Before, tattoos were seen as a sign of belonging to a marginalized group. Now they are just a fashion statement. Does it mean you should have one? It depends.
Today, nearly every four in ten people have at least one tattoo. Half of the tatted people have two or more. Tattoos are now normalized to the point where people try to stand out by not getting one. According to statistics, tattoos peaked in popularity among older millennials but maintained their mainstream status among younger people. Moreover, tattoos seem to be a bit more prevalent among people with higher levels of education – 32% against 26% with lower levels.
Still, if you think of surprising your family with a freshly inked design on your skin upon returning home after the holidays, this might not go smoothly.
College is the time when most people get their first tattoo. After all, more than half of high school students are curious about tattoos and consider them at some point. Once young people hit legal age, they go for it headfirst and celebrate their eighteenth birthday with a trip to a tattoo parlor. Not to be critical or judgmental, but maybe you should give it another thought.
The sobering fact is that the tattoo removal industry grows by 18% each year. The majority of its clients are people who had themselves inked in college.
I know it might make you feel free and rebellious. Those lyrics going onto your ribs totally changed your life. The person whose name you want to wear as a pledge bracelet on your wrist is THE ONE. This beach party is legendary, and you want to commemorate it with a palm tree on your ankle. I get it.
Yet speaking as a person who cannot commit even to a nail design for more than five days, let me ask you: are you sure you will be happy with this choice even in 5 years from now?
The main problem with tattoos is their permanence. Makeup comes off with a wipe of sponge, clothes wear and tear, crazy hair color fades, even piercing heals and closes up, but tattoos endure.
You might think that theatrical masks are a great decision now, when you are still at drama school, or that quill and inkbottle is an elegant sign of your allegiance to the papers writers guild. However, designs that seem original and fresh today may become cliché or even offensive years from now. Relationships fail. Your tastes and worldview change.
Consider Your Motivation
Is that a design with deep personal meaning or just a cutesy thing your saw on Pinterest? Are you thinking about a tattoo only because all your friends have already got one?
If this is something important – a milestone event, a powerful symbol, or a creed, you will give it careful thought. You will save money for getting it done professionally, find a good artist whose style you like, and discuss design and placement beforehand. Anna Gnagy, a tattoo artist from Bellingham, WA, enjoys the most doing tattoos that have meaning. "I just feel like usually there's a lot more detail involved, and it's really personal. The client is involved really heavily, too," says Anna.
Tattoos should not be spur-of-the-moment decisions. If you just decided out of the blue, "Da heck with it, I'm getting a Mickey Mouse on my shoulder!" – maybe you have to sleep on it. And definitely don't get a tattoo under the influence of any substance, okay?
Try It On
If you are fascinated with a particular symbol or quote but cannot make up your mind about it, try it on. Wear it on a t-shirt or as custom-made jewelry before etching it permanently onto your body. This will give you some idea of how comfortable you are with wearing it. Maybe you will come to see it as a bit trite or not quite "you."
Another good idea is getting a temporary tattoo where you want to ink permanently and see how it looks on you in real life and not just in your head. Living with it even for a week can give you some perspective.
Assess Health Risk
According to Christopher Lynn, an anthropologist working at the University of Alabama, "Historically and cross-culturally, peoples have referred to tattooing as toughening the body up or 'hardening' it." In traditional cultures, getting a tattoo can be a rite of passage tied to a genuine risk of death from pain, stress, and complications.
Even though now it's all very safe, certain risk of bacterial and viral infections (such as Hepatitis B, C, and HIV) exists even today. Some people may develop an allergy to certain pigments. Unfortunately, there is no way of telling until you actually get them under your skin since the FDA doesn't yet regulate inks used for tattooing.
Even in the best-case scenario, some levels of pain and temporary inflammation are inevitable. Be prepared for several sessions for big tattoos or designs with many colors with weeks and even months between them for healing.
Consider the Cost
A good tattoo from a talented artist is bound to set you back. Surprisingly, however, 27% of people say there are not ready to invest more than $100 in their tattoo, with only 11% prepared to shell out $500 to $1,000. For comparison, the price of an average consumer smartphone in 2021 is $633. People are ready to pay six times more for a gadget that stays relevant for a couple of years than for something that becomes part of them forever!
"Hey!" I hear you saying. "Why forever? You can remove it, right?" Yes, you can. However, the removal is going to cost you even more than inking it in. Depending on the size, it takes four to eight treatments with roughly $200 to $500 per session. Plus (or should I say, "minus"), such operations are considered cosmetic, so insurance doesn't cover them.
If you are serious about your tattoo and don't want to mess it up, I suggest you start by saving money towards it and use the time for perfecting the design. You don't want to end up on one of those "tattoos that went horribly wrong" lists, do you?
"We Live in a Society" Factor
Your body – your choice. That is undeniable. Nevertheless, it never hurts to consider how others will perceive your tattoo. Body art can still be stigmatized in some communities, especially in religious ones. If your family is a conservative bunch, they might give you a hard time and not make it worth your while. Often college students use their parents' money to pay for tattoo artist's services, so parental disapproval might lead to cuts in your allowance on top of everything else.
Suppose your parents are super-cool, and even your granny doesn't mind as long as you cover it up for Sunday dinners. Your peers still might not see it as you expect. Some young people think tattoos are pretentious and trivializing the very thing they are supposed to commemorate.
Moreover, even in this day and age, visible tattoos might limit your employment opportunities. Some companies with formal corporate culture require their employees to cover tattoos while on duty.
If you are still sure you want to go through with it after considering all of the above, great! I hope you wear your tats proudly and enjoy them for years to come. Take care of your health, treat your body responsibly, and feel confident in it!