what’s up with the tattoos?

imagesGrowing up I rarely saw a tattoo but these days they seem to be everywhere.  Tattoos began as a way for sailors to avoid being forced into the British Royal navy following the American revolution.  Over the last decade it appears like tattoos have become a part of todays pop culture.  When I see an NBA player without one it takes me a few moments to figure out why they look different than everyone else.  It is because that person is free of ink.

The millennials love the tattoos.  Everyone these days is trying to establish their personal brand and a tattoo is part of ones identity.  It is part of their own personal path.  I am fascinated with it particularly what those tattoos will represent when these people turn 90.

The other day I saw this guy (maybe late 20’s early 30’s) driving his bicycle in lower Manhattan.  He looked a bit like the actor Adam Driver.  He had on no helmut (which is another insanity), he had a heavy lock draped around his body and had a bunch of tattoos.  A few on his shoulders, one on each calf (which you can only see in the summer with shorts) and perhaps more.  I started wondering as I have many times before “what’s up with the tattoos”?

Then a few days later I was with Emily and I commented on the tattoos.  I asked her the same question I have been asking myself.  “What’s up with the tattoos”?  Her answer was really interesting.  Maybe it is about rebellion.  There isn’t much to rebel against these days.  Sure this generation is living their lives differently than I grew up.  They are more creative, they are trying to find places to work where they are happy, they are starting their own companies, they are by and large supported by their families not necessarily financially but in spirit, their has not been any major upheaval in their lives except for possibly college debt.  Gay marriage has become legal and weed isn’t far behind.  The confederate flag has come down in a relatively calm manner compared to other times in history.

Getting a tattoo is a personal mark that puts permanent ink on your body that is only representative of your own desires.  It is a unique statement about yourself.  Curious what others think.

Comments (Archived):

  1. Jess Bachman

    There is a lot wrapped up in tattoos. Culture, fashion, rebellion. I wouldn’t say there isn’t much to rebel against… that’s all relative. Each generation has it’s own antagonist, and there is always.. you know.. your parents. People at the age of peak-tattoo will rarely have the foresight to say “lifes not so bad!”.I think a lot of the recent trend in tattoos is fashion related. Celebs get them, just look at the Beibs, and other cool hipster looking people get them, so the style proliferates. Same with beards.I have noticed that the tattoos I see on people in the city are considerable more well done, more thought-out, and more complete, than those I see on the people at the pool in the suburbs… which are often cringe worthy.I often wonder what it would take for me to put something permanent on my skin like that, and it usually involves some kind of remembrance should something terrible happen to a member of my family. Geuss I’m not into the whole fashion thing.

    1. Gotham Gal

      It is a permanent thing. Not a whim. I guess what is what baffles me the most.

      1. Jess Bachman

        Well, its less permanent than it’s ever been these days. Tattoo removal is a big business now.

  2. johndodds

    There’s a school of thought that for some it’s about reclaiming your body in much the same way as cutting is.Of course, this is all distorted by social copying. We shall look back in future times and reminisce about the sleeve epidemic of 2013.

  3. Yinka!

    I appreciate and indulge in various forms of adornment (clothing, shoes, accessories), precisely because they’re temporary; they can be shed at anytime, even though some styles may persist for extended periods. Hence why tats are a no for me – there’s just no expression of art/symbol that I want to see permanently on myself. Laser removal remains fairly uncommon, expensive and painful (I hear). In any case, like hipsters, tattoos have been mainstream for a while: I no longer see it as a distinguishing feature; having more of it (e.g. half/full sleeve vs single piece) is not any more distinctive than less. Its presence just marks the onetime or ongoing participation in a widespread style at most, just like say, wearing hats. Except these generally aren’t removable 🙂 But I do enjoy learning about historically/traditionally based tattooing from other regions and the cultural contexts around them.Incidentally, the MQB (musée du quai Branly) has an ongoing exhibition on tattoos through Oct. If you’ll be in Paris again soon, check it out if you haven’t already:http://www.quaibranly.fr/en

    1. Gotham Gal

      good to know. i will be back in october too!

    2. meredithcollinzzz

      Totally agree. There is no image I know I would like branded to me or representing me forever. And I cringe for the girls who get the upper arm bands – on some 20 year old arms I do think they look nice, but as they get older…

      1. Yinka!

        Yup, many also don’t think much later into the future, when the “canvas” and the art it holds will have changed significantly…

  4. Mario Cantin

    It’s an interesting phenomenon Joanne. When I grew up tattoos were for those on the fringes. If you had tattoos that couldn’t be hidden by clothing, it could have been hard to get a customer-facing job. And now we see supermodels and actors with them. It’s gotten to the point that it’s uncool not to have one. It was intriguing to witness this transition occur over time.I’ve decided not to have any personally, as if I did it would mostly be “to get on the bandwagon”, and that’s not a good enough reason for me; and so I’m sticking with “the old ways” on this one.

  5. Susan Rubinsky

    I am completely baffled by tattoos. When I was coming of age in the early 80’s I had seven earring holes in my ears. That was considered pretty radical at the time. I still wear earrings in them. But instead of wearing skulls and other rebellious stuff, I have diamonds and sapphires now. Maybe I would have gotten a tattoo had I been born into the tattoo generation. I really don’t know.What I do know is that my son who is 18 has really long hair and wears it in a man-bun. This also is it’s own form of this generation expressing itself. He can go on a summer internship, wear khakis, shirt and tie and keep his long hair. Not sure that would have been possible in the 1970’s. When I ask him about tattoos he says they are stupid because they are permanent.I have several friends who are covered in tattoos. Most of my girlfriends get tattoos to mark some important event or milestone in their lives or to remember someone. Personally, I don’t understand it. I’d rather go write a poem or create art to express myself. Or do other things.Have you seen those skin sculpted tattoos? Where people have their skin carved to be 3-d? I am revolted by those when I see them because I don’t understand why someone would open themselves up to infection and health complications and who knows what they will look like when you are old? Or what about those earring things that make big holes in your lobes? Why?When I see things like these, they remind me of aboriginal tribes I saw in National Geographic as I leafed through as a kid. Different cultures have different ways of marking people, branding people. The ultimate question I always have is: why would you brand yourself this way? Is this who you really are or who you want to become? I’d rather mark myself in the world in some other meaningful way.

    1. Gotham Gal

      The 3D stuff makes me cringe.

    2. pointsnfigures

      My daughter got a tattoo to commemorate a life moment. I told her if I had done that I would be featured in the circus.

      1. Gotham Gal


  6. pointsnfigures

    I have the same exact question. No answers. I have thought, if I was 16 today, would I get a tattoo? I played hoops and I notice from high school to college to pro, a lot of people have them. I would have been excommunicated from my family by my father quicker than the Pope kicked out Martin Luther.As I do the mental gymnastics of what if, the what I really can’t figure out is what the hell would I want on my body, where, and since I hate needles would I want to withstand the pain?

  7. Bica

    I have one tattoo. It’s not insanely large but it takes up the majority of the outer part of my upper arm. From the shoulder it reaches to just about sleeve length depending on the shirt. I’ll admit that I’ve always been enamored by tattoos even since I was a kid growing up through the late 80s and 90s, but I never knew why. It was almost a foregone conclusion that I would end up with a tattoo. It took until I was 25 before it happened. It resulted from the loss of somebody that was incredibly meaningful to me. Most people wouldn’t call me a nostalgic person, I don’t look at old photos and long for past days. This tattoo is my form of nostalgia. It’s not for anybody else. It’s for me. I see it everyday and I know what it stands for. It’s sort of a visual representation of an emotional scar, it represents something in my life that helped define who I am today. I don’t believe that I’m necessarily a good reflection of others who have tattoos. I would get another, and probably another after that. I feel like I’ve set my personal bar pretty high for the significance it would have to represent in order for me to do it. I’ll admit that I sometimes see what other people have chosen and wonder what they’ll think of that later in their life. But I know I won’t regret mine, and I personally don’t care what other people think about it, it’s not for them.

    1. Gotham Gal

      I get that. My daughters friend tattooed on something that was near and dear to heart that she wanted to see it daily

  8. lauraglu

    These pieces are commissioned art, commemorations, completely unique reflections of their personality, beliefs, experiences and tastes. Yes they are permanent and on their bodies, but these pieces take months or years and cost thousands of dollars; it isn’t a whim. There are tattoos that mourn, those that celebrate, those that remind and cause reflection, those that commemorate a high or low point in life. How amazing! Why wouldn’t you want that?Maybe we’re all nihilists and recognize that it’s laughable to be concerned with how we look at 90, or even more so, what people might think of us at 90 with tattoos – who cares!?There may be other psychological things at play. In a world where commitment is nearly obsolete, this is a commitment to yourself, to a permanence that you aren’t guaranteed in a job, a relationship, your health, a home.I don’t think it is a rebellion thing – it is more accepted than ever these days.It will be interesting to see if younger generations get as much cosmetic surgery as the 40+ crowd does today. I imagine yes, but I wonder if you question anyone who has had an eye lift or regular botox injections what their motivations are?

    1. Gotham Gal

      I think the 40+ crowd getting cosmetic surgery is to keep looking young and good when they look in the mirror instead of haggard.

      1. lauraglu

        Hopefully this will shift back to where aging is an accepted physical change rather than something to be fought.

        1. awaldstein

          Raises my favorite topic as indeed aging is not something to be fought but something (with exceptions of course) to be managed.What we know and accomplish with nutrition, exercise and emotional control have changed life.My belief is that if that lifespans are 20 years longer those years should come in the middle not the end!

    2. AMT Editorial Staff

      The reality is that many tattoos are not art. They are inked by low-skilled “artists” — very amateurish. And often (as I have been told) is because the the receiver didn’t know any better; did no research and was ignorant. So maybe the message was thought out, but often there is no art. I once saw in a yoga class, across the back of a student, “Fuck You” — Now what this was meant to commemorate, I have no idea. Or the man with “Massage Therapist” down his back. Huh? I have seen lovely tattoos too…real art. John Irving’s book “Until I Find You” delves into the artistry…

      1. Gotham Gal

        I have seen one with the word spelled wrong….and it is permanent!

  9. Wd

    your basic idea on tattoos here sounds somewhat legit except…”there isn’t much to rebel against” we are living in a time more than ever where without our consent, you are watched, monitored, and collected as marketing data and more. we have become drones in a game of corporate take over and complicit in wars using drones to kill more innocent people. our police, which are meant to protect us, our killing the black & brown members of our tribe. now more than EVER – we have lots to rebel against and …with ink or without….we all should.

    1. Gotham Gal

      fair enough. seeing the klu klux clan in south carolina this past week marching and having so many black americans take a stand on the streets again them without violence is a better form or rebellion than violence.

  10. jsteig

    Minimal data set, but I just taught a dozen entrepreneurs, 1/2 under 30 and 1/2 over. I asked the younger set if they had any tattoos and was surprised that they didn’t. Don’t know if that indicates anything. A friend who’s in administration at a major public university said in a survey they did 35% of the undergrads have tattoos. Also: see the book Science Ink. Beautiful science tattoos categorized by discipline.

    1. Gotham Gal

      35%. . Wow!!

      1. jsteig

        2010 Pew Research Center study (via 538): of the 2,020 adults Pew surveyed, 23% had at least one tattoo. That % was lowest among those 65 and older (6%) and highest among those ages 18 to 29 (38%) — so right in line with my 35%.

  11. William Mougayar

    Someone told me there are more tattoos than smartphones because people get more than one tattoo, typically. Have you heard of http://Www.tattoohero.com? It’s a SaaS platform for tattoo parlors to manage their business & community.

    1. Gotham Gal

      I have read that to. One is just the beginning to more…generally.Tattoohero. Disruption everywhere!

  12. Olivia

    When I was in culinary school, my chef instructor told me that he had a FULL metal jacket ie fully covered head to toe beneath his chefs whites. I would have never known…super clean cut guy. He explained that it was a form of self mutilation to scar himself from things in his past. Very very dark…

    1. Gotham Gal

      super dark

  13. Jeff Epstein

    A friend of mine told her son, when he was thinking of getting a tattoo: “Imagine wearing your favorite T shirt. Now imagine wearing it every day for the rest of your life.”

    1. Gotham Gal

      that is a great analogy

  14. LizScott

    I have a tattoo that references a life event. I find comfort that no matter how much of life will happen to me/by me/at me, I have a reminder of a person I was, a thing I accomplished. I think there is danger in forgetting who you were as life seeks to define you. I have a reminder of a way I seek to define myself.

  15. Steven Kane

    arguably the contemporary fad for body modification started in the 1980s, along with the punk/street art/performance art movement out of NYC and LA. which was documented nicely by RE/Search publications (god, i miss them) in their 1989 tome, Modern Primitiveshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wi…sadly, today, what was a protest movement designed to articulate each person’s individuality has morphed (perhaps unsurprisingly – deja vu all over again) into a “follow the herd” type scene. so many young people are getting so many tattoos that — as you point out — the young person with NO tattoos is the stand outthe sad thing (for me anyway) is that body modification, particularly tattoos, are essentially permanent. christ, when i think of all the things I did in earlier years that I am glad, so glad, I don’t have to wear around today like a sandwich board!here’s a near certain success startup idea – national chain of clean bright well lit tattoo removal parlors. demand in coming years will be titanic

    1. Gotham Gal

      I’m in. Let’s invest!

    2. Yinka!

      Yes: TRaaS (Tattoo Removal as a Service) operated as fleet of vans that come to your door or setup in neighbourhoods for a few days at a time. Upload your tats online for price estimates and to book appointments beforehand. Sell ice-cream on the side to passersby (or crying clients with low pain threshholds).

  16. rebeccastees

    Literally, self-branding ……

    1. Gotham Gal


  17. ellen sing

    According to my husband if you are Jewish and get a tattoo, you cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

    1. Gotham Gal

      That is correct.

  18. waldon

    I think a small tattoo is interesting. I think if you keep it a secret, its even more interesting. What I don’t get is people with their arms and chest covered with tats. Don’t people realize the impulsive thought of today, won’t be gone tomorrow? I’ve seen enough women with their chest covered with tattoos and it takes away from their beauty. In 20yrs, there are going to be a whole generation really pissed they got tattoos..