Ward: Tattoos help tell personal stories


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As our generation increasingly integrates into the real world and the work force, columnist Ward believes the perception of tattoos will change.

Madison Ward

The idea of ‘self’ is one that, especially today, is incredibly hard to pin down. We create the idea of who we are based upon the feedback and interactions we have with others, making it an even more fluid phenomenon. When this idea is taken into consideration and you add in the pressures of trying to put your best self out there, both online and offline, it becomes an equation that can easily seem impossible to solve. It is for this reason that I think ‘ink’ has become such a supported practice of this generation.

Since the dawn of man, literally, tattoos have existed. In 1991, two hikers came across what would later be called “the iceman” in the Otzal Alps. The mummy died during the Neolithic era and was found fully intact, along with over 50 tattoos covering his body. Another era in which tattoos played a significant role was during World War II, when concentration camp victims were inked with numbers for identification. Tattoos have been seen in all different types of scenarios throughout history, so one might think that by this point, they would simply be accepted … not so much.

It just so happens that we are now living in a time when the younger population thinks getting ink is a great way to express yourself, while our parents and grandparents couldn’t disagree more. To them, it screams undesirable characteristics to have as a person, such as disrespectful, irresponsible and irrational. But to us, it says people can now see the inside version of me on my exterior, which is something we constantly have trouble accomplishing. Clearly, this ideology caught on because according to a study conducted in 2013 by Pew Research Center, 36 percent of 18-25 year olds have at least one tattoo.

I think that part of the reasoning behind this disdain for tattoos stems from the fact that the times we are growing up in are a complete 180-degree turn from what our parents or our grandparents experienced during their young adulthood. As I mentioned at the start of this piece, we are constantly searching for our definitive self, but it becomes a nearly impossible task to accomplish with the amount of outside influence we have constantly bombarding us. It’s tough to draw the line between who we truly are and who society reflects upon us to be, and I think that tattoos are one step closer to drawing that line.

I do not have any tattoos as of now, although I have many planned. None of which, I should mention, are impulsive or random things I want to get permanently printed on my body. I have a reason and logic for each, which is important to have when considering a tattoo. Despite my logic behind each tattoo, it was still not well received by a certain member of my family because to that generation, tattoos read as an act of rebellion rather than an act of individualization. A direct path to nowhere is what becomes immediately projected upon us and that is where our parents’ generation is wrong.

Of course, if one decides to get a weapon or other unfortunate symbol tatted on their neck or face, that will probably have a negative connotation. As a result, you may be perceived without seriousness in normal society. However, those kinds of tattoos are not the most common. For the most part, tattoos are simply art created on a living, breathing canvas. You wouldn’t judge someone for having art that meant something to them in their home, so why should you judge them for having art on their body?

Tattoos are no longer acquired as a way to visually piss off our parents, but they are there because they mean something to us. To someone looking at the tattoos I plan to get, it would probably make no sense to them because they haven’t had the experiences that I have. But by marking the tattoos on the outside of my body, it shows that I’ve been through something and I’m proud of coming out of it. I don’t think tattoos should define who you are. They should simply help tell your story. And every individual has a story that is indescribably unique, so there should be no judgment concerning how each of us conveys that story.