What drives people to get a tattoo and how are persons with a tattoo viewed by society? These questions intrigue me, as I have been thinking about getting a tattoo for probably two years now, but the permanence factor keeps me from doing it. What I found interesting is how my parents thought about the possibility of me getting a tattoo. They were very strongly against it. In their eyes a tattoo was something only rough or rebellious people would get on their body. They also commented that they thought a tattoo was kind of masculine. This surprised me because youth right now are very much into tattoos, and the tattoos that I’ve seen among my peers are usually very small, feminine and minimalist. This made me wonder if there is a generation gap in how tattoos are considered between young people today, the so-called “Generation Y,” and the parental generation, “Generation X.”
Getting a tattoo is a big trend right now. In the media, movies and pop culture, tattoos are seen everywhere. But not so long ago a tattoo was considered only something for bad guys and a huge stigma was attached to it. I wanted to find out how these perceptions on tattoos have changed, how it was perceived a generation ago and how it is perceived now. It seems that tattoos have become normalized, going from being deviant and stigmatized to a huge trend in a short time. Existing research mostly focuses on the motivational aspect of the tattoo, but I want to focus on the aspect of social perceptions, and how this differs between the two generations.
These days, even as tattoos have become a trend, in some situations people with tattoos can still feel stigmatized. For instance, in work situations, it is not appropriate to show a tattoo and it is not desirable to have an employee with a tattoo. “Visible tattoos still carry a negative connotation among employers and could be hurting your chances of getting hired,” so one study showed (Huffington Post, 2013). Some people, mostly older people, don’t get the whole trend and still stigmatize people with tattoos. But this also applies for young people; imagine being in a dark alley and a man covered in tattoos approaches you, you’d probably more scared than if that persons didn’t have any tattoos.
Tattoos are linked and used to be linked to multiple deviant youth cultures, such as punkers, rockers and goths. A tattoo is a way of showing who you are, what you stand for, and a way to show which youth culture you relate to. For instance, gangs usually have their gang name tattooed and goths have skulls tattooed. Tattoos have also been a form of rebellion; it’s a way of showing, I can do with my body what I want, parents or society can’t stop me. That’s why some parents dislike tattoos so much, they’re permanent and an act of rebellion in their eyes. Tattoos are most desirable when you’re young because then you deal with peer pressure and the need to fit in. A tattoo is mostly considered a badass thing by youth so if you have one you’re cool and badass. It’s easier to fit in if you’re cool and badass and people look up to you because of your tattoo. Also, youth are more impulsive, and would get a tattoo sooner than an adult. I do feel like it used to be a deviant youth culture thing and is now a trend for the masses.
This research paper attempts to answer the following main research question: What are the perceptions of two tattooed generations on tattoo stigmas and the seeming normalization of tattoos as a trend? The accompanying sub-questions are: What are the similarities and differences between the two generations’ perceptions? How do they feel about their tattoos and tattoos in general? Has their opinion changed over the years? In what way are the generations stigmatized? How does gender fit in that stigmatization? How is it possible that tattoo stigmas and the process of tattoo normalization simultaneously exist? How did generation X (and maybe Y) experience the process from a tattoo being stigmatized to becoming a trend?
The research consisted of six qualitative semi-structured interviews with six Dutch respondents with tattoos. Of these six respondents three were from generation X (respondent 1, 2 and 3) and three from generations Y (respondent 4,5 and 6). The age categories are for generation X: 45-55 years, and for generation Y: 18-22 years. The respondents consisted of 1 male (generation X) and 5 females. The researcher’s network was used to recruit respondents, with the use of the snowball method. The interviews were each about 45 minutes long and more of a conversation about their tattoos. The respondents’ names have been changed and their tattoos are not shown in this paper to achieve full anonymity.
Personal stories and experiences
Every respondent that has been interviewed has meaning or a personal story behind their tattoo. The meanings were all very personal and individual focused; only one respondent, Jesse, had a collective meaning to his tattoo. Respondent 1, Stephanie (48) has this beautiful, large tattoo of a koi carp embellished with flowers on her back and her arms with an extraordinary myth behind it which she got at the age of 32.
