The Story of My Tattoos
According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 23% of Americans, specifically 40% of millennials (loosely defined as those reaching adulthood in the early 21st century, having been born anywhere from the early 1980s to the early 2000s), have at least one tattoo. Out of those interviewed as part of University of Tampa assistant professor Kristen Foltz's research, 89% of those tattooed millennials think about where on their body to get tattooed so that it can be easily hidden and not impact job prospects. This has caused the popularity of tattoo removal among that generation to increase dramatically—almost 46% in recent years, as shown by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery—to bring the market to an estimated value of at least $83 million.
Unfortunately, these concerns about visible tattoos aren't without merit. The Undercover Recruiter spoke to over 500 recruiters and learned the following statistics:
- 75% believe a candidate's image plays a major role in the hiring process
- 88% believe a candidate having a visible tattoo may limit their career trajectory
- 41% said they had rejected a candidate, who was otherwise suitable, due to their visible tattoo
The recruiters who admitted to rejecting a candidate due to their tattoos gave reasons varying from industry intolerance and a strict company dress code to showing a lack of professionalism.
However, 60% of those interviewed said that interview tactics such as "virtual reality assessments and screening candidates via bots" are being used so as to limit the amount of discrimination due to a candidate's appearance. These companies don't want a little tattoo to make them miss out on top talent, especially as more and more younger potential employees decide to walk into their local parlor.
I got my first tattoo when I was 18, with both my father's blessing and my mother's watchful eye.
It was the middle of the winter break of my freshman year when I made that irreversible decision. I spent the earlier part of the day with my best friend, eating good food and walking around the city, as any pair of millennials is wont to do. I remember wrapping up our sugar fest at Dominique Ansel bakery (sadly lacking cronuts, but you'd be insane or a tourist if you want to line up for hours in the morning to snag one) and riding the R train up to St. Mark's Place, opting for the warm burrows of the subway rather than face the brisk winter wind.
We had to wait for my mom, of all people, outside of my tattoo parlor of choice: Addiction NYC.
Much to everyone's surprise, my mom is rather supportive of all of my tattoos and piercings. She has four tattoos herself, the last one of which she got earlier this year while I got my cartilage piercing, and understands my want to permanently mark my body with beautiful and meaningful designs.
On the other hand, my dad is more old school. Even though he, like my mom, grew up in the Upper East Side neighborhood of Yorkville, he never had the desire to get a tattoo. Yorkville, despite being in the Gossip-Girl-esque section of New York, was predominantly working and middle class when my parents were growing up.
In fact, I just turned to Wikipedia for some background and learned the following:
For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, Yorkville was a middle- to working-class neighborhood, inhabited by many people of Czech, Slovak, Irish, Polish, German, Hungarian, and Lebanese descent. The area was a mostly German enclave, though.
The largest non-German group were the Irish (that's my family!). Irish mostly lived in an area bounded by 81st and 85th Streets, and Lexington and Fifth Avenues (literally the blocks my parents, especially my mom, were restricted to). They attended mass at such churches as St. Ignatius Loyola on 84th Street and Park Avenue, Our Lady of Good Counsel (90th Street) (where I went to Sunday School every week until eighth grade like a good Catholic) and the Church of St. Joseph (87th Street). There were many Irish bars including Finnegan's Wake, Dorrian's Red Hand Restaurant, Ireland's 32, Carrol's Hideaway, O'Brien's (the venue for my "swagulous" Sweet Sixteen party) and Kinsale Tavern. Until the late 1990s, New York's St. Patrick's Day Parade (which I skipped school for every year until high school) ended at 86th Street and Third Avenue, the historical center of Yorkville.
A lot of our friends and family that still live there have tattoos and work in retail, construction, and public servant positions. They aren't the most "successful" (in economic and societal terms) but they hold their own and provide for themselves and their families well. I'm proud to know such a group of hard-working and loyal people, and I'm grateful for all of the love and support they've given me and my family, both in good times and bad. They've shown me that having tattoos and doing well for yourself can go hand in hand.
It's this context that I believe has led my dad to see tattoos as "unprofessional". When I first brought up the idea for a tattoo during Thanksgiving break, he shut it down completely. He asked me if I had ever seen the executives of Goldman Sachs or my professors at Cornell with arms decked out in tattoos. He said (and still says) repeatedly that he wants the best for me and wants to ensure that I'l be able to make my mark on the world.
Lucky for me, I was 18 at the time and was able to walk into a tattoo parlor even if my dad didn't approve. I was checking in with him more for his benefit (if I surprised him by coming home with a tattoo, I'm pretty sure he would go into some type of shock).
He meant well, but he was stuck in the mindset that many of the older family members in my life tend to have—tattoos have a criminal and/or non-professional connotation, so why would an ambitious Ivy League student want to get one?
He was actually the only immediate family member I talked to whom had even the slightest bit of apprehension towards the idea of me getting a tattoo. In addition to my mom, my grandpa (my dad's dad) has several tattoos of his own. When I brought up the idea and design of my tattoo while enjoying real New York pizza at the Two Boots on Avenue A, he and my grandma were thrilled, much to my dad's dismay.
Since my grandpa got his first tattoo in the later half of his life (I think around 60?), my dad thought he would tell me to wait before rushing into a parlor, but my grandparents are insane (in a cool way) and emboldened me to follow through on my plan.
