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A Colorful Array of Self-Expression: The Growing Number of Tattoos Among College Kids

Written by Hill News Staff


“Go on over and sign the waiver hun, and we’ll be all set to start,” says Lori, the tattoo artist.

Her voice is soft and calm, what she has just said was protocol and it was obvious that she had recited it many times before.

I am not nervous, or so I keep telling myself as I take a deep breath and scribble my signature on the page.

The woman who hands me the pen is smiling, which calms me down.

“All set!” my voice comes out as a croak as I stand peering around at the elaborate sketches that coat the walls surrounding her table of tools.

“Hop up here,” she says, lightly tapping the shiny, black adjustable chair.

This is not my first tattoo, but it is significantly bigger than the simple three dots I had done the previous summer with my two best friends. I am in college now, this is my choice.

“I am going to begin with the outline,” she says. “It is going to hurt, but I need you to be completely still.”

I turn over to the position she suggests, leaning on my side and letting my ears determine her progress.

A loud buzzing noise pierces the room. As I hold my shirt aside for her, I can feel my hands tense up while I attempt to squeeze away the sharp prick that is eating away at my bare skin. Pausing every few seconds to refill the machine with more ink, she proceeds to talk to me casually. It is comforting.

But, all the while there is a buzzing in the back, a constant reminder that I am getting a tattoo. The area feels numb, the pain easing as the minutes speed by, and then– just like that– it is over.

“You’re all set, sweetheart,” she says and the buzzing noise subsides. I am guided to the mirror only a few steps away although my legs have gone numb from laying for what I later found out was only forty-five minutes.

There it is: the wolf, the mountain, the trees, all encompassed inside an arrow just as I had envisioned it.

It is often said that beauty is pain, and as briefly as it appears, it is applied to many different parts of our lives.

For some, it may be something relatively temporary such as having to wear heels all day, or a full face of make-up– both of which are time consuming and uncomfortable. Others see pain as more physical and less temporary, such as piercings and tattoos.

The point is, it is easy to walk down a city street and see a colorful array of self-expression. A scene of people making their own statements through clothing and body art.

The attitude has completely shifted from the most previous generation. With the introduction to social media in the early twenty-first century, tattoo artists have been able to display their work and in response attract a wide audience.

According to a report done by the Pew Research Center, 36 percent of Americans aged 18-25 have at least one tattoo– that is more than one third of America’s young adults.

“I get a lot of college students,” says Lori Jarrett, the woman responsible for my tattoo.

She runs a business in Potsdam, New York, where she finds herself plenty of busy. “I get people of all ages,” she says, “but mostly a lot of young adults.”

While she takes pride in her tattooing skills, Lori herself only has two tattoos and both can easily be covered up.

There is a common preconception that most tattoo artists have their bodies covered in many flamboyant images.

This is a stereotype contributing to a lot of misjudgment, which is a direct outcome of lack of understanding.

“They really don’t like tattoos in general,” says Claire, a college junior reminiscing upon her parent’s initial reaction to her tattoos.

“I don’t actively hide them, but I don’t feel a need to bring it up in conversation.”

While every family has its own values, debates over the significance of tattoos are not a new topic of discussion.

In 1991, the discovery of a frozen mummy popularly known as “Otzi the Iceman” proved that the art of tattooing has been around for thousands of years.

This mummified human, discovered high in the Oztal Alps, was dated 5,300-years-old. With its body well persevered by frost, archaeologists could identify over fifty tattoos from head to toe.

Understandably, some parents are much more accepting of this new trend than others.

“I almost got a tattoo,” says Jenny, another fellow college student.

“Kyle, my friend who does tattoos, would take out the gun and I would lay down, he would start cleaning it and then I would be like, ‘hold up, my parents will never let me home,’”

It is not even 48 hours since I got my tattoo and I am waiting for my dad to pick me up at the airport.

Nobody in my family knows what I had just done and I am anxious to tell them.

The car ride is quick and our conversation is irrelevant to the news I plan on spilling to them all at once.

My mom has dinner almost ready and she comes to the door upon my arrival with arms open.

“It’s so good to see you!” she yells, hugging me tight. Once I have them together and I know the stage is mine, it is time to present to them a decision I can’t take back. A decision I am confident about.

“Guys, I have something to show you,” I announce, lifting the left side of my shirt to expose my ribs.

There it is, dark, bold, and permanent– my tattoo. I look up to catch their eyes which are gleaming with interest.

“What does it mean?” my dad interrupts the silence.

A mountain inside an arrowhead, my tattoo stands for positivity in the fact that mountains are always standing tall.

The woods are my escape from reality and the mountains reflect my passion for hiking and adventuring. Overall, this tattoo represents a part of me.

A form of expression, an art, tattoos are becoming widely popular.

According to a U.S. News and World Report, the tattoo industry is the sixth fastest-growing retail business in America.

*Some names have been changed to preserve the anonymity.

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Hill News Staff