Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Body art becomes more popular in America

Tuesday, April 17, 2012
This tattoo was submitted at Tattoos have become more commonplace in the last 50 years. - Submitted photo

About 23 percent of Americans had at least one tattoo in 2010, according to the Pew Research Center. Nearly 40 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29 had a tattoo, with almost 20 percent of those having six or more.

Body art has gained popularity in America in the last half-century. Renee Gordon, owner and tattoo artist at Flesh Hound Tattoo Studio in Cape Girardeau, said she has seen the most major changes in the industry during the past five or six years.

"Really we're just getting the average, normal everyday person and then also people in fields that you wouldn't expect -- political positions and doctors and lawyers and some ministers," Gordon said. "So a lot of people that you wouldn't stereotypically think would actually have a tattoo."

Gordon said more than a general upswing in the popularity of tattoos, she is seeing different people coming in to get them.

Her tattoo studio has received a lot of first-time clients lately. A lot of these clients are in their 50s and 60s.

"I'm sure that they thought people would frown upon them, and I'm assuming since they're so popular now that they've decided to go through with it," Gordon said. "And a lot of them told me that their only regret is that they didn't do it before."

The type of tattoo that clients are asking for has been another change in the body art landscape.

"Whenever I started tattooing about 12 years ago, pretty much people would just go in and go straight to the wall, pick out a design and put it on them," Gordon said. "It seems now it's rare for that to happen. People come in with ideas and tattoos that have meaning. I would say probably 90 to 95 percent of our tattoos now are custom."

Gordon credits reality television shows such as "Miami Ink" and "Ink Master" with helping garner social acceptance for tattoos by showing the general public the artistic skill and customization that goes into the process.

"There has been a huge flood of all of the television programs, and as people are watching it they're opening their minds to the idea," Gordon said. "They're being exposed to tattoos that are out of the range of what they had originally conceived them as being."

Dr. Kendra Skinner is the associate director of Residence Life at Southeast Missouri State University and a bearer of multiple tattoos. She has noticed a shift in people's perception of tattoos since she got her first one in 1999.

"I would definitely say now, though, it's much more acceptable to see tattoos really almost anywhere, in addition to piercings," Skinner said. "I think some older employers probably still have a stigma about what tattoos are and kind of represent, but younger employers look at them as someone's opportunity to do some expression, and so you see them in much more visible spaces."

Skinner had a tattoo on the top of her foot when she was first hired as a hall director. Since then she has added one to her wrist, back and other areas. She also hires people regardless of their body modifications.

"My perspective, too, is that if you're unwilling to hire me because I have some tattoos or if I had piercings and that's where you're basing your decision, I don't want to work with you," Skinner said.

However acceptable tattoos are becoming, Skinner said there are still jobs where having visible tattoos is inappropriate.

She said she knows a lot of students choose to get tattoos in places that are easily covered by clothing and that she is always amazed when she finds out the number of tattoos that some students have.

"We had a staff member who actually got a tattoo on her wrist, but she had it done in white," Skinner said. "Really not visible unless you really took a look. That was a choice that she made because she knew this is what she wanted to do and where she wanted to have it, but she also knew that 'Hey, I'm a business major and I need to think about what this is going to represent later on and whether people are accepting of it or not.'"

Skinner said she feels people are becoming more accepting of tattoos as they realize that tattoos are a personal form of self-expression, not just a skull that represents prison time or a biker gang.

"I think that we've all become a bit more relaxed and think this isn't so big of a deal," Skinner said. "I would say just be smart about what you're getting and where you're getting it and who's doing your tattoo is probably the other biggest thing."