Maine congresswoman asks Marine Corps to reconsider tattoo guidelines that ‘unintentionally’ discriminate against women

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A Maine congresswoman is asking Marine Corps officials to review tattoo guidelines she says disproportionately limit women’s opportunities to serve after a Maine woman was allegedly denied a spot because she has a tattoo beneath her collarbone.

In a letter addressed to General Robert Neller, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree noted that men’s Marine uniforms feature crew neck undershirts, which would cover lower neck tattoos, while women must wear lower cut, V-neck shirts. This variation in attire exposes skin — and potentially tattoos — on women that would be hidden on men, which “unintentionally’’ discriminates against women recruits. The issue came to Pingree’s attention after 20-year-old Kate Pimental of Kennebunk contacted her office saying she was told her tattoo made her ineligible.

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“As women take more active roles in defending this country, it’s important that we address some of the discrepancies that provide men with options unavailable to their female counterparts,’’ Pingree wrote in the letter.

The Marine Corps’ tattoo policy prohibits tattoo sleeves, neck, and face tattoos, and any that contain vulgar words or images or reference drugs.

Pimental’s tattoo, which reads: “Let your smile change the world but never let the world change you.’’ —Photo courtesy Kate Pimental

The tattoo in question reads, “Let your smile change the world but never let the world change you,’’ and swoops beneath Pimental’s collarbone. If she were allowed to wear a crew neck shirt, the tattoo wouldn’t be visible, Pingree said.

Pingree’s letter touted Pimental’s qualifications to join the Marines, saying she meets all USMC Recruiting Command prerequisites and describing her as “bright, motivated, and dedicated to overcoming the barriers currently prohibiting her from enlistment.’’

A Marine Corps spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Despite the setback, Pimental remains eager and hopeful that she will be able to enlist.

“I’m going to do this no matter how long it takes,’’ she said in a statement from Pingree’s office. “Serving in the Marines is tough but I know in my heart I can do it. It’s going to make me a better person. I’m very grateful that Congresswoman Pingree is going to bat for me.’’

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