In an effort to maintain its appeal among young people, the Navy has changed its rules about tattoos to allow sailors who have body art on their necks, behind their ears, and on their arms in full arm sleeves to enlist.
The updated regulations effectively lift the limit on size and number of tattoos, except for neck tattoos, which can only measure one inch in any direction, according to the a press release.
Sailors can also wear tattoos below their elbows and knees, even if it makes them visible in short-sleeved uniforms. The changes will go into effect on April 30.
"This policy update is being made in response to the increased popularity of tattoos in those currently serving, and from the population that Navy draws its recruits," spokesperson for the Chief of Naval Personnel Lieutenant Commander Nate Christensen said in a statement sent to BuzzFeed News.
“We just got to the point where we realized we needed to be honest with ourselves and put something in place that was going to reflect the realities of our country and the needs of our Navy,” Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens told the Navy Times in an interview on March 30.
Previously, the Navy had mandated that sailors’ tattoos “cannot be visible through the white uniform and cannot be on the head, face, neck, or scalp regions,” according to a Navy statement from April 21, 2006.
Arm tattoos also had to be shorter than the wearer’s hand, per the old rules.
“We need to make sure that we’re not missing any opportunities to recruit and retain the best and the brightest because of our policies,” he added.
Stevens cited research that showed young people are increasingly getting tattoos, and mentioned that society as a whole is becoming more accepting of the body art.
The Navy will continue to enforce its older rules about specific types of tattoos, particularly those that convey negative or controversial messages.
For example, “tattoos that are obscene, sexually explicit, and or advocate discrimination based on race, sex, religion, ethnicity, or national origin” will continue to be banned.
Additionally, tattoos that “symbolize affiliation with gangs, supremacist or extremist groups, or advocate illegal drug use are prohibited."
The updated regulations do not apply to the Marines, which allow for some tattoos but preclude sleeves.
The Navy has indicated that the announcement is not a sign of a complete overhaul of its rules on body art.
“There are just so many variables when you look at tattoo language and tattoo art that it’s just not reasonable to try and identify a set list of what is and what isn’t acceptable,” Stevens told the Navy Times.
“This is one of those areas where we trust this senior leadership, our triads, to be able to look at something in its context, using the chain of command and having discussions amongst themselves as to whether something is appropriate or not,” he said.