“It is a tattoo about courage and perseverance. There once was a koi carp that was the most courageous of all, he tried to swim up a waterfall to fight a black dragon that was terrorizing a village. He failed after a hard, long struggle and was incorporated by the gods. They turned him into a white dragon so he could fight the black dragon and save the village.” (Stephanie)
She said that she hadn’t defeated her big, black dragon in her life yet but she had defeated multiple little black dragons. Her koi swims down, “as if he is searching for a new black dragon” (Stephanie).
Respondent 2, Jesse (53) has a tattoo of the logo of his year club of his fraternity on his bottom, which he got at the age of 25. The men of this club decided to give this as a present to each other when they graduated. “We thought about a present for the first graduating boys and could not think of anything other than a tattoo. It’s for fun, and I still think it’s fun” (Jesse). This I found truly interesting because he and his club distinguish themselves from the other year clubs and the fraternity trough this tattoo. In this sense his tattoo is adding to his self-identity and his group identity. And since a tattoo is forever he will always be remembered of his group identity and that part of his life.
Respondent 3, Anne (50) has a tattoo of a small sun on her shoulder which she got at the age of 30. “The meaning behind this tattoo is that I’m a very joyful person and I always knew that if I ever got a tattoo, it would be a sun. However, I mostly cover it up” (Anne). She has had similar necklaces for her daughters made so they could also wear them and be reminded of their mother and to sort of carry on the tradition without her kids having to have the same tattoo. She does strongly discourage her daughters to get tattoos, especially on a young age. When I asked her if she ever regretted her tattoo she had to think for a minute but after all said no, even though I saw some hesitation to some extent in her reaction. She was also the most against tattoos from all the respondents and had the most prejudges, from my point of view.
Respondent 4, Evelyn (21) has tattoos of three elephants on her ankle, a hummingbird on her shoulder and an arrow on her side which she got when she was 19, 20 and 21 years.
“All these tattoos represent the hard battle that I struggled, and still am struggling. The three elephants represent my family and that I’m so lucky that I still have them. The hummingbird represents a personal battle that I’m still battling. And last the arrow represents a fun holiday but also to always look forward.” (Evelyn)
She grew up in a very tattoo-friendly environment, her parents have tattoos and supported her in her decision to get inked. She thinks that being in such an environment influenced her views on tattoos. She does think that she got tattoos easier because of the normalization of tattoos in her family. To her, her tattoos were not an act of rebellion but a way to remind herself how strong she is and that she already overcame so much on a young age.
Respondent 5, Monique (20) also has three tattoos which she got when she was 18 and 19 years old. She has an elephant on her side, a moth on her arm and an abstract picture of her and her best friend on her ankle. “The elephant and the one on my ankle are truly personal and meaningful but the moth on my arm is because I really wanted to have a tattoo of this particular artist and I really love it now” (Monique). The story behind the elephant on her side is very personal. The elephant tattoo that she has, has a prosthetic. This is an elephant that her father saved and nursed back to good health. After that he began a business to help other elephants as well and this elephant became face of the brand. Monique visited this specific elephant a lot of times and found this so unique and because of the connection with her father, that she wanted that elephant, with prosthetic and all, on her side. She now also works for this company so it’s truly a family business.
Respondent 6, Megan (19) has a tattoo of three little stars and one big star above them on her ankle which she got when she was 18 years old.“The big star stands for my father, who passed away and is now watching over us, her and her brothers, from heaven.” (Megan) When her father passed at a young age, she was struggling very much with it. To this day, she misses her father a lot, so on the age of 18 she decided she wanted to get a tattoo to commemorate him. This tattoo helps her in times when life is hard and she misses her father. In this way, she knows that he will always be there for her. Her mother wasn’t too happy with it at first, but now she accepted it and finds it a beautiful idea to immortalize her father.
The reactions that these respondents received from society on their tattoo are very different. Some almost only had friendly reactions; “People mostly react very positively because they think my tattoo is beautiful” (Stephanie). “Most people don’t see my tattoo so I don’t really get any reactions. But when I tell them most are impressed” (Jesse). Others also received negative reactions; The reactions I get are mostly very nice, a lot of compliments, but I have received a lot of negative reactions too, such as people who said I was too young to have a tattoo or they stared and stared. That makes me quite uncomfortable” (Evelyn). “In the spheres in which I find myself, more of a high-class scene, a tattoo really isn’t appreciated” (Anne).
