Permanent Ink

Grace Cavanaugh, Staff Writer~

The stigma of tattoos has always been an issue in my family. None of my grandparents ever had tattoos, and they frowned on me, my mother, and my father when we all expressed desires for tattoos. It is understandable when you think about their generation’s exposure to tattoos. The only people that had them were from prison.

To understand tattoos, we need to start at the beginning. Tattoos did not just appear in prison, but started as cultural traditions and rituals. Tattooing is said to have begun in Egypt, but spread all over the world, from Greece to China to Polynesia. Of course, tattoos were used to mark criminals (see Les Misérables’ Jean Valjean), but they also were used to show social status, marriage status, and as bodily decoration (see Moana’s Maui).

Another concern for my grandparents was that I would never find a job. I have a small tattoo on my left inner wrist, but this is only my opinion of small. To my grandparents, it is big enough that I would never be considered for a job in which my wrist was bare. I showed them that the tattoo was easily covered by a bracelet, but it did not matter to them. I had permanently marked my skin, and I was 18. What would it look like when I was older? Would I still want it in five years? 10?

That summer, I got a job as a camp counsellor at a Girl Scout camp. I was not the only counsellor with a tattoo, and mine was not even the biggest or most visible. At the end of that summer, probably one of the best summers of my life, I got another tattoo, this one about as small as my first and less visible. It is on my right inner ankle, and only the top of it is visible if I am wearing socks and sneakers.

My third tattoo is by far my biggest, and it is also my least visible. It is a raven flying across my back and over my ribs, carrying a ribbon with the birth and death years of my dad’s parents. It is easily the size of a hand. It is the only tattoo I have that was not planned at least two months in advance. My grandmother died in April of 2018, and three days after her death, my mom, my aunt, and I spontaneously went to a walk-in tattoo parlor and got tattoos. When I showed my grandmother, she frowned and asked me how I ever expected to get a job after this.

In our generation, tattoos are not the mark of a criminal, usually. They are self-expressions, of-the-moment ideas, or something meaningful that we always want to be reminded of. They are colorful and popular, and you would be hard-pressed to find someone without a tattoo or without plans to get a tattoo. Of course, I have plans to get more, where to get them, pictures, and sketches of what I want. Slowly, we are pulling away from the stigma of tattoos, with colorful, decorated people on the horizon.