A Miss America 2014 contestant revealed during a "swimsuit preliminary" last night that she has tattoos. Two of them. Theresa Vail, competing as Miss Kansas, is apparently the first Miss America competitor in the history of the pageant to display her tattoos on stage. But she's certainly not the only one in her age group with ink — the Pew Research Center reported in its 2010 "New Face of America" study that almost 4 in 10 millenials have at least one tattoo.
So do Americans judge other Americans with tattoos anymore?
The answer is yes — but only to a point. Vail does think she's addressing a taboo by revealing her tats (which include the military medical insignia from the Dental Corps — she served in the Corps — and a "serenity prayer"). She told People,
My whole platform is empowering women to overcome stereotypes and break barriers. What a hypocrite I would be if I covered my ink. How can I tell other women to be fearless and true to themselves if I can't do the same? I am who I am, tattoos and all.
Pew notes that while nearly 40 percent of millenials have tattoos, 70 percent of them cover them up with clothes. So most tattooed youths aren't out-and-proud about their ink. But then again, most of them aren't competing in swimsuit competitions requiring them to show a lot of skin in the first place.
The Atlantic Wire's Jen Doll noted in April that if you're still looking for a job, it's probably best to cover up your tattoo. According to a 2012 survey by the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania "sixty-one percent of human-resource managers . . . said a tattoo would hurt a job applicant’s chances, up from 57 percent in 2011." Of course, this also depends on where you're looking to work. Brooklyn, as Doll notes, is pretty tattoo-friendly.
While tattoos might still be taboo in the workplace, culturally, they're no longer necessarily indicative of gang membership or having done time in prison. Comedian and Twitter star Rob Delaney jokes that these days, tattoos are as threatening as frappuccinos.
For her part, Vail thinks we shouldn't judge outward appearances in general. Like many pageant hopefuls before her, she told People, "beauty comes from the inside."
The Miss America 2014 pageant will air on ABC on Sunday.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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