The weirdest reactions that the respondents got were things like: “You should really cover that up” (Megan) and “It is such a shame because you have such a classical face” (Stephanie). This also connects to the stigma that tattoos aren’t feminine, further discussed below. The respondents do acknowledge that they became stronger because of their tattoos, the corresponding stigmas and the reactions. Stephanie also said that she thought that to have a tattoo you must “be confident and strong, because having a tattoo is for some people an invitation to give their unsolicited opinion” (Stephanie). Others think that their tattoo is a starting point to break the ice and start random conversations: “I really like it that people comment (positively) on my tattoos and ask stuff about them. I also randomly start conversations with people about their tattoos” (Evelyn).
Further, Evelyn and Monique felt they had some sort of link to other tattooed people, “you went through the same thing and you have some sort of unconditional respect for each other. I also think that tattoos are pretty badass and I like it when people see me as badass so that’s also where this mutual feeling of respect and bond comes from” (Monique). I found this rare bonding process very interesting. It seems they feel the tattoos are something that overcomes race, background an age and creates a mutual understanding and respect that I have never witnessed before by something else.
The differences between the two generations were very noticeable. What stands out is that when the older generation, generation X, got a tattoo they were relatively old, 25 and up. The younger generation, generation Y, all had their tattoos when they were under the age of 20. So, what’s interesting is that the older generation got their tattoo when I would consider them as adults and not youth anymore. When I asked the older generation why that was, they said; I think I’ve thought longer and harder about my tattoos than the new generation” (Anne). “I’ve thought ten years about my tattoo before I was sure enough that I wanted it forever on my back. You don’t see that much anymore” (Stephanie). So, in this sense tattoos are not only part of the youth culture and in the older respondents lives it was only part of their ‘adult culture’. In this way, their tattoo helped less with their shaping of their identities because they felt they already to some level knew who they were. But the tattoo helped them to be stronger in their own identity and the older generation does identify themselves with their tattoo.
The older generation feels that nowadays youth from the age of sixteen get tattoos just because they feel like it and because of the cool factor. They feel they were more original because back then tattoos were something rare and they really thought it through. Even though they were adults when they got their tattoo they still feel that with them it was more of big deal to get a tattoo and all three of them said that it was an act of rebellion. “But even though it was an act of rebellion, I got my tattoo at the age of thirty so you would say by then that you’re out of the rebellious stage of your life, haha” (Anne). “Mine was an act of rebellion because it was the first time I went on vacation without my kids because I was just divorced and it was a bit like “lekker puh”, and the start of a new time” (Stephanie).
The older respondents also feel there is a difference in reactions from the older and younger generations. Younger generations tend to think that tattoos are cool and something to look up to, a status icon. With society becoming more and more open to tattoos, the older respondents were raised with stricter parents and parents who were more influenced by the stigmas than the parents of the younger generation. Also, the surroundings where the older respondents found themselves where older, because they had their tattoos at a later stage of their lives. They feel back then the stigmas were really set in stone in society. There was a lot of parochialism. But now that stigmas in other fields are decreasing too, such as sexuality, gender and so on, society is more open to deviance and much less parochial. So currently they still get more negative reactions from people from their own generation and more positive reactions from the youth.
The younger generation also notices that it is more and more normalized to get a tattoo and some admit that if tattoos weren’t so normalized they wouldn’t have gotten one. “I have my tattoo because I think it’s cool, and of course this has something to do with the stigmatization but If I was to be characterized as a hooker, I wouldn’t have gotten one” (Evelyn). Evelyn said this after I told her about the prior stigmatization that tattoos were only for criminals, sailors and hookers. “When I see someone older with a tattoo I find them instantly three times cooler than a young tattooed person, just because in those days it was really hard to one” (Megan). Evelyn and Monique also felt similar. So, they do acknowledge that old people with tattoos had to face so much more stigmatization and they admire that a lot. They feel like when they got their tattoos it’s wasn’t really an act of rebellion. “Maybe against my parents a little, they still don’t really like my tattoo. But I definitely got my tattoos for myself and because I think tattoos are beautiful and not to break free from the system or something” (Monique).
