Stories Told by Skin

By: Max O’Neil

EUGENE, Ore. – June is here, and the warm sun is glaring over the campus quad. Students are no longer carrying umbrellas and wearing their raincoats. Men are shirtless on the grass flicking a Frisbee while women lay out on beach towels in their bikini tops and others are passing through in sleeveless tops, shorts, sandals.

And a lot of places where you look, there are students with tattoos.

Thirty six percent of people ages 18-25 in the U.S. have at least one tattoo. Photo: Creative Commons

Thirty six percent of people ages 18-25 in the U.S. have at least one tattoo.
Photo: Creative Commons

“Tattoos are definitely trending a lot more now than they used to be,” says Rachel Duprey from High Priestess Piercing & Tattoo. “I like it better because it’s getting more diverse out there with people getting them.” According to Harris Interactive, one in five adults in the U.S. has at least one tattoo, up from 16 percent in 2008.

Tattoos aren’t new to various cultures around the world. According to National Geographic, people have been getting tattoos for more than 5000 years. The earliest evidence of tattoos was discovered in 1991 when scientists found the frozen remains of a Copper Age “Iceman” approximately dating from 3300 BC. The iceman’s lower back, ankles, knees, and one of his feet were marked by a series of small lines which were made by rubbing powdered charcoal into vertical cuts.

Today, electronic machines are used to make tattoos. Modeled after Thomas Edison’s autographic printer, the modern tattoo machine punctures the skin with needles between 50 and 3,000 times per minute. Tattoos are a way to express one’s self, and University of Oregon students are catching on.

College is the time when many students are able to break away from their previous home life, try new things, and meet new people. “College is when students really get to know themselves and shape their identities,” freshman Hayla Beck says. “Because students are away from their parents, they can live their lives and express themselves more freely.” Pew Research Center reports that 36 percent of Americans ages 18-25 have a tattoo.

One issue with tattoos for students and younger people is the negative stereotypical notion associated with them among employers in the workplace. A common thought among employers is that visible tattoos can be offensive, highlight behavioral issues and convey an appearance that lacks professionalism.

Inn at the Fifth employee Taylor Hartrick says they have a strict policy with visible tattoos. “Tattoos are not allowed to be showing anywhere,” Hartrick says. “For example if somebody walked in here for an application and had a tattoo on their face, there would be a red mark on their application and it would be tossed.”

In January 2012, The Harris Poll surveyed 2,016 adults online. According to the results, 27 percent without tattoos said people with tattoos are less intelligent. Furthermore, 45 percent said people with tattoos are less attractive, 25 percent said less healthy, 25 percent said less spiritual, and 50 percent said more rebellious.

“In hospitality places like this you can’t be too radical in any way,” Hartrick says. “There’s a reason the artwork in hotels is really bland so that it doesn’t offend anyone. It’s the same with people you can’t have a crazy hair color or tattoos or piercings. It’s one look fits all.”

A similar policy is enforced at Taco Bell on West 7th Avenue. “Our actual policy is they should not be visible if possible, cannot reflect profanity, gay association or sexual content,” manager Jennifer Petit says. “Having tattoos won’t totally disqualify someone from getting a job. It depends on what the tattoos are of, and if they could be offensive.”

Petit does not have a problem with tattoos in the workplace, but will steer away from them if possible in the process of hiring new employees. “We have stacks of employee applications, and when two people have similar qualifications I’ll usually lean toward that person who is more presentable.”

A survey done by CareerBuilder in 2011 showed 31 percent of employers consider a visible tattoo as the number one personal attribute which would prevent them from offering an employee a promotion.

Hayla Beck's favorite tattoo: a heart on her hip.

Hayla Beck’s favorite tattoo: a heart on her hip.
Photo Credit: Hayla Beck

“I think some tattoos should not be visible and can affect one’s ability to get a job depending on what the tattoo is,” Beck says. “But tattoos are becoming more and more common and more socially acceptable. As time goes on and more people get tattoos, one’s ability to get a job won’t be affected.” Beck, 18, currently has four tattoos, and all of them can be hidden. “Embrace” on her right foot, “Love all you can” on her ribs, an arrow on her left forearm, and a small heart on her right hip. She plans to get at least two more tattoos in the future; one of them on her back. recently surveyed about 2,700 people regarding their thoughts on tattoos in the workplace. Results showed that 42 percent of people surveyed disapprove of visible tattoos. Furthermore, 76 percent think tattoos hurt one’s chance of getting a job, and 39 percent said employees with tattoos reflect poorly on employers.

Sophomore Sophia Hodges is also aware of the general outlook employers have on visible tattoos. “Both my tattoos are hidden while I am clothed,” Hodges says. “I do not plan on getting a tattoo that can be seen when I am because of the possibility that it might leave that stigma in an employer’s mind.” Hodges, 19, has two tattoos: a small infinity symbol on the back of her neck, and her mother’s initials on her back. She would like to get at least two more.

Another issue for students is approval from parents or a legal guardian, which is one of the main reasons students wait until college to start getting tattoos. Most states in the U.S. also don’t allow people under the age of 18 (minors) to get tattoos. If minors are allowed, they must have parental consent before doing so. The survey also showed that 51 percent of people approve of their child getting tattoos.