I began thinking of my tattoo design in the fall semester of my freshman year. I started drawing it everywhere: in my notes when I wasn't paying attention in Calculus II, on my wrist with black Sharpie to see what it looked like on my skin, in text messages to my friends to get their input. A week or two before I was set to pack up and head home for six weeks, I had my friend henna the final design, which I then proceeded to send to all my friends on social media to ask for their opinion.
By telling almost everyone I knew about my tattoo plans and proclaiming loudly that I would be getting it over break, it was a way to hold me accountable in case I chickened out. I mean, I'm all about not being peer-pressured and only doing something if you really want to go through with it, but I wanted the driving fear of my friends making fun of me (which they would probably only do for an hour or two and then bring up occasionally in the following weeks) to fall back on.
Standing outside that tattoo parlor, I was nervous but ready. I could feel my anxiety increasing as every minute ticked by ... my mom still hadn't arrived, but I held steadfast in my goal to walk inside and walk out with a fresh tattoo.
Once she finally got off the train and walked down to Addiction, they checked my I.D., had me fill out paperwork, and finalized my design on carbon paper, all while another woman was getting a huge pirate-style boat tattooed on her shoulder. My tattoo felt small and ditzy in comparison, but for me it isn't about the size or intricacy of a design, it's about the thoughts and feelings behind it.
It took seven minutes for my tattoo artist, Socks, to permanently etch that heartbeat line with an intertwined 'j' onto my left wrist. It took seven minutes to draw something that will last forever.
The reason I decided to get my tattoo at 18 and not wait a few years to mull it over was because the emotion behind it was so strong and deeply personal to me. In my sophomore year of high school, one of my closest friends passed away due to suicide. I hadn't gone to the same school as her since middle school, but we still talked and texted and hung out. Her passing was so sudden and unexpected, as I had never recognized the signs of depression that were so clearly there (her therapy homework, skipping her medication, the self-harm scars on her arms) and had even spent time with her a few weeks before. The months following that day were hard: it felt wrong for me to laugh or smile, I started having spontaneous panic attacks, and every time I read through our old messenger conversations I would feel a little stab of pain knowing that I could never reach out to her again.
By the time I was 18, I had grieved and moved on for the most part, but it hurt to think that she never had the chance to go to prom or go off to college or experience any of the things I had started to take for granted. I wanted to be able to carry a little piece of her memory wherever I went, not only in my thoughts but on my body, and a tattoo symbolizing and celebrating her life was the best way for me to do that.
My first tattoo wasn't impulsive or superfluous or any one of the other stereotypes that are attached to young people with tattoos. It was meticulously planned and fraught with meaning, much like my more recent tattoo.
Last week, I took a trip to Funhouse Tattoo here in San Diego to get my second tattoo.
My personal rule for tattoos is that I have to think about them continuously for at least six months, meaning that every time I think about a tattoo or someone asks me about what I want to get next, I have to think of that design. That's ruled out a few designs I've had in mind (a phrase in the ancient Gaelic writing Ogham, a semicolon, some twenty one pilots-inspired lightbulbs, etc), which I'll probably end up getting in the future, just not now.
So the design I settled on for my trip to Funhouse was one that I had been working on for a bit. Inspired by the birds in twenty one pilots' song "Goner", I had each of my family members choose a bird to represent them. I put those four birds (in black) and one I chose myself (in red) along my left ribcage.
Shoutout to my fantastic tattoo artist Arty, who was perfectly fine with stalling to wait for a second friend to get to the parlor
(picture creds: Aliya Petranik—love ya, bb)
I've spent almost an entire year (minus breaks and a weekend or two for concerts, doctors' appointments, etc.) away from home, either at school or at Qualcomm, and this summer was the first time I experienced anything close to homesickness. I started missing my family a lot, especially when my parents would text me updates about my siblings and them ending the school year, heading off to camp, and taking trips to the beach. I love my family, and even though we've had our ups and downs, I know they're always there for me, so I wanted to have a tattoo representing their permanent role in my life.
This tattoo didn't have me waiting outside in the cold for my mom, but I did have some great friends sitting with me as I tried to not move a single muscle for thirty minutes. It hurt more than my first tattoo, especially when the birds started reaching my ribcage itself and not just my side flab, but I still had people there to support me, make me laugh (even though I was trying so hard not to), and give their opinions.
It's been a few weeks since I went to Funhouse, and now my second tattoo is completely healed. It'll take some time before the skin around it isn't hypersensitive to touch or light, but the ink has finally sunk into my skin and is now truly a part of me.
I'm now almost 20 and I already have two tattoos. The people around me used to believe that having more tattoos equaled more "street cred", that being inked could be misconstrued as less professional than I am, but that's not the case anymore. We live in a society where it's now more and more acceptable to display yourself in the way that is most true to you, whether that's tattooing yourself or wearing certain clothes or doing your makeup in a specific way. The tattoos I have are just as important to me as the people around me, and I believe other tattooed-individuals share this sentiment.
There may still be negative connotations associated with being tattooed, especially at such a young age, but I'm grateful to be able to have a space in society that is supportive of my decisions and doesn't affect my ability to achieve my goals. I realize that this is a privilege that not all tattooed people have—a supportive family, the opportunity to be employed in an industry with little regard to my outer appearance, no public outcry about a young girl being tattooed. I'm proud to be part of a growing movement to encourage the acceptance of people for who they are and not based solely on their outward appearance.