The younger generation felt their tattoos helped form their identities more. This might be because youth are in the midst of trying to figure out who they are. It is why people always say that you should experiment with new things in your youth, because you don’t know exactly who you are yet, can have phases of who or what you identify yourself with (different youth cultures for example) and have few responsibilities. But with all these factors, including peer pressure, pressure from parents, pressure to live without worries and to experiment, it can still be hard to form an identity without getting influenced by the surroundings. The link between identity formation and tattoos is often more personal. Especially Evelyn, who got her tattoos after a difficult personal and family crisis, felt she found herself and her strength again after she endured the pain of the tattoo. “Even though the hard times of course formed me and who I am a lot, the tattoos were prove of what I overcame and I made me realize who I want to be and even more who I am now, after everything that has happened” (Evelyn). Monique felt like all the experiences in her life construct her identity and her tattoos are one of them. “[the elephant] made me feel closer to my family than I had before and made me realize how important my family and animals are to me” (Monique).
Stigmas are a major part of youth struggles, as youth need to deals with fitting in, being in- and excluded and defining their identity trough others. It is only when people get older that it is suddenly desirable to be original and different, but when you’re young you desire to be like your peers. Goffman defines stigma as “an attribute, behavior, or reputation which is socially discrediting in a particular way: it causes an individual to be mentally classified by others in an undesirable, rejected stereotype rather than in an accepted, normal one” (1963, p. 3). Thus, others are the ones who create a stigma, because of some social discrediting that would make us less human than the ones who create the stigma. The stigmatized mostly share the same societal norms, “he wants to be normal too”, and internalizes the deviant part of himself and that’s why it’s hard to break a stigma” (Goffman, 1963, p. 7). But while the stigma is thus individualized, all these individuals together also form a group of “deviant people” being stigmatized.
The stigmatization of tattooed people started with lower class professions such as sailors having tattoos so that, when they drowned, people could identify the body when it washed ashore (Irwin, 2001). Furthermore, it was a sign of being a real thug, used by criminals, gangs and motorcycle gangs. It was a way to distinguish themselves as real criminals and show how dangerous they were. Think of a teardrop tattoo on the cheek as a symbol for having killed someone or another symbol for going to prison. Gangs also use tattoos to show which gang they belong to, as a way of identifying which collective they identified themselves with (Irwin, 2001). It was also a way to show “that an individual possesses an attribute communicating their lack of conformity to societal norms” (Yang, Kleinman, Link, Phelan, Lee & Good, 2007, cited by Horne, Know, Zusman & Zusman, 2007). The gangs and criminals desperately wanted to show ‘the finger’ to society and its norms and showing their deviance as something that made other thugs fear them more. In that world fear meant power. Tattoos were a way to accomplish this. But in the late 1800s this rapidly changed. All of a sudden elites were interested in smaller, more elegant tattoos, but still, they were interested in tattoos! But then especially after World War I tattoos were associated with the deviant groups listed above again (Irwin, 2001).
In the 21st century, my respondents felt they were still struggling with stigmas. They do feel that people who have tattoos are considered being rough. Although they wouldn’t consider themselves as deviant persons or someone who falls outside of society’s norms, they still sometimes are being seen like that. “I never think something like: I wish I was normal, because I really don’t think that I’m abnormal. But in some parts of this country, especially conformed regions such as the bible belt, I am seen as deviant” (Stephanie). The other respondents also noticed that in rural areas, people are more narrow-minded and restricted about stigmas in general. “Besides my tattoo, they also stigmatize me there when I’m a female alone with my children” (Stephanie). “When I go to my grandma for instance, people there react so different from when I’m in the city. People are much more conservative in rural areas in my opinion” (Monique). Anne did feel like she was deviant, because in her surroundings there is still such a big taboo on tattoos. “I don’t show mine often, also because I think it’s not really classy to wear a shirt without sleeves.
Furthermore, they feel that in work areas tattoos are mostly not appropriate. “When I’m at work, even though I work at my dad’s company I always wear something to cover my tattoo. I didn’t the first day that I worked there, and people, mostly older ones, stared a lot” (Monique). “I work at a restaurant, and since my tattoo is on my ankle it barely ever shows. But I know that a tattoo on for instance my arm would not be appreciated” (Megan). “That’s the reason I always worked somewhere where my tattoos would be appreciated or at least accepted” (Stephanie).
