The Growing Acceptance of Tattoos
Tattoo? Or Taboo?
My parents are part of what has been coined "The Silent Generation" or the "Traditionalists". The second name is very fitting to describe the dynamics of this generation. Traditional people don't like to push the envelope. They wear preppy clothing and conform to the standards of the day. People of this generation only had tattoos typically if they were in the military. I remember my father, who is a Marine, once noticing a man of similar age's tattoo, "Oh, he must be a sailor. Only sailors got tattoos in my day."
After the Traditionalists we had the Baby Boomers. The Baby Boomers were the beginnings of the hippie movement, rock and roll, drug experimentation, etc. However, despite this pop culture explosion, tattoos still didn't resonate with most of this generation.
It was members of the later part of the Baby Boom generation who started to have tattoos. Rock and roll stars like Tommy Lee and Jon Bon Jovi showed up on MTV in the 1980's with tattoos. Now you didn't just need to walk into an old VFW pub to find those old sailors. Tattoos were there in your living room, everyday.
And who was soaking up all these displays of body art? Generation X. My friends and I would watch MTV and gawk at these men. We didn't think it was odd. We thought these guys were hot! Why did my father say only sailors have tattoos? Nikki Sixx is right there and he's not a sailor. Generation X's attitude changed. People were getting tattoos. A rose here, a flower there. In the 1990's, when Generation X was in its prime years, movie stars started getting inked as well. Johnny Depp's famous "Winona Forever" tattoo was a lesson in what not to do when you decided to finally get one. I remember waitressing one summer in college and spending the whole summer discussing what tattoo were going to get and where we would put it. By Labor Day, we all had our first tattoo. Gen X started the tattoo movement into mainstream society. No longer were tattoos for the stars of rock and roll or the big screen. Sally the girl next door was rocking her tramp stamp too.
So how did tattoos become as prevalent as they are today? Just as Gen X watched Slash and Anthony Keidis get inked up and copy them, 10-year-old Johnny of the Millennial generation watched Sally next door. Now the tattoo wasn't just on your TV screen. It was on your street, in the flesh. The Millennials have taken tattoos to a new level. Not only do they have a tattoo, they have numerous. Now they're not hidden under your bathing suit so dad can't see, they're out there for everyone to look at.
As a person with tattoos, I obviously don't abhor them. Tattoos are an art form. They are a form of self-expression. I have now had mine for almost 20 years. I have even added to my collection, being inspired by the Millennials. I love that people are becoming so accepting of tattoos. It is helping us become a less judegemental society.
I have 2 children. At first, I wasn't sure of how to handle my tattoos. After my first year parenting, I realized it is part of who I am. It is not a decision I regret. This past weekend I was at a family cookout. My 4 year-old niece came up to me in the pool. "I like your tattoo," she said, pointing to the rose on my stomach. "Thank you," I replied, "But you need to ask your cousin (my daughter) the rules on tattoos." My daughter turns to her and says, "If you like the same design in the same spot for 2 years, then it's ok to get one." "I think I want a unicorn one," my neice replied. "That sounds pretty!" I said. I realized after getting that rose to cover an Irish flag that I got on a whim, that tattoos are a commitment. They are forever, as most of us cannot afford laser removal if we screw up. The other tattoos I had gotten I had thought about for a long time, and have never regretted them. That is my only advice to people considering it.
I look at my favorite rockers as they age with their tattoos. I think they still look good. The later Baby Boomers aren't allowing age to get to them. Age is a state of mind. If you want to feel and act old, you will. Having tattoos helps you hold on to your youth. Sure my body will catch up to me some day. But it will probably be covered to hide my aging, not my tattoos. My tattoos will say to a passer by, "I was young once. These are the expressions of my experiences, part of my story," and I'm okay with that. Hopefully the Millenials will be too.