Tattoos finding more mainstream audience

By Krista Macomber
On April 8, 2010

  • Local tattoo parlors such as Hobo’s Tattoo Shop in Portsmouth have seen a steady increase in the variety of people from different demographics that have been engaging in body modification. Courtesy Photo

When you think of tattoos, what type of person comes to mind?

"At one point in history if you had a tattoo you were either a part of a gang, a member of the military, or some form of degenerate," said Jeremy Day, 27, a body piercing apprentice at The Painted Bird tattoo and piercing studio in Medford, Mass.

The art of tattooing has a long and rich history. However, Day is right. Despite such an extensive background, it is a medium which has long been frowned upon by society at large. Recent trends, however, show that this might be changing.

"It's not just bikers, punks, metal heads, and the like that are going to tattoo shops and getting a little bit of ink put in their skin," said Day. "Just last week I saw a father come in with his daughter to get her navel pierced and he got a tattoo while he was in. I watched the center for the Celtics get his tattoo work touched up. I've seen older women, housewives, businessmen."

Bill Rocha, a tattoo artist at Hobo's Tattoo Shop in Portsmouth, agreed that the dynamics and demographics of people getting tattooed are changing.

"There's more of a range of people getting tattooed. Older women are coming in for their first tattoo at the age of 50 or 60," Rocha said.

Both Day and Rocha said tattoos' negative stigma is decreasing in intensity. Tattoos are becoming more acceptable, and even fashionable. Rocha largely attributed this to changing popular media.

"[Tattooing has] always been a popular medium, but recently with more tattoo reality television shows and the like, it's becoming acknowledged as an art form instead of backdoor way to express yourself," Rocha said.

However, Rocha said modern technology has also played a huge role in the upsurge in tattooing.

"The art form is evolving more quickly," Rocha said. "Tattooing has made leaps and bounds in the past 10 years. With new machines and equipment, we [tattoo artists are] able to get everything super precise, down to a fraction of a millimeter. You can manipulate all those variables now. Power supplies are becoming refined and digital. With modern advances, you can refine anything on a more accurate level. It makes our job easier and allows us to do more than could before."

Regardless, Day said he thinks lines are still drawn between what is considered acceptable and the taboo. Most tattoos that he sees soccer moms and businessmen or women getting are easily concealable, either placed somewhere discreet or made very small. He said this line of taboo is crossed when the tattoo cannot be covered up. Despite the tendency of tattoos to be addictive, he said people tend to limit themselves to a couple of tattoos because of the pain.

"It's these sort of things, only a certain degree of tattoo and a certain degree of pain being acceptable, that still makes some body modification taboo," Day said. "For example, I got scarified (the cutting away of flesh so that it heals in a white scar in a decorative pattern) recently and it's something that even some of my open-minded friends cringe at. Society is becoming more accepting of body modification as we begin to view it not necessarily as an act of rebellion but as a way of making ourselves beautiful, just as makeup, bodybuilding, plastic surgery, and other such things are."

Emily Cooper, a junior at UNH, got her first tattoo at Hobo's in January. She said she expected the pain to deter her from ever wanting to get tattooed again, but it ended up not being so bad. She said she actually would get another if they weren't so expensive.
Cooper agreed that tattoos are becoming more accepted, but said she hasn't noticed a growing popularity, especially on the UNH campus.

"I think that tattoos have been a popular thing on college campuses for a while now," Cooper said. "I do think they're a lot more accepted by society as a true art form now, and people with tattoos aren't as frowned upon as they used to be. But as it stands, I would probably never show my grandma."
Susan Terpin got her first tattoo nine years ago on her 18th birthday in her hometown of Buffalo, NY.
 "I knew from the time I was about 13-years-old that I wanted to be fully sleeved," said Terpin. "It was just always something I knew I wanted. I just knew that's the way I wanted to express myself."

After Buffalo, Terpin spent a few years in Florida. She currently resides in Hampton, NH. She said the south and east coast have roughly the same percentage of tattooed people – 15 percent and 14 percent respectively – but these diverse cultures do have different perceptions of tattoos.

"I do notice that I get more ‘recognized' for my tattoos here [in New Hampshire]," Terpin said. "At Shaw's [where I work] even when I am wearing long sleeves everyone wants to know about my tattoos."

However, Terpin believes that tattoos, despite their long history, are also just a passing fad.

"If you look at the overall history of tattooing, it's been around forever, but it really come and goes with the tides," Terpin said. " Tattooing didn't even become legal in all 50 states until three years ago, but if you look back in history it's always an on again off again thing."
Even if it is only a passing trend that fades in five years, the art of tattooing will remain present in society on people's bodies. That ink is permanent, after all.

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