UAE | Society

Taboo tattoos

Body art may make life a little difficult for expats here as it's considered a stigma in some societies

  • By Amelia Naidoo, Campus Notes Editor
  • Published: 00:00 October 1, 2011
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Supplied
  • UAE-based Brazilian businessman Francis Lamas
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Dubai: Tattoos are not what they used to be. In most parts of the world — mainly in the West — tattoos are no longer the purview of gang members, sailors, criminals, prisoners and bikers, but seen as a form of art and self expression. From celebrities to television shows about its practice, there has been a resurgence in popularity and appreciation over the past few years.

But this is the Gulf region where tattoos still carry a stigma among local populations and conservative expatriates. Tattoos are forbidden in Islam. Already having a tattoo when entering the country is not a problem, but operating tattoo parlours are a legal grey area in the UAE and many have been shut down by police.

Gulf News asks heavily tattooed UAE residents what life is like for them and recruiters about the implications of having body art.

Business world stigma

Tattoos may elicit strange and disapproving looks from strangers, but can they harm your career prospects and your community's perception of you?

Andrew McNeilis, Middle East and Africa managing director of talent2 recruitment agency, advises against having tattoos in the UAE if you plan to be a part of the business world here. "Any person wishing to be perceived as an internationally and culturally astute business professional needs to really think through the implications of getting a tattoo," says McNeilis.

He referred to an old Anglo-Saxon adage that states "tattoos on the hands are the international symbol of trouble makers'. Fans of body art may encourage people to think beyond stereotypes however "there is still a huge stigma associated with visible tattoos in many local cultures".

McNeilis recalls an incident at a steam bath with a Japanese client and Western colleague with extensive tattoos. "My colleague — a serious banker — was viewed as a pillar of respectability by the Japanese client until the tattoos were spotted. Highly westernised, my Japanese client still was visibly disappointed by the ink on display and the business relationship died. Yakuza and tattoos being the link with the ink!"

Creative industries

Even high profile executives have tattoos though the key is to keep them concealed says recruiter George Stothard, director of Fabric Executive Search based in Dubai, who also sports tattoos.

"I have tattoos but I make sure they're not visible. If you want a job in the corporate environment you can't turn up with a tattoo on your neck," he said.

Stothard said he had no regrets about getting his tattoos but is aware of strange looks he gets at the beach or in a water park. A recent trip to Palestine was also an eye opener. Stothard visited refugee children and his tattoos were visible below his t-shirt, which made one of the mothers uncomfortable when her child showed an interest in it.

Career advice

  • Don't have a tattoo that normal business attire cannot conceal thus ruling out hands necks or facen Never indulge in offensive tattoosn Cover up tattoos on the forearms in a business environmentn Don't be prejudiced against tattoos as a hiring manager — look beyond the stereotypen Check your employment contract before you have a tattoo that is going to be visible as there are a surprising number of professions that stipulate no tattoos.

Source: Andrew McNeilis, Middle East and Africa managing director of talent2 recruitment agency

THE BUSINESSMAN

UAE-based Brazilian businessman Francis Lamas, 32, started getting tattoos at 17 and now sports a total of 11 tattoos.

"It was for fun in the beginning. When I was in school I could see the tattoo studio from my class and wanted to get one. I drew a picture and took it to the tattoo artist."

Now Lamas' tattoos tell a story about his life he says. "Tattoos are about a moment in my life, how I'm feeling at that time."

His later tattoos all have special meaning — Christian symbolism, family names and initials, statements about his loved ones. "I have no regrets, the tattoos are like a history — it's about my past."

When he arrived in Dubai six years ago, he says people gave him funny looks "but they treat me without any problem."

And his export and import business has not suffered in the least because he wears suits, which cover up the tattoos. "It's funny when I meet these people outside of business hours and they say ‘you're crazy but in a nice way'," he laughs.

THE CHEF

In the restaurant industry tattoos are commonplace. Dubai-based American chef Corey Johnson, who works at a fine dining establishment in DIFC, will tell you some of the chefs who have hired him bear more over-the-top tattoos and piercings than him.

"A lot of my co-workers are tattooed. I'm not sure why. When I lived in California lots of chefs were former musicians and this is a creative industry so the creative outlet falls hand in hand."

Johnson has tattoos all over from his wrist to elbow, back of the neck, behind his ear, lower back and legs. They don't get much of a reaction in his home country though he mentions that a woman he was about to help with a flat tyre rolled up her window when she spotted his myriad of tattoos. "In Dubai when I first moved here it was very noticeable, now not so much."

Johnson's tattoos also mark time and place over the course of his life from tribal art, Chinese style wood etching, a tattoo to honour the memory of a friend who passed away.

Comments (7)

  1. Added 16:53 October 1, 2011

    Tattoos are forbidden in Islam

    Fiaz Sultan, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

  2. Added 16:17 October 1, 2011

    People who makes Tattoo in their body, really Mad man. Islam is not allowed to make Tattoo in their body. I hate Tattoos.

    Mukhtar Damudi, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  3. Added 14:32 October 1, 2011

    i have 2 tattoos which are both hidden as i am in the managerial position as well as in the food industry. sometimes they cant help but incorporate ink with your personality and judgeyou right there and then. but i dont regret my inks as they are symbols of my past, wanted to have another one, but then i cant explain to my daughter how i can still have "birthmark" when im already old =)

    rufa mae, dubai, United Arab Emirates

  4. Added 12:33 October 1, 2011

    It's all your choice. However, it will certainely look vulgar when you wear sleevless shirts and walk around with tattoos all over. Some of my colleagues at work are crazy of having a tatto to act big shots. So, what they do is draw a sketch on their palm as they cant really pierce a tatto on that is restricted in our office. It might look cool for a few based on the size of your body like the one in the pic, but try making it not so visible.

    Mathew Litty, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  5. Added 11:01 October 1, 2011

    Tattoos are OK for the sake of art in one's body, but think seven times before injecting those needles under your skin. Having tattoo means you are paralyzing one benefit of your human body, that is donating blood. What if your loved ones need blood for some reason. As for careers, as long as you are the right person for the job, i think tattoos do not matter.

    Rodel, Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates

  6. Added 09:50 October 1, 2011

    You may love tattoos during certain part of your life. What i can't understand how people can carry these permanent tattoos throughout their lives. Its like you bought a black car and you have to live with this color throughout your life. Leaving your skin clean and natural is much better....

    Ahmad, dubai, United Arab Emirates

  7. Added 04:14 October 1, 2011

    I got my first tattoo when I was 14. Coming from a conservative Sri Lankan family and being brought up in Dubai, my parents went bonkers, but now being at the age of 21, they are over it. But I do agree that tattoos that are visible while working in the corporate world is not acceptable, as an individual caters to a variety of people. But looking back, the perception of getting a tattoo has changed a lot and very soon having a tattoo will be a normal thing. Because over time norms in a society always changes and absorbs its surroundings.

    Anston, Sydney, Australia

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