In a society where teenagers feel constantly pressured to conform, finding individuality can be a challenge. While some use drawing, music or sports to express themselves, others choose to display their identities in a more ostensible way: tattoos.
Legally, it is prohibited for any minor in New York State to be tattooed, regardless of parental consent. On a person’s 18th birthday, he or she is free to mark any part of his or her body. Piercings and tattoos become choices that any adult can make.
Nina LaPres, a senior at Clarence High School, got her first tattoo three days after turning 18. The script writing on the inside of her tricep reads, “I’ve lost my fear of falling. I will be with you,” a lyric by the band My Chemical Romance.
Nina didn’t come to the decision to receive a tattoo carelessly. She says that she considered the quote for a long time and that she wanted to make sure her tattoo had a “deeper meaning, which has grown even deeper now that I have gotten it.”
While tattoos are becoming more and more mainstream, they can hold a certain stigma in the professional world. Nina’s tattoo is in a place where she can easily cover it with sleeves, should she decide to, but more obvious tattoos can pose a problem.
Some employers will not hire a person with conspicuous tattoos, for a few potential reasons. One worry is that ink could symbolize gang or prison activity, although it has become increasingly common for tattoos to be more thoughtful and artistic.
A number of tattoos may be considered unprofessional or inappropriate in the workplace, especially those with vulgarity or any words or images that someone else might find offensive.
Another concern lies with the business’ customers. If a corporation believes its clientele will be turned away by workers with tattoos, they may look for another prospective hire with clean skin.
Despite their rise in popularity and slow journey to normalcy, tattoos can still be regarded as class symbols. Certain individuals look down on those with tattoos and may recognize them as being dangerous or rebellious, even if these stereotypes are not true.
Refusing someone a job offer on the grounds of the applicant having a tattoo is not a crime. Employers are allowed to choose a dress code as long as it does not discriminate people of a certain religion or gender, and rejecting someone with ink is not recognized as intolerance.
If a person decides that he or she would like to remove a tattoo, woes can surface. The most common way of removing body ink is through laser therapy. This breaks up the pigment in the skin and essentially dissolves the tattoo.
But removing a tattoo is painful, expensive and usually takes an extended period of time. Tattoo removal can also leave behind a scar, so tattoo placement is important even if the tattoo is later removed.
Alexander Hartley, 19, kept these things in mind when he got his first tattoo on his upper left shoulder. He chose the words, “Not all those who wander are lost,” by J.R.R. Tolkien. Like Nina, he wanted his tattoo to mean something important to him.
“It’s a reminder that no matter where I decide to go, it doesn’t matter, because I’m always right where I want to be,” says Hartley.
He also says that getting his tattoo was not painful at all because he chose a reputable tattoo parlor.
The shop where someone decides to be tattooed can be very important in the eventual outcome of the tattoo. If done safely and correctly, a tattoo should not cause an unreasonable amount of discomfort and should resemble the design that the customer picked out.
According to the New York State Department of Health, if a tattooist doesn’t wash his or her hands or wear gloves, uses dirty needles or ink, or fails to provide instructions on how to care for a tattoo, numerous problems can result.
Infection, bleeding, inflammation, scarring and allergic reactions are common issues that can arise from receiving a tattoo. Having previous medical conditions or being tattooed by someone who does not follow the proper safety guidelines can increase the risk of negative effects.
To minimize these risks, a person should do ample research on tattoo parlors and artists. Asking friends with ink and doing research on websites like Yelp where anyone can write reviews is a good first step. Some tattoo artists will also let prospective customers observe them while they work so they can better form an educated opinion.
Tattoos do not come cheaply. Most tattoo artists work by the hour, and price can vary depending on color, detail and size. If a person is planning to get a decent tattoo, he or she should be ready to spend a few hundred dollars.
Touch-ups every few years are also recommended. These will not be as expensive as the initial tattoo. They are meant to preserve the shape and color of the artwork.
Alison Stiglmeier, also a senior at Clarence, has gotten three tattoos since her 18th birthday. Each of them means something special to her.
“All my tattoos are on my body because they all are things in my life that have happened that are permanent, just like the ink on my skin is permanent,” Alison says.
In 2011, Alison lost her mother to breast cancer, and her first tattoo serves as a memorial to her mother and a piece of the continuing relationship that they share. It reads, “While I breathe, I hope. I love you Mom.”
“The biggest thing my mom taught me was to have hope, so I’ll always have hope in people, events and my life for as long as I breathe,” she said.
Her second tattoo, “I love you, Lord, my strength (Psalm 18:1)” illustrates her faith and the strength she receives from God when it is most needed.
Her most recent tattoo, a heart on her wrist that her mother drew in a note to her, symbolizes the healing power of a mother’s love. Alison says that this tattoo is her favorite.
While some may consider their bodies as just, well, bodies, others see their appearance as a blank canvas, waiting to be filled with passions and experiences. Tattoos can mean more than what is printed on the skin; to many, they represent the unique soul hidden underneath.
When deciding whether or not to get inked, one should consider both the positive and negative consequences involved and be absolutely sure of what he or she wants. The choice belongs solely to the person wishing to express him or herself.
To see the New York State Department of Health’s laws and safety procedures regarding tattoos, visit www.health.ny.gov/community/body_art or call (518) 402-7600.
Erin Sydney Welsh is a junior at Clarence High School.