Hodges, also from California, waited until Valentine’s Day of 2012 to get her first tattoo. Both her parents are aware of the infinity symbol, but she has yet to show her dad her other tattoo. “I have a much better relationship with my mom and I think that my dad would be hurt if he found out that I had my mom’s initials but not his,” Hodges says. “Also, I do not think that he is as open to the idea of tattoos like my mom.”

Oregon law states that no minor is permitted to get a tattoo regardless of the presence or written consent of a parent or legal guardian. California shares the same policy, and anyone who tattoos or offers to tattoo a minor is guilty of a misdemeanor according to Penal Code 653. Some states have stricter laws for tattooing: Rhode Island and South Carolina prohibit people of all ages from getting tattoos on their face, hands, and feet.

Despite issues with parental approval and future employers, some students can’t resist getting tattooed. They are getting tattoos in memory of important personal experiences, or certain quotes they try to live by. The personal meaning each tattoo holds outweighs the potential risk of what others in the future will think.

Freshman Kallyn Ehlers only tattoo reads “Appreciate Life” on her side in cursive. “I wanted it to be a memorial for my stepdad and my mom’s best friend who both committed suicide,” Ehlers says. “It also reminds me every day to appreciate life.” Three of her closest friends also have tattoos, and all of which she says have emotional meanings behind them.

Ehlers, 19, got her tattoo in last September before leaving home for college. She is open to the thought of getting at least one more tattoo, but she isn’t sure when or what she will decide to get.

Each of Beck’s tattoos, she says, has a special meaning. The heart symbolizes her first love and that it will always come. “Embrace it” reminds her to always embrace the moment and emotions rather than suppress them. “Love all you can” symbolizes her optimism to find love in any situation and to make the best of everything. The arrow reminds her to reach for my goals, and to get up and keep going when life pulls her back. “My heart tattoo is my favorite because it means the most to me in significance and really defines who I am,” Beck says.

“Tattoos seem to really be more meaningful for who comes here,” Duprey says. “If they graduate or accomplish something big sometimes they’ll celebrate with a tattoo.” According to Statistic Brain 43 percent consider personal meaning to be the most important factor in getting a tattoo.

Hodges also says both of her tattoos have meaning. “I got my mom’s initials because she is not only my mom, but also my best friend. She has made me the person that I am today, and this is one of the best ideas I could think of to honor her.” She got the infinity symbol because she likes words that can be associated with infinite and forever like love, family, and strength.

High Priestess Piercing & tattoo is less than half of a mile from U of O's campus.

High Priestess Piercing & tattoo is less than half of a mile from U of O’s campus.
Photo Credit: Max O’Neil

With four of six tattoo parlors less than three miles from campus, Eugene seems to encourage U of O students to get tattoos. The university also annually gives away its free coupon book called the “student survival kit.” Inside, parlors High Priestess and Eugene Tattoo and Body Piercing offer various coupons including 10 and 15 percent off on the next tattoo.

“Getting tattoos individualizes a person and sets him or her apart from the rest,” Beck says. “We all have bodies, so why not decorate them?”


Tattoo Health Risks

There are several health risks associated with getting a tattoo. The artist plays the most important role in to preventing possible diseases, infections, and allergic reactions associated with getting a tattoo.

  • Allergic reactions: these are associated more often with red, blue, yellow, and green dyes. Itchy rashes can occur in the spot of the tattoo even years after it has been done.
  • Skin infections: tattoos can cause redness, swelling, pain and pus-like drainage. Bumps known as granulomas and raised areas caused by overgrowth of scar tissue known as keloids.
  • If contaminated or unsanitary equipment is used by the artist, the person tattooed can possibly contract tetanus, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV.
  • Tattoos have also been known to cause burning, swelling, and complications during magnetic resonance imaging exams.

Here are some important safety precautions to consider before getting a tattoo:

  • Have the tattoo done by a professional artist at a reputable parlor that meets all regulations and is properly licensed.
  • Make sure the artist washes his or her hands, and wears protective sanitary gloves when tattooing.
  • Make sure equipment used has not been used previously on other people and that all tubes, needles and pigments are removed from sealed packages before proceeding. Also make sure that nondisposable equipment used is sterilized.

Some Interesting Tattoo Facts

  • Tom Leppard is the most tattooed person in the world today from the Isle of Skye, Scotland. According to Guinness World Records, 99.9 percent of Leppard’s body is tattooed with a leopard-skin design. Only the skin between his toes and the inside of his ears has not been tattooed.
  • In the late 18th and early 19th centuries Maori people’s tattooed heads from New Zealand were considered to be treasured possessions by Europeans. They were so popular that Maolis were murdered to supply the trade.
  • American George C. Reiger Jr. has over 1,000 Disney characters tattooed on his body, including all 101 dalmations. He has had to seek permission from Disney for every tattoo because each character is under copyright.
  • The word tattoo is derived from the Tahitian word ‘tatau’ meaning to mark.
  • Today’s tattooing machine is based on the design of a doorbell.
  • The most tattooed city in the United States is Miami. Portland is ranked fifth.
  • Tattooing is a $1.65 billion per year industry. Also as of 2012 there are more than 21,000 tattoo parlors in the United States.
  • The average cost of a tattoo ranges from $45 (small) to $150 per hour (large)
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