''Loud and proud' is what he said. I read the text message aloud and I was literally brought to tears.'
Editor's note: This article was originally published on December 2, 2022. It has since been updated.
A woman is gaining popularity on LinkedIn by challenging the stigma attached to tattoos, piercings and even unconventional hair colors in professional environments. Jessica Leonard from Cleveland, Ohio, racked up over 31k reactions and nearly 3,000 comments in a post that featured two side-by-side photographs of her—one of her posing for the camera in a suit jacket and the other showing off her complete arm tattoos. In the post, Leonard explained how her boss's reaction to the tattoos was refreshingly different from the judgemental looks and comments she often receives.
"'I saw your new photo on LinkedIn showing your tattoos... I was a bit surprised. You're not going to use that as your bio photo in proposals, though, right?' 'Oh, wow! I mean, I don't have any tattoos. Given my role within the Firm, it wouldn't be appropriate for me to have any... to stand in front of our people with tattoos (laughs)... no one would take me seriously.' These are just two examples of actual comments I've received, amongst others, in reaction to me being a business professional with ink. Ironically, most of the negative feedback I've received has been from female leaders who I looked to as mentors," Leonard wrote.
"Fast forward to a month ago... I'm getting an updated professional photo taken for my new role as a Partner at Evolution Capital Partners to put on our website. I was cautious but asked our Managing Partner if he was comfortable with me getting a photo taken sans jacket for my personal use on LinkedIn, but that we'd use one with the jacket for our website. His response - 'Let's roll with the tattoos in both! Loud and proud!' I was honestly shocked," she recounted. "I had grown accustomed to wearing long sleeves in the heat of summer, to tugging on my suit coat sleeves in every meeting, to pulling my hair around my ear so no one would get a glimpse of the small tattoo behind my ear, to avoiding getting any leg or ankle tattoos for fear of never being able to wear a skirt again in a business setting. Very often, I simply felt that I needed to be careful about when I was being too freely me."
"But then sometimes, you come across those leaders who not only allow you to show up every day as you are, but they also expect it. Those leaders who have recognized that whether I'm in the jacket or not, I'm the same person, the same business professional... a female leader who will most certainly be taken seriously. So a big thank you to those leaders - it's because of you that everyone can now find me on the Evolution website, and out in the world, being more comfortable in my own skin," she concluded. Speaking to Good Morning America about the overwhelming response to her post, Leonard admitted that she was initially nervous about posting the tattoo photo online.
Ah 2022, where so many are still living in a 1950's mindset. Tattoos have zero to do with ACTING in a professional manner. Get a grip already.— Tra (@TraforReal) January 18, 2022
Finally, it was her boss who once again gave her the confidence boost she needed. "'Loud and proud' is what he said. I read the text message aloud and I was literally brought to tears. And then my husband got a little emotional about it too. It was such a shocking response to having that kind of inclusion from someone that you work for and just overall acceptance of who I am. I felt so moved," Leonard said, recalling her conversation with her boss. Although she did receive some condescending comments from people who "felt like they needed to advise me or others to still be careful about tattoos," she said, some messages were heartwarming.
Jessica Leonard received thousands of comments on her now-viral LinkedIn post, which showed two side-by-side images: one of her posing in a suit jacket and another of her exposing her tattoos. https://t.co/h4icKxxFTX pic.twitter.com/CciTsYwsXT— Good Morning America (@GMA) January 18, 2022
"I actually had a father reach out to me who is in public accounting," Leonard said. "He asked me very pointed advice about advising his daughter on getting tattoos -- maybe in places that could be easily covered -- because, as a father and as a professional, he was guiding her in that way. After seeing my post, he said he would consider having another perspective. I think everyone needs to go where they feel comfortable in their skin. They shouldn't feel like they work in an environment where it's hindering them as an individual. There are a lot of places you can work where you're not going to feel that. I hope this will resonate or help someone who may have experienced judgment or bias in the past. There are leaders that are super inclusive and accepting, and if you haven't found them, just know they exist and they are out there. I'm glad I could inspire at least one person in my network."