When I was younger, I told my mom I wanted a tattoo and she scoffed. “Tattoos are trashy, and you won’t be able to be buried in a Jewish cemetery,” she said. Today, I have seven tattoos and my mom has three. When I told her about this article, she said, “Let’s get more tattoos!” It is surprising to see how much we’ve both changed in such a short amount of time. In fact, I got all seven of my tattoos over the course of one year. I have always heard people say that once you get one tattoo, you won’t be able to stop, and for me that holds true. While my mom’s and my opinions about tattoos and the implications of having them are changing, society’s are as well.
Tattoos and their meanings have changed drastically since humans first started decorating their bodies, but even in their origins, there were stark differences in their perception. Those indigenous to North America have long been tattooing their bodies with deep cultural significance, but in ancient China, tattoos were looked upon as barbaric, and it was common to tattoo the faces of prisoners to mark them as such. While exploring during the colonial period, Europeans came across indigenous people covered in tattoos, and it was these explorers and sailors that would later return from the New World sporting tattoos.
In today’s society, tattoos have gained a great deal of acceptance. All of our favorite celebrities can be seen sporting them. Everywhere I look, I see people walking around with inked skin. But, that doesn’t mean they are not still often met with criticism and questioning.
One issue I had not even considered until writing this article is that of gender and tattoos. Men and women with tattoos are judged very differently. For example, Psychology Today reports that “men were more likely to approach the women with tattoos — not because they found the tattooed women to be more attractive, but because they believed the tattooed women would be more likely to have sex on the first date.” Additionally, research “indicated negative attitudes toward women with visible tattoos. This negative evaluation was held even by study participants who had tattoos themselves.” It is deeply disturbing to know how some men and women view and judge women with tattoos, but it’s certainly not a new phenomenon.
While some people are concerned with tattoos on others, many others struggle with the general permanence of tattoos. A question I’ve heard many times before goes something like: “What if I get a tattoo at 18 and then hate it by the time I’m 25?” My response is always that I don’t really think it matters. While tattoos are regarded as permanent additions to your body, they can be removed, altered or covered. Additionally, while we may not like all the same things we did when we were teenagers, it is incredible to have a kind of diary of who we were at different stages of our lives. There was a time when I thought tattoos had to be meaningful, but my mindset on that matter has definitely changed. People will ask about my tattoos and what they represent, and sometimes I don’t know how to answer. I just thought it was pretty, or cool, or funny — and that’s okay. Everything you tattoo is meaningful and valuable because it is a record of who you were and what mattered to you at a given point in time, which is beautiful in and of itself.
One of the biggest ways I’ve changed regarding tattoos has to do with visibility. At first, I was hell-bent on hiding them. I was getting them behind my ear, on the back of my neck, on my foot and so on. All I could think about was what my future employers would think. I wondered if tattoos would stop me from getting into law school or put me at a disadvantage when I applied for jobs. I’ve seen many employers have policies stating “no visible tattoos,” but as society changes, rules change as well. For many professions, tattoos are okay, as long as they are considered appropriate. It also depends on the job. Writer Barrie Gross explains, “The odds are that a four-star hotel may not want the concierge to have large tattoos of skulls and crossbones on the back of each hand. But the same hotel may have less concern if a dishwasher in the kitchen has those same tattoos because direct contact with the hotel’s customers is minimal.” While you may want to avoid face, neck and hand tattoos, it seems true that your future employer is not going to discriminate against the flower on your forearm — so you might as well do what you want.
Once I bit the bullet and got a tattoo on the back of my arm, I realized I would have to cover my arms at work if I ended up with a job that didn’t allow tattoos. Because my arms will have to be covered anyway, all bets are off, and more arm tattoos are definitely in my future. The perception of tattoos has come a long way, and hopefully will further develop to the point where we can express ourselves through tattoos without worrying about being perceived as promiscuous or unemployable.
Sophie Miller is a junior majoring in English.