The Tattoo Revolution: Why people are just going to have to get used to them

By Erica Brown

Two weeks after I turned 18, I left my house in South Florida, got into my car and drove 15 minutes to a tattoo parlor.

This wasn’t some teenage rebellious moment or even a late-night dare from my friends. I had been planning my visit for months, perfecting the design of the permanent piece of art that would soon adorn my body forever. 

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This was my first tattoo that I had done when I was 18. The word “paradise” is something from my childhood that I link to calmness and serenity.

Everything had been set up; the font I would use for my tattoo, the size, placement, and I even hand-picked my tattoo artist based on the high quality of her artist portfolio I had seen online.

The only hitch in my plan was the fact that I had told no one about it. Any of it. I left my house when none of my family members were there so I wouldn’t have to tell them where I was racing off to. I didn’t tell my friends because I was worried they would offer to accompany me and honestly, I wanted to go through this solo. I mentioned it in passing to my dog, if that counts.

But in reality, I was afraid my parents would bar the front door, preventing me from going if I told them about it. I had talked to both my parents before about getting a tattoo, but they each seemed to think I would never get a respectable job or find a man to love me if I “scarred” my body with permanent ink. I would always shake my head at their out-of-date, out-of-touch, out-of-their-minds philosophy on tattoos, but would remind myself they had been raised in semi-conservative households during a time when body ink labelled you a criminal or outsider.

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This was my second tattoo I had done when I turned 19. It is a Chinese symbol meaning “sunshine”. The word “sunshine” is present in all my favorite songs and lullabies, making it special to me.

But today, the reality is that tattoos have become socially acceptable. Celebrities like Adam Levine, Angelina Jolie and many professional athletes have tattoos, and no one shuns them or thinks of them as “dirty lowlifes”, one of the many terms I’ve heard associated with people who have tattoos. In fact, Levine has been named the “Sexiest Man Alive”, Jolie makes millions of dollars starring in films, and all of those professional athletes—well, they get cheered on by thousands of fans every night who see past the surface to the amazingly talented human being beneath.

I came home that night with a new piece of artwork I get to keep with me forever. Since then, I’ve gotten four more tattoos. No one looks at me any differently. I have landed three internships and a job. When people ask about my tattoos, even older people, I explain with pride in my voice the meaning behind them and why they are so special to me.

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These birds I got all at one time, but I count them like three separate tattoos (they sure hurt like 3!). I got them when I turned 21 and they signify overcoming my greatest fears and embracing who I am.

But the most surprising thing I learned from all of this? People can and will change if you help them see through the fog of stereotypes associated with anything. My dad ended up getting a tattoo of his own, proof that you don’t have to be young to blaze a trail.

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