I probably would’ve been creeped out by the wink too. Winks are weird. If he was just like oh that’s a nice tattoo on you sans the wink, I would’ve been more okay. 

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17 hours ago, CharlieR said:

I really do not think it is inapproriate in any ways. If you are teaching, you might want to check that it is ok to show it. For instance, I could go to class in shorts but was advised to teach with long trousers only.

Agreed with being more careful when teaching, and I definitely do dress up more when doing teaching and presentations. Good reminder!

 

17 hours ago, Eanertodt said:

I think if it made you uncomfortable about your tattoo then you should cover it. But he might have made that comment because he didn’t expect you to have a tattoo, which was the case with my advisor. I have two tattoos on my shoulders as well (and I often forget they are there too). Maybe he added the on you because it fits your personality or something  

However, I probably would’ve been creeped out by the wink too. Winks are weird. If he was just like oh that’s a nice tattoo on you sans the wink, I would’ve been more okay. 

 

The "didn't expect you to have a tattoo" is the part that actually extra creeps me up. I recently happened to read this paper that suggested men tended to think a woman with a tattoo was more likely to sleep with them. Couple it with the wink and I'm feeling quite creeped. (Not saying all men are like this as I know many gentlemen).

Guess I will be going back to wearing my more professional clothes.

 

It can be so hard to be a woman in a male-dominated field. I am tired.

 

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There's nothing wrong with tattoos in academia. They're super common, and they don't necessarily read as unprofessional or off-putting. I think you should feel free to expose them if you want, even while teaching.

Your professor's comment was inappropriate and pretty creepy...but it's not your fault, and there's nothing you should do in reaction to it. The problem is with him. Commenting on people's bodies is always dicey, but even then there are still so many ways he could've given you a compliment on your tattoo without making it creepy (e.g., as you mentioned, without the wink and the 'on you.')

I know it's difficult not to be self-conscious, but try not to let this incident make you self-conscious about your tattoo or your body, much less make you cover it up.

 

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On 7/1/2018 at 7:23 PM, orange turtle said:

Edit: Would your answer to my question be different if the prof had said "Nice tattoo" or "I really like that tattoo" or "Cool tattoo" without the "...on you" and winking?

Those would be fine to me. I complement people on their new haircuts or clothes all the time (and to a broad spectrum of people so it's pretty obvious there's nothing more to it), as well as comment on other things like nice photos they put on Facebook or non-academic writing that they've shown me. I do it because I like to try and help people feel good about themselves, and I'm sure that the hypothetical professor could have been doing just that. 

But the wink and the "on you" would have really thrown me. Even just reading that makes me feel extremely uncomfortable. 

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5 hours ago, lemma said:

Those would be fine to me. I complement people on their new haircuts or clothes all the time (and to a broad spectrum of people so it's pretty obvious there's nothing more to it), as well as comment on other things like nice photos they put on Facebook or non-academic writing that they've shown me. I do it because I like to try and help people feel good about themselves, and I'm sure that the hypothetical professor could have been doing just that. 

But the wink and the "on you" would have really thrown me. Even just reading that makes me feel extremely uncomfortable. 

I guess the good news is I am not paranoid.

The bad news is some profs are creepy.

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I think you are overthinking it. 

I know many people that have tattoos in very visible places and that got tattoos in visible places while in grad school (yours truly included, with a comment like your professor's included too).

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1 hour ago, AP said:

I think you are overthinking it. 

I know many people that have tattoos in very visible places and that got tattoos in visible places while in grad school (yours truly included, with a comment like your professor's included too).

This is interesting for two reasons.

a) it's clear the same situation can be interpreted in different ways by the person experiencing it and also the person who listens to the story.

b) Not many people in my program have tattoos that are visible! Maybe they have them but don't show them, I don't know. But definitely not many who have them. Even hairstyles are "normal" and very visible piercings are the conventional nose and ear ones. Guess program cultures vary.

Thanks for sharing!

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On 7/4/2018 at 6:55 PM, orange turtle said:

This is interesting for two reasons.

a) it's clear the same situation can be interpreted in different ways by the person experiencing it and also the person who listens to the story.

b) Not many people in my program have tattoos that are visible! Maybe they have them but don't show them, I don't know. But definitely not many who have them. Even hairstyles are "normal" and very visible piercings are the conventional nose and ear ones. Guess program cultures vary.

Thanks for sharing!

Maybe this has also to do with the campus culture and the larger location. I am in an urban, progressive campus. I've had professors teach in flip flops, grow a very long beard, have piercings, or listen to hard rock when they work. (I am not sure this qualifies as progressive now that I read it).

Coming from a more conservative society abroad, the fact that many people had tattoos and piercings in very visible places certainly facilitated my getting one. 

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It's definitely a place and campus culture thing. I currently live in the Pacific Northwest, and I also currently have brightly colored pink and purple hair. When I'm at home in the PNW, I feel completely at home and in place - lots of people here have piercings, tattoos, fantasy-colored hair and dress pretty casually (khakis and a button-down are dressed up, bro). But when I visit my family and friends on the East Coast...especially my family in the South...I feel like I stand out A LOT.

I got my PhD at an urban, progressive campus in the Northeast (New York, specifically) and professors teaching in flip flops or having visible tattoos or piercings wasn't very common there, at least not in my departments (psychology, public health) or any of the other departments in which I commonly interacted with professors (which was quite a few, since I did consulting for professors in grad school). In fact, professors tended to dress in business casual. The wildest-dressed professors wore jeans (gasp!) with their button downs instead of slacks or khakis.

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Is your university an environment where you can discuss the "not cool" aspect with that professor?  More than likely, since you're in a field not known for high emotional IQ, he doesn't know how inappropriate the comment is.  Alternatively, could you mention it to the Title IX people at your school?  Maybe they have suggestions of gentle ways to give him feedback about commenting on women's clothing/style choices?

 

It's shitty that you have to defend yourself against harassment - but this IS harassment.  And you shouldn't have to deal with it to go to work.

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