U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree has asked the Marine Corps’ top official to reconsider its policy on tattoos after a woman from Maine reportedly was told she could not enlist because of a tattoo along her neckline.

Pingree, in a statement from her office Monday, said Kate Pimental, 20, Kennebunk, was told recently by a local Marine recruiter that her tattoo, which runs across her neckline and reads, “Let your smile change the world but never let the world change you,” violates Marine Corps guidelines.

The Marine Corps, like all U.S. military branches, has specific policies governing the placement and nature of tattoos on recruits. For instance, recruits can have no more than four tattoos and they cannot contain any vulgar words or images or references to drugs. Additionally, sleeve tattoos that cover the arm are prohibited, as are tattoos on the face or neck.

Some neck tattoos, however, are allowed if they can be covered by clothing. Pingree noted that male recruits usually get a waiver if such tattoos can been covered by a shirt.

But Marine uniforms for men and women are different. Male recruits wear crew-neck undershirts, while the women wear V-neck undershirts. That means Pimental’s tattoo, which would be partly visible under a V-neck undershirt, would not be visible if she wore a crew neck.

The other branches of the military have similar restrictions on tattoos, which are expected to be covered by service uniforms.


Pingree, in a statement Monday, said the Marine Corps’ policy is “not right,” and “keeps smart, capable women like Kate from being able to serve her country.”

“Male recruits get a waiver when they have a tattoo like Kate’s because they can wear a T-shirt that covers it up,” Pingree said. “But because the Marine Corps uniform for women is cut lower, the same tattoo on a female recruit effectively keeps her from enlisting.”

After hearing Pimental’s plea, the congresswoman sent a letter last Friday to Gen. Robert Neller, the Marine Corps commandant, asking him to review the policy, which Pingree said is unintentionally discriminatory toward women recruits.

In it, Pingree expressed concerns about “several policies and regulations that, however unintentional, directly affect female Marines’ opportunities to serve. 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 described Pimental as “bright, strong, motivated, and dedicated to overcoming the barriers currently prohibiting her from enlistment.”

Reached by telephone on Monday, Pimental said she was told not to talk to the media by a local Marine staff sergeant until she met with him on Tuesday.

A Marine Corps spokesperson did not respond Monday to a request for comment about Pimental’s case.

In a statement provided by Pingree’s office on Monday, Pimental said she was committed to joining the Marines, which has been a dream of hers.

“I’m going to do this no matter how long it takes,” she said in the statement. “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.”

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