As sophomore geography major Anna Reynolds walks into the Natick Mall to start her shift at work, she notices people looking at her arm as they walk past her.
Reynolds, who has a full-sleeve tattoo covering the entirety of her left arm, said she catches people looking at her exposed ink constantly. “It [the tattoo] isn’t very hard to miss when I’m wearing a short-sleeve shirt,” she said. “I like showing it off. I expect people to stare. It’s extremely colorful and eye-catching.”
The tattoo, depicting an ocean scene, gets more than just curious looks. Reynolds said people have questioned her, asking why she got it, even going as far to tell her she will regret it when she is older. “I’ll never regret getting this tattoo,” she said.
Although Reynolds doesn’t mind when people stare and even ask questions about it, she doesn’t like when people grab her arm to look at it. “While I waitress, I’ve had customers literally grab my arm as I walk by their table,” she said. “They’re mostly elderly people asking me, ‘What in God’s name is that?’”
Reynolds said not all of her customers are like that. “I always get asked about my tattoo at least once during my shift,” she said. “Most [of them] are just curious and ask me what it is, how long it took to complete and if it hurt.”
Although she doesn’t mind offering an explanation for her tattoo, Reynolds said she doesn’t like that people feel it’s okay to grab her arm, especially while she’s working. “There are better ways to get my attention,” she said. “I would have no problem if they simply said, ‘Excuse me’, and ask about it. I don’t appreciate being told I will regret it or I’ll never get a job other than waitressing. It’s my decision as to why I want to get tattoos, not theirs. I don’t make arrogant statements about people not having any tattoos. I would like the same respect in return.”
There are many reasons why someone chooses to get a tattoo. Meredith Nelson, a senior English major, said she gets them because it is “an unspoken expression of myself.” She added, “It’s hard to describe yourself in words. Sometimes, your own art speaks louder than what you verbalize.”
Nelson’s arm tattoo; photo courtesy of Meredith Nelson.
Nelson, who has over 20 tattoos, said she notices people looking at her legs when she wears shorts. “They look at what the tattoo is or what it might represent.”
Because she has so many, Nelson said that sometimes she gets unwanted questions about her ink. “My biggest pet peeve is when people ask, ‘Why do you have that?’ or, ‘What does it represent?’ Most of my tattoos have very personal meanings, and I don’t like to share that [information] with strangers.”
Of the 20-plus tattoos Nelson has, she said her favorite is on her right calf and it depicts a mountain scene. “My girlfriend has the same one except the difference is mine is set in day and hers is at night.” She said the reason they got this tattoo is because they wanted to “capture a perfect moment in our relationship.”
Kimmi Awiszio, a senior English major with five tattoos, said she likes to get them because she wants to remember every part of her life. “I want to be able to portray my identity in the most original and permanent way possible.”
Awiszio has had people approach her, asking about her tattoos. She has three which are almost always visible – one on her chest, which is the word “Alohomora,” one on her arm, a half sleeve depicting a Harry Potter and Horcrux scene and one on her forearm, spelling out the word “love.”
“People have asked me, ‘What are you going to do when you need to get a real job?‘” she said. “Not only does that bother me because it belittles the job I do have, but also, so many people in the work world, specifically the business world, judge people with tattoos as if their tattoos affect their skills in the office.”
Dan White, a senior elementary education major, has a matching tattoo with his brother. He said, “I like the idea of recording what matters, or mattered, in your life on your own body.”
He has one tattoo which gets judged frequently whenever it is visible. The tattoo depicts the American and Lebanese flags which cross one another. Underneath the flags, he has his brother’s name, David, written in Arabic.
“My brother has the same tattoo in the same place with my name,” White said. “It’s a reminder that, no matter what, we will always be brothers.”
Because the name is written in Arabic, White said he has encountered some ignorant comments from people. “’What, does that mean you’re a terrorist now or something?’ ‘Did you convert to Muslimism?’ ‘That’s pretty un-American.’ ‘Why would you put Islam on your shoulder?’” said White, recalling some of the questions he’s been asked.