All the respondents do feel the stigmatization is decreasing, especially the older generation. “In my line of work [tattoo journalism] stigmatization is a big part of the business. But when we talk about it, I notice that everyone in the business notices the decrease in stigmatization. Even the older generation: I know a 90-year-old woman who used to be against tattoo but is now ‘infected by the tattoo disease’ and started getting inked by the age of 90” (Stephanie). “I still feel stigmatized sometimes, but only by older people or my age. The youth only thinks tattoos are cool” (Anne). That is something that more respondents said, that they feel like the stigma is mostly decreasing because of the younger generations in society. The older people tend to hold on to the past and still feel like a tattoo shouldn’t be for a classy man or woman.
The youth is also still holding on a little to that stigma, because they are attracted to the rebellious appearance that a tattoo still has. Because the youth likes to deviate from the social norms, it is considered something to look up to if they do something taboo-breaking such as getting a tattoo. But if a tattoo’s stigmatization is decreasing, the cool-factor and the rebellious element also decrease. I noticed in the reactions from the respondents that they didn’t like the process of a tattoo not becoming rebellious anymore. “It’s too bad that the whole threshold to get inked is mostly gone now, nowadays people don’t really think that much about getting a tattoo anymore because it is almost seen as normal. The whole dangerous, exciting element of going in to some shady tattoo shop to get something you know people will find badass, is gone” (Stephanie). I already found this in the difference that the older generation feel like they had to overcome thing when having a tattoo and it being a rebellious act, and that the younger generation does not feel like that at all. The older generation also feels more stigmatized than the younger generation.
All the respondents also still stigmatize people with tattoos even though they have tattoos themselves. Most of them are aware of that: “When a tattooed person approaches me the first thing that still comes to mind is that they’re thugs. I think it’s something implemented in society, education and my upbringing” (Stephanie). “I still think that tattoos are low culture, something for the lower classes” (Anne). “I am aware that I don’t really like tattoos a lot, because they stand out so much on your skin. But maybe that’s also because I have mine on my butt” (Jesse). It seems like this stigmatization is something so set in society and your upbringing that even when you are a part of this stigmatized group, you also stigmatize the same group yourself. This confirms Goffman’s argument about the stigmatized having the same societal norms and therefore internalizing the stigmas and stigmatizing others (1963, p. 7). It is very hard to lose prejudges, even if you are the prejudged individual yourself. These stigmas and prejudges are things that happen unconsciously in a split-second when you meet someone, the only way to get rid of this is to actively train this (Irwin, 2001). The younger generation, except Monique, felt they didn’t stigmatize tattooed people and thought that they were cool and they liked the rebellious act. This might have something to do with the stigma being decreasing and with the youth the norms are less set in stone so they have less prejudges.
Carroll, Riffenburgh, Roberts and Myhre (2002) also found in their research that “males having tattoos are associated with violence.” In this research females with tattoos weren’t considered violent. All the respondents mentioned they think that tattoos are more appropriate for men than for women. That aspect of toughness which a tattoo used to carry out, it being only for criminals, sailors, or gangs, is still visible. In research “women compared to men were more likely to report that their parents would never truly accept a visible tattoo. That women perceived less approval by their parents is consistent with research which documents that daughters have traditionally been viewed as needing more parental protection” (Gill, 1997, cited by Horne, Know, Zusman & Zusman, 2007). The female respondents felt more stigmatized than the male respondent. The female respondents felt they sometimes had to cover up their tattoos or have heard things like: it just doesn’t fit because you’re a lady, it’s not classy etc. Even tattooed people or tattoo artists are still influenced by this stigma. “The artists that tattooed me actually at first didn’t think that my tattoos fit me and said that they were too big for a woman.” (Stephanie). The interesting thing is that I gained respondent 1, Stephanie, because of the interview appointment with Jesse, so they knew each other. Jesse actually stigmatized Stephanie, saying: “I think that her tattoo is too big, it just takes over her entire appearance. You only see her tattoo and not her, no I don’t like her tattoo at all and don’t think it’s feminine” (Jesse). This also shows that the stigmatized stigmatize. All the respondents think that a tattoo can make a female more feminine, but even then, there are still norms about a tattoo then not being too big, not too dark and not too harsh but small and elegant.
