I walked through the door and heard the familiar jingle. Excitement crept up my spine as I listened to the buzzing of needles in the background. I had been here twice before for ear piercings, but this was different. This was permanent. I was 17 and there to get my first tattoo.
For years I had thought about getting a tattoo but had never taken it too seriously. On my 16th birthday, this would change. All I wanted from my mom was to let me get a tattoo. I begged and pleaded with her until finally she presented me with a deal. She said at 17 I could get a tattoo if I researched where to get one, took my time to choose a tattoo, and got it in a place that could be covered easily with clothing. We had a deal.
Tattoo popularity has certainly grown over the years, especially in the younger generations. A Pew Research Center Study from 2010 found that nearly 4 in every 10 people between the ages of 18 and 29 have a tattoo and that ½ of that population has multiple tattoos. Tattoos are no longer just for the rebellious and the rugged; they have become mainstream.
To create a tattoo, a puncture wound is made by deeply penetrating the skin with a needle and injecting ink into the dermis to create a design. Many of the risks and worries associated with getting a tattoo include the possibility of contracting HIV or hepatitis B or C. These risks have been solved due to state regulations. Most states require tattoo parlors to be sterile and that tattoo artists are licensed and certified and use sterilized equipment. As a result, many people are more open to getting a tattoo, including teens.
The popularity of tattoos is not only growing among adults but also among high schoolers. More and more teens have started getting tattoos. According to Teenink.com, 10 percent of teens in the United States have a tattoo. Tattoos, formerly the mark of a ruffian, are now seen among the most ordinary of students.
So if not for the rebellious nature of it, why do teens even want tattoos? Parents think that teens are being pressured into it by their peers just like any other trend, but teens have voiced the real reasons. Social psychologist Frederick-Recascino explains, “the majority [of teens] said they were not getting tattoos and pierces from peer pressure… they were choosing it as a way to reflect their identity.” Many teens also get tattoos based off of events and people that they want to remember. A junior boy said he got a tattoo across his wrist that reads “Christian” because of “this little boy [he] met in Guatemala that really changed [his] life.” Another student who formally went to B-CC, Briana, got the names of her mom and her grandmother tattooed because they are very special to her.
Teens are also attracted to the thought of having something so permanent. Psychologists say that “tattoos and piercings can offer a concrete and readily available solution for many of the identity crises and conflicts normative to adolescent development.” Teens want something solid to hold onto and recall as they wade through the turmoil and confusion that is high school.
Then there are those teens who get them because the idea of body art appeals to them. Seventeen year old Rachel Winstrand says, “I want a tattoo for aesthetic reasons… I like the way they look.”
Although tattoos have gone mainstream, they still seem to cause controversy. According to a ballot on Cafemom.com, only 15 percent of moms say they would allow their teen to get a tattoo while 30 percent are unsure or open to the idea, depending on the age of their teen.
Other parents oppose tattoos because they believe their teens aren’t old enough to make such a permanent decision. They feel that society will treat them differently when it comes to employment and other future opportunities. The stereotype that often comes with tattoos from earlier generations are that you are a troublemaker or a thug if you have one. Some people may be reluctant to hire people with tattoos. Parents consider the health risks as well as the high cost and pain that come with the laser removal of a tattoo if their teen regrets getting it.
For Briana, the downside of getting a tattoo became all too real. She was unfortunate enough to get a case of staph infection from her second tattoo, the one of her mother’s name beautifully written in cursive. The reasons behind it lie mostly with the fact that she was unfamiliar with her tattoo artist and got it done in an unsterile environment.
Although some would look at her experience as an example of why people shouldn’t get a tattoo, when asked whether she regrets it she said, “No, but I’m not getting one from him again.” Not only does she not regret it, but she also recently got a third one and plans to get more.
But Briana’s case is an isolated one. Many teens end up getting their tattoos illegally done in houses and other unsanitary places because they are getting a cheaper price for it. At Bethesda Tattoo the starting price for a tattoo is $50.00 while each of Briana’s tattoos cost $25.00. The people giving these illegal tattoos often lack any sort of legal certification or experience with tattooing and believe because they can draw with a pen they can tattoo just as easily. Briana strongly disagrees with these ludicrous thoughts saying, “It’s way different doing art on paper than on someone’s body.”
Parents open to letting their teen get tattoos often consider that it would be better to walk them through the process so that they are less likely to get one illegally on their own, risking infection, viruses, and regret. Kathy Linthicum, a reluctant parent on this issue, recalls that “it did pass through my mind that someday, is he going to say, ‘Mom, why’d you let me do this?’ But we talked about it for a long time, and it’s something he never changed his mind on.”
My tattoo lies on my upper left shoulder blade and is easily covered by most shirts. It is the word “coexist” written in script which has special meaning to me. I have had it for about four months so far, and I do not regret it in the slightest and do not believe I ever will.
Getting a tattoo may be a trend among teens but the reasons for its popularity do not lie behind shallow clichés such as “everyone is doing it.” Everyone has a story, person, moment, concept, or even design that resonates deeply with them. Maybe even as deep or as permanent as a tattoo.
– Ena Butler