by Camilla Marais | Culture Editor

As I waited for my weekly Sunday latte this past weekend, I found myself zoning out, staring at my barista’s decorated arms. I was not simply admiring the shape of his brawn, but rather the intricate patterns that decorated it. There were a few geometric shapes, a square here, a prism there. There was also some writing, and an image of what I believed to be a cluster of pine trees. The whole aesthetic was beautiful, and I found myself wondering what my impression of him would have been without his ink. Looking at him now, I enjoyed the artistry of his tattoos for the edge and depth it gave him. This prompted me to think back to my childhood, and how much my perception of tattoos has grown over the years.

If I could fly back into my seven-year-old brain, my idea of tattoos was very derogatory. The images that would flash into my mind were the classic butterfly tramp stamp, the “I <3 Mom”d bicep, maybe a skull, some flames, or a tribal pattern. They were for people without good jobs, and from sketchy backgrounds. As my grandmother frequently tells me, they would be defacing their body, which is a temple. Flash forward about 12 years—I have a whole Pintrest board dedicated to body art. Within my group of four best friends from high school, three of us have tattoos. The perception of tattoos has changed drastically along with my generation. They are no longer considered trashy, but rather, a form of art; a form of self-expression, creativity, and fashion. Dainty floral details, modern and eccentric shapes, and beautifully crafted fonts stretch across our skin, sending a message about who we are and what appeals to our eye.

Millennial Marketing shares the fact of this societal transition, “Tattoos are one of the few evidences of a true generation gap. Just 10 percent of those over 40 years old admit to a tattoo.” Apparently, the more shameful view I had as a child toward tattoos is one harbored by generations before me. This is not to put a whole generation under a generalized umbrella, but rather comment on the stigma they’ve carried in the past. When I think of body art today, I find it as simply that—art on a body. It is a vessel of creativity and design, a canvas to show the world something about yourself, whether it be beautiful, thought-provoking, abstract, and so on. “The well bred contradict other people. The wise contradict themselves.” Any observer of the tattooed will notice the weedy disorganization of the symbols on their skins. They are mismatched agglomerations of images which make—at least in the mind of the tattooed—a complicated, yet fierce statement of identity. A cartoon character will lurk near a Celtic rune; a rock lyric will vie for space with a religious icon.

Another reason individuals are encouraged to get inked are the legal protections surrounding the tattoo’d. A common response to someone expressing a longing to get a tattoo is, “How are you going to get a job with that?” The connection between those sporting tattoos and those finding themselves unemployed is one that has been dominant within our society. This has caused individuals to save their tattoos for more intimate locations on their bodies, or refrain from them altogether. Labor Dish shares the facts of the matter, “60 percent of human resources professionals reported that visible tattoos would have a negative impact on an applicant’s chance of being hired, and 74 percent said the same thing about facial piercings.” BBC shares the legal procedures currently in place in England, “Under UK law it’s perfectly legal for managers to refuse to hire someone on this basis, according to employment law expert Helen Burgess, a partner at a law firm. The only exception might be under the 2010 Equality Act if the tattoo were connected to their religion or beliefs, she says – and even then a plaintiff would have to demonstrate this were the case.” American business partners are similar in this thinking, “There will be certain genres of tattoos that would never be normalized. Any kind of racist symbols would be a death sentence in terms of future job prospects. Even now, the size and location of a tattoo make a big difference to whether an employer is likely to accept it. Likewise, designs with connotations of drugs, violence, crime or death are likely to impede a job search. Even football-related tattoos sometimes cause applicants to be rejected because some employers associate them with hooliganism. By contrast, any kind of more innocuous, smaller tattoos—a rose or a butterfly—would be more acceptable in the workplace. For the time being, it’s advice worth considering when balancing the appeal of that new tattoo against the prospect of a dream job.”

I don’t want to speak on behalf of an entire generation, however; through conversations with my family and friends, tattoos now are used as less as a sign of rebellion and more as a sign of artistic expression. Ink can range from feminine symbols, coordinates of important places to them, handwritten notes from their loved ones to images that remind them of special places and memories. These are portrayed with black-and-white stencil, watercolor, and even white ink. Tattoos embrace a beautiful way to decorate yourself, a concept that is gaining popularity among young adults (perhaps it never actually lost its appeal).

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