As the great “tattoo king” said: “All this new knowledge from the Internet actually leads to some sort of superficiality. Everybody has the same tattoo” (De Lange, 2016). The paradox of tattoos these days is that tattoo stigmatization still exists but tattoos burst into a huge trend in pop culture suddenly. The moment of tattoos becoming a trend was the commence of the show “Miami ink”. These tattoo artists became known all over the world and celebrities suddenly wanted to be tattooed by these artists. And since many people look up to celebrities, that’s how tattoos flowed through to the masses (Thobo-Carlsen, 2014).
The respondents noticed this sudden change all quite consciously. They were aware that more and more celebrities openly displayed their tattoos and that more and more tattoo shops popped up, not only in big cities. Stephanie was actually a tattoo journalist at that time, so she experienced the rapid change very consciously. “On the tattoo conventions, more and more tattoo artists showed up that we [the ‘old’ community or gang] didn’t know” (Stephanie). Furthermore, she mentioned that “the old gang” has been more and more exclusive and excluding others. The young artists want to learn from the older ones, but since this normalization process the latter are afraid that they will lose business and they no longer want to share their knowledge. These old tattooists look down on this normalization process, this new trend of everybody having a tattoo. They feel they are “the badass old tattoo artists” and that these new, young, trendy tattoo artists don’t belong to the true tattoo community. This has a classic feel of Elias and Scotson’s book The Established and the Outsiders (1996), in which the concept of exclusion plays a major part. The book describes the ‘old families’; close-knit families who lived in the city since it was founded. These are the established and the newcomers are the outsiders. Similarly, in this tattoo community, “the old gang” are the established and the new tattoo artists are the outsiders, simply based on who was there first. Just like in Elias & Scotson the “old gang” are the ones being looked up to by the new tattoo artists. But “the old gang” had a close-knit community where everybody knew everybody, and don’t want outsiders to destroy that community (Elias & Scotson, 1996).
Here the generation gap between the older and younger generation is also noticeable. The older generation, in this case tattoo artists, find it a shame that the tattoo trend is for the masses now. “Sure, it is nice that the stigmatization has lessened, but it has become way too mainstream” (Jesse). Tattoos used to be a medium to distinguish yourself from the masses and be unique. But now suddenly it seems to be more unique to not have a tattoo. The older generation feel they were unique when they got a tattoo and the youth right now is just following the masses like a sheep.
But the older generation does feel more socially accepted now than when they got a tattoo. Jesse and Anne also like the new trends of tiny tattoos, such as just the outlines of objects. Stephanie still likes the big tattoos more and thinks that it’s a shame that these are also fading away. The older generation also did experience the transition from stigma to trend more consciously, probably because they already had a tattoo at the time. The younger generation doesn’t really know any better and feels that the old fashion tattoos are just that, old fashioned. The rebellious part of getting a tattoo is gone for some of them. All the respondents do really like that because of this normalization process the stigma keeps shrinking.
The main goal of this research was to find out how tattooed people feel society judges them, or not all, and how they experienced tattoos suddenly being a huge trend and the start of de-stigmatization. This is called the start of de-stigmatization because the respondents still experienced stigmatization because of their tattoos. They feel the stigmas around tattoos are decreasing but are not absent yet. Yet because they think that in a few years, maybe a decade, the stigmatization around tattoos is completely gone or worse, that there would be a new movement of people who like their skin blank. Then the stigmatization of tattoo changes to first being rough to being a sheep that follows the masses. I was also interested in the difference between generations in how they experienced the process of stigma, normalization and the tattoo community. I was very interested in this because I don’t have a tattoo and am very curious how it must feel to have one and all of a sudden, the whole world judging and stigmatizing you.
In this research, there are a few paradoxes to detect. Firstly, the stigmatized tattooed persons also stigmatize people with tattoos. This surprised me, because it doesn’t seem to make sense. But if related to Goffman’s theory, it makes more sense. Stigmatized people have the same standards as the “normals” taught by society and upbringing. These norms are internalized; therefore, and even though you might have a tