Just A Poke Towards the Changing Culture of Tattoos

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Loy Norrix student, Lili Mead, shows off one of her freshly finished stick and poke tattoos. Photo Credit / Gaia Bogan

Twenty-one years ago it was illegal to get tattooed in New York City, but today most people would hardly blink an eye at a full sleeve. It’s hard to conceptualize how society’s judgements could dissipate in less than a generation. Undeniably, the internet has had a hand in morphing society’s perceptions and challenging stereotypes. Everyday we are exposed to the variety of ways people express their individuality, including tattoos, and social media only exacerbates this.

For the first half of the 20th century tattoos, although not exactly taboo, were associated almost exclusively with enlisted men. In the 1950s American values began to shift towards those of uniformity, it was during this period that tattoos began to have connotations with a criminal lifestyle. Stereotypes of tattooed individuals arose during this time and for many years society did not equate any sort of success or professional ability with tattooed individuals. Recently, however, tattoos have are finally reaching a more favorable light. For one of the first times in modern American history, the stigma of tattoos is evaporating.

Millenials have more tattoos, piercings and dyed hair than any previous generation and the numbers are going up. Twenty-one percent of all American adults have a tattoo, however the number is closer to 40 percent for those aged 18 to 29. Meanwhile the tattoo industry is the sixth fastest growing retail business in America.

More and more young people are getting tattoos every year, many with the blessing of their parents.

“My whole family is covered in tattoos,” explained senior Tremor Evans, who got a tattoo at sixteen.

Evans chose to get a succulent and cacti on the lower leg, a homage to the plants they’ve long collected. Evans is a perfect example of the changing climate. Evans went with their mom to Raven’s Tattoo in Otsego, and getting a tattoo wasn’t huge deal or signal of rebellion.

“Mostly my parents were excited for me,” said Evans.

While Evans chose to get professionally inked, many people, especially those underage, are opting for more DIY methods. The stick n poke method of tattooing was once associated with prison tattoos, but today it is emerging as a fringe community in the world of tattooing.

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One of Mead’s other tattoos is the word ‘soft’ on her inner ankle. This tattoo was self done. Photo Credit / Gaia Bogan

“It’s more personal of an experience,” said senior Lili Mead when asked about the appeal. This seems to be a common theme. There is no ‘traditional’ way of getting a stick n poke and each seems to have a unique origin story.  

Also referred to as ‘hand poking,’ these tattoos are done with a singular needle as opposed to a traditional tattoo gun. As a result, the designs are usually small and simple in order to achieve clean lines.

“This is one of my favorites right now,” Mead gestures to the word ‘mother’ on her right ankle. “I got it and a year later a musician I really like got one that’s almost identical.”

Mead is also fond of the word ‘soft’ penned lightly on her foot. By her own estimate she has over ten tattoos and no intention of stopping.

“I’m planning on getting a cartoon dog on my leg,” Mead said.

It should be noted that like any body modifications, these tattoos do have health risks. If the correct safety precautions are not taken, results can be disastrous, such as an infection or just a bad looking tattoo. Using the right ink and a clean needle is imperative for anyone considering this. Contrary to the popular misconception, it is not safe to use pen ink during this process. Instead India ink, or even better, tattoo ink is recommended. 

Ultimately the exploding popularity of tattoos is simply an side-effect of a greater cultural change. Our society is becoming a place where being different is not only accepted, but celebrated. With such varying styles, experiences, and meanings, it can be hard to see any shared trends between these tattoos, but emerging is a unified attitude of open-mindedness towards self-expression.

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