The Changing Tradition of Tattoo Culture


For the first period of my life, getting tattoos was something that a large majority of my close friends were doing and seeing ink on people was more common than not. 

Tattoos are something that stay on your body forever, and comparing the number of students who will one day be parents and adults versus the number of adults who have tattoos in this day and age is proof that times will be different by the time our generation gets older

When I was 18 years old, I decided to get a tattoo that had a lot of meaning behind it for me. 

Convincing my parents to even allow me to get one is a whole other story, but their main concern was that it would be something I had to live with forever. Their conditions of allowing me to get the tattoo included making sure it was in a place where I could hide it if need be and that I could only get one.

Being at my first corporate job last summer, I wore a long sleeve shirt to work daily so I could make sure my tattoo would be covered. I understand that the office I worked at may have been a bit more laid back in comparison to some offices, but to my surprise a lot of the full time staff didn’t cover their tattoos. 

The first instinct that came to my head upon seeing adults in the corporate world being confident with their tattoos was that many of the inappropriate or unprofessional connotations which surround tattoo culture was potentially changing.

An interesting point which came about through conducting interviews was that respondents from different career paths viewed tattoos as a form of art.

Andre Czegledy, an associate professor in Wilfrid Laurier University’s anthropology department, spoke about how tattooing and body modifications fit into our changing society through internet communications and a tattoos interpretations through art and aesthetics. 

“I would say that society is changing in terms of its acceptance of tattoos and other forms of body modification. I would add that because as it’s not as simple as just tattoos, but I would also note that when we say society it’s which society because different culture and communities understand tattoos in different ways” Czegledy said. 

 Czegledy stated that within Canada and North America “tattooing is becoming more and more prominent.”

“That is partially because younger generations have been exposed to tattooing to a greater extent and accepting it to a greater extent. That might also be a generational divide,” Czegledy said.

With respect to a theoretical line drawn between what tattoos could be considered as appropriate, Czegledy believes that this can be taken in two ways — one on an individual basis and the second from a collective basis. 

“[People] may understand or receive what is appropriate very different from another, which is a personal thing which would be from their history.”

“At the same time, people are a part of broader communities … and communities on a cultural basis, which has to do with heritage or traditions or conventions, may see tattoos and body modification on a different basis from community to community,” Czegledy said.

No individual will have the same perceptions of tattoos which is related to “the conjunction of the individual and the broader set of communities they are linked in,” Czegledy said. 

Czegledy’s idea of change for tattoos in different generations was that different generations understand tradition, conventions, innovations very differently than previous generations.

 “It is clear to me than in the Canadian context tattoos are more and more prominent in the Laurier Community” Said Czegledy 

Czegledy stated that when tattoos are hidden it is difficult to understand how many students actually have them,“it is  hard to speak on it on a quantitative basis but at the same time it is much more apparent among my students and our students and I think that is readily recognizable.”

“It is different and we can accept that every generation is different in identity, passions, interest. For a younger generation that is clearly one of those things,” said Czegledy.

The Instagram account of famous tattoo artist  Jon Boy has a large following because of his celebrity appeal by tattooing people such as Justin Bieber, Post Malone and many others. This is a frequent platform tattoo goers revert to for inspiration and has had a large effect on design choices. 

There are lots of people who have tattoos which represent their either current or troublesome past; but that doesn’t mean tattoos have to always represent something negative.

Czegledy noted that digital communications is a place where “people are exposed to different ways of being and representation that was never easily accessible to in past generations.”

In AN347, a science culture and technology course offered at Laurier, students receive a historical perspective tht gives the class the groundings of the traditions on a cross cultural basis but also a comparative perspective in terms of how different communities understand and approach tattooing in a contemporary time period, explained Czegledy.

The class takes the time to go to a local tattoo parlour to get insight into the work they do and the artists share with students what they feel is appropriate in terms of the work they do on their clients when they do tattoos and when they refuse to do tattoos.

Often, the class visits Perfect Image, who Czegledy said has been supportive of the classes learning. 

 Alyssa Wippel, the social media and receptionists at Perfect Image, offered insight to the clientele of the parlour and her desire to be in the tattoo industry.

“I have been getting tattooed since I was really young. My first one was when I was 14 … I love tattoos, I love the culture, I love the industry,” Wippel said. 

For Wippel, a lot of the meaning behind the concept of tattoos is the history and how people connect with the tattoos they are getting. 

“I love the art of it and I love watching people create tattoos and watching people get sentimental tattoos and being so in love with the end product,” Wippel said.

At Perfect Image, the typical age of those coming in to get tattoos rangeS from 16 to 24 years. Wippel said their main clientele is university students and specifically, firstyears. 

She noted that the age of the client often correlates to the size of tattoo as well. For example, younger individuals such as high school and university students often get small and dainty tattoos while older individuals often get bigger pieces, such as full sleeves or thigh pieces. 

“I think it’s because they have career already and don’t have to hide it, whereas young people are more apprehensive because a lot of places won’t hire you if you have big visible tattoos.” Wippel said.

A big fad which has been taking Instagram by storm is kids getting matching tattoos with their parents. 

“It’s a really good way for parents and their kids to have a really good memory to share together and its a sentimental thing,” she said. 

“Most of the people that come in are either getting their grandparents handwriting or something that represents their father; I would say those are the most popular,” Wippel said.

“The reason lines can become blurred is that it has a lot to do with the lines too close together because over time the ink spreads under the skin,” Wippel said.

“Not a lot of people think about how it will age so we do let them know so they aren’t disappointed in the future.” 

 Wippel stated that in her opinion a tattoo shouldn’t define an individual’s abilities but in the eyes of the employer it could.

“I feel like a lot of people will look at people who are heavily tattooed and make assumptions about them and group them together when, realistically, they are all different people with different paths in life.”

There are lots of people who have tattoos which represent their either current or troublesome past; but that doesn’t mean tattoos have to always represent something negative.

Wipple states that a big stereotype found within society is that all “[People with tattoos] are all the same kind of people, whether that’s people that go to jail or do drugs a lot.”

 It would not be a fair statement to say that all negative connotations of tattoos have been removed from society but it is in fact a promising statement to make that they are in fact changing more and more throughout generations. At the end of the day they are perfect symbols of sentimental value which one can keep forever; they can remind us of the good, the bad and the ugly. 

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