He said once he explains what the tattoo means, “They think it’s a sweet thing, [but] some people still think it’s terrible I didn’t get it written in English.”
Bobby Creed, a junior math major, said he has one tattoo representing his family. The tattoo, which covers the lower half of his arm, spells out “Blood is thicker than water.”
“Family is the most important thing to me,” he said. “I wanted to represent that and what better way to do that than permanently on my body?”
Creed said he has been questioned a few times about his tattoo, but it doesn’t really bother him unless he catches people staring. “Sometimes I hear people asking their friends what’s on my arm. I don’t see why they can’t just ask me if they’re so curious. I don’t mind telling people what it represents because it’s very meaningful to me.”
Brittany Malo, a junior math major, said she has three tattoos that are rarely visible to others unless she is wearing a bathing suit or a shirt that is low-cut in the back. “I love the idea of expressing myself through tattoos, because I can put something that means something to me on my body.”
Malo has the word “live” on her left shoulder, “laugh” in the middle of her shoulders and “love” on her right shoulder.
She said the only time she’s really been asked questions is if she’s wearing a dress or a bathing suit that exposes her ink. “A lot of times, people will say, ‘Those will look great when you wear a wedding dress,’” Malo said. “It’s unwanted and unnecessary negativity, no matter who the comments come from. It’s my body, not theirs.”
Awiszio’s sleeve; photo courtesy of Kimberly Awiszio.
Nelson, Awiszio, White, Creed and Malo all have plans to get additional tattoos. Nelson said she plans on finishing her half-sleeve on her right arm in the near future and starting a full-sleeve on her left arm after her right arm is complete. She also plans on covering her legs and getting a back piece when she is older.
White said he has at least three more in mind: the triforce from the Legend of Zelda, a phoenix shoulder piece and an Ouroboros.
Malo plans on getting a sunflower on her foot, but wants to stop getting tattoos after that. “I know they’re addicting,” she said. “But, I really only want one more.”
Creed said he plans on turning his quote into a full-sleeve, all representing his family. “I want to get a symbol that represents each member of my family. A hockey stick for my little brother, music notes for my older sister, a blue jay for my mom and a Boston sports theme for my dad. Each symbol represents something that is extremely important to them.”
Jacob Ferry, a sophomore psychology major, said he and his dad each have part of a quote on their forearms. “It was his eighteenth birthday present to me,” he said. “My dad had always wanted a tattoo, and he knew I wanted one and we both thought it would be cool to get one together.”
Jacob’s father’s tattoo reads, “Remind that we will always have each other,” and Ferry’s tattoo finishes the quote saying, “When everything else is gone.”
Ferry said he thinks it’s great his father has a tattoo. “When I was growing up, he was always against them and didn’t want me or any of my siblings getting them. So when he agreed to get one with me, I knew I had to get one that represented the both of us. He’s my best friend.”
Tina LaBelle, a junior marketing major, said her parents didn’t know about two of her four tattoos until a year ago. “I was scared to tell them,” she said. “They hated the concept of them and every time I brought up getting one, they would either ignore me or tell me not to ruin my body.”
LaBelle got her first tattoo on her eighteenth birthday, a simple heart on her foot. “It doesn’t really represent anything,” she said. “I think I got it more or less to piss them off, which was dumb looking back on it now.”
She also has the word “bulletproof” tattooed on her right thigh, right below her hip bone. “It was easier to hide the one on my thigh than the one on my foot,” LaBelle said. “I could always cover my thigh, even in the summer. With my foot, I either wrapped up my foot and told my parents I twisted my foot in dance, or always wore socks.”
Her most recent two are on both of her shoulders. She has “Love mom” and “Love dad” on them, which is written in their hand writing. “My parents would write me notes before I went to school in the morning and always signed them with love mom and love dad,” she said. “I showed them once I got it done and even though they were against the idea of tattoos, they loved this one.”
After she showed her parents those two, she admitted to the other two. “They were kind of mad after that, but they’re over it now. They just don’t want me to get anymore,” LaBelle said. “I did get the heart on my foot covered up, though. It’s an anchor with the saying ‘I refuse to sink.’”
Kayla Peyton, a sophomore geography major, said her and her mother have a mother-daughter tattoo. “My mom surprised me on my nineteenth birthday, saying we were going to get dinner,” she said. “We stopped at the tattoo parlor and that’s when she said we were going to get the tattoo I told her jokingly would be fun for us to get.”
Kayla’s mother has “You are my sunshine” tattooed on her right shoulder blade while Peyton has “My only sunshine” on her left shoulder blade. “My mom would always sing that song to me when I was a kid. I never thought in a million years she would take me seriously when I mentioned getting it.”
She said people often assume it is a quote shared with a boyfriend or a friend. “People think it’s the cutest thing when I tell them it’s a tattoo with my mom. My mom is my best friend and I’m glad we have this reminder of one another on our bodies.”
While students at Framingham State use tattoos as a form of self-expression, others believe it is simply just a trend. Michelle Damon, a junior math major, said, “I see some tattoos that people have and just think, ‘Why?’ I can appreciate some people’s tattoo choices, but there are some I feel people are going to regret.”
Damon said she doesn’t disagree with getting tattoos, but believes people should really think about what they are going to be putting on their bodies. “It’s a permanent decision and people need to make sure they are going to be happy with what they choose.”
In 2010, the Pew Research Center reported that 40 million people in the United States have at least one tattoo, which is more than double the number from a generation ago.
As more and more people are getting tattoos, businesses are finding themselves hiring more employees who have ink on their bodies. According to www.allbusiness.com, tattoos have gained a wider acceptance. “For years, many people associated tattoos with gangs, bikers and other groups that were thought to operate outside of the social center,” according to the site.
The website states that companies banning tattoos altogether is not only inappropriate, it can violate the law. The site uses the example of a four-star hotel not wanting their concierge to have “large tattoos of skulls and crossbones on the back of each hand.”
The site said it is the hotel’s responsibility to write a policy “drawing appropriate lines in which visible tattoos may or may not be appropriate.”
It gets more complicated, however, as the site addresses a bank hiring an administrative assistant who has no interaction with customers. “The odds are that while the bank may not appreciate a facial tattoo, it’s probably not worth the chance of losing a good employee or not being able to retain a new one by having a policy that would prohibit the tattoo altogether.”
Nelson believes there should be more acceptance in the work place because tattoos are able to give people a chance to express themselves in a personal and artistic way. “I’m not suggesting that anyone gets a face tattoo, but it should be more accepted,” she said. “There is nothing wrong about art on human skin.”
Tim Morris, a senior marketing major, said he has a tattoo of a cross covering the majority of his left shoulder and his place of work doesn’t have a problem with it. “My boss and I talk about tattoos all the time,” Morris said. “Having a tattoo doesn’t mean I’m less capable of completing a task than a non-tattooed person.”
Ashley Thompson, a junior food and nutrition major, said she covered up her tattoo on her wrist for nearly six months at her job. She has the word “love” wrapped in the infinity symbol. “I would always have a large bracelet on, or even a wrist band,” Thompson said. “One day, I forgot to put any jewelry on. I got so many compliments on it, even from the general manager.”
Morris said there is no reason work places shouldn’t be accepting of tattoos. “I can understand face or neck tattoos,” he said. “But if you have a tattoo that’s meaningful and represents something important to you, how can a place of employment tell you it’s wrong or unacceptable? I don’t see how having tattoos hinders one’s ability to do a job.”
Thompson agreed with Morris. “Work places that aren’t accepting of tattoos could potentially miss out on an amazing employee. Would they really turn down someone who was everything they wanted in an employee because they have tattoos?”
Jordan Ricci, a junior sociology major, has a full-sleeve on her left arm and said her employer has no problem with her ink. “If any work place sees an issue with tattoos, they are the ones with the problem, not the person who has them. … By denying someone [a job] because of tattoos, they’re missing out on not only an amazing person, but an amazing would-be asset to their company. I hope any company who denies a possible employee because they have tattoos, then they are denying them for how they express themselves.”