Tattoos. Ask around on campus and it will not take long to find someone willing to proudly display some fresh ink, along with a story of its meaning or the crazy story that led to how they got it. And I think that is great — finding a new way of expressing yourself, breaking down cultural associations of what type of people typically get tattoos, creatively finding a way to identify yourself and sharing a bit of your story with the people around you is commendable. Millennials, an age group starting after 1980, roughly, have most prominently pushed this sudden surge in both the commodification of tattoos and their rise in popularity. Tattoos have been around for a long, long time, but until recently they were mostly associated with indigenous tribes, soldiers, sailors, punks, and ex-convicts. This ‘rebellious’ art form in part may have been some of the appeal to millennials as they try to escape from following the same path as the baby boomers. Along with the hipsters, indie mix tapes and record players, man-buns, marijuana-inspired clothing, and general desires to know the least-known band, tattoos are now also being lumped in with other millennial stereotypes. From numerous Pinterest and Instagram accounts you can see the rise and diversification of tattooing as it becomes more popular, leading to artists having to become more creative with customers who do not just want a heart with their mom’s name in it. If you shy away from permanence (or have parents who are not overjoyed about the idea of you getting a tattoo), you can get a bloodline tattoo, or consider blacklight, “invisible” or white tattoos. A tattoo artist interviewed on thegatewayonline.com by Victoria Chiu stated, “The new trends I’ve seen become popular in the last few years are single needle and fine line tattoos, geometric, watercolor, and micro (small) tattoos, as well as simple ‘white girl tattoos’ —dream catchers, flying birds, and compasses.”
But, people are still fighting the negative connotations around tattoos — it is very common for people to get small tattoos or in places that can be easily hidden by clothes. And that is in part because of a firm belief in the existence of the “traditionalist job employer,” who states in order to maintain an aura of professionalism at work tattoos are not to be shown. A survey back in 2010 done by Pew Research Center showed 70% of tattooed millennials at the time made sure their tattoos could be hidden. Since then, the percentage has gone down some, but smaller and easily hidden tattoos, especially in white collar jobs, are still very popular, and many tattoo artists have stated certain places to be tatted, such as the face and neck, can be “job-stoppers.”
So, there are definitely still stereotypes in society pushing people to not get tattoos, and if they do, to get a certain type that can be easily concealed. But, there are also developing societal pulls leading to people feeling a need to get tattoos. While millennials in general may feel some kind of urge to get inked, and there is a push now in certain jobs to have tattoos. During winter break I worked at a factory, and the percent of people working there, ranging from simple assembly workers to floor supervisors, who had large and very visible tattoos was quite high. But another profession with a dramatic rise in its number of inked practitioners is on the first floor of Warch. Look at your Bon Appetit chefs the next time you are downstairs and getting some food in the commons. Not all of them are tatted, and not all of their ink is visible, but a good number of them do have tattoos. Is that because they felt pressure from their profession to get inked? Do they have meaning in their tattoos or were they just done in order to follow along with a cultural precept for being a chef? The next time you are loading up on some fries and pizza, you should ask. Maybe hearing the reasons and meaning (or lack thereof) behind the tattoos of someone in a respectable full-time job will help you decide where you want your own creative expressions of self-expression.