When I was a little girl, I remember my grandfather telling me things like “eat your vegetables- it will make the hair on your chest grow!” or “drink your milk- it will make your bones nice and strong!” Something else that my pop-pop told me as a kid always stuck out to me: “don’t get any tattoos.” For that deterrent, however, I never received a reason. It was always just left simply at that- don’t get any tattoos, young’ in. Then he would make me promise. In my young, curious mind, I always wondered why. He had a relatively large tattoo on his right forearm of a ship with his wife’s name right above it. Of course it was rather faded and almost indistinguishable because of his age, but I remember being so fascinated by it. So why did my grandpa warn me against something he himself had done?
Let’s take a second to think about the generations that came before us and the cultural norms during which they were raised. My grandfather was born in 1932 during the Great Depression. He belonged to the Silent Generation which was characterized by war, economic crisis, and conformity. Children were to be seen, not heard, and were taught to “fit in” instead of “stand out.” Imagine growing up in a time period where you basically were not allowed to think for yourself or show any sort of individualism. Unfortunately, that was the cultural norm that my grandfather knew and understood. That’s why only about 6% of this generation has a tattoo.That’s also why my grandfather always told me not to get one; because he did not want me to be judged by others and judged by society as a whole.
I’m sorry (but also not sorry) to say that I did break my promise to my grandfather. I got my first tattoo the moment I turned 18. My friends, family, and other adults alike offered me the same advice- think about it long and hard, make sure the tattoo has meaning, put it somewhere that can be easily hidden or covered, etc. I mean, a tattoo is permanent forever, after all, which is quite a huge commitment for someone so young to make. Although I was young, I knew what I wanted. I wanted to express my adolescent struggle with depression and anxiety that encompassed my life and became a part of me. It was something so deep and so personal that I wanted it close; I wanted it on my body forever. And so, “I fall but I rise” will forever remain scripted across my ribcage.
For so long, our culture has held specific ideologies about individuals with tattoos- that they are less attractive, more rebellious, and even less intelligent. Because as humans, it is in our nature to draw conclusions based solely on appearance- and tattoos were viewed as ugly or taboo. Society held these stigmas so strong that people with visible tattoos would find hardships when looking for employment. Thankfully, body modification has become more prevalent over recent years. Society has become more accepting of self-expression, tattoos being included. Tattoos are more popular now, than they ever have been in the history of the United States. They have grown so popular in fact, that the artistry of tattooing has recently been looked at as a ‘societal phenomenon’ of sorts. The Harris poll states that almost half, about 47%, of adults from the ages of 18-29 have at least one tattoo. Even Gen X, ages 36-50, are currently running close to 36% who are tatted. Last year, in 2017, the tattoo industry grossed an unprecedented $1 billion in revenue. And it’s all owed to us- the young adults who decided we would no longer be bogged down by society and its inane perceptions of those who have tattoos.
I, like so many other millennials, have helped to break ‘the taboo of tattoos’. We are the reason that our culture now values individualism and artistic expression instead of conformity. We have broken societal barriers and cultural norms. We are the embodiment of personal and artistic expression. We have redefined the means and methods of expression. We are the beginning of a revolution. We have fought for our creative freedom and we have won.
By: Julia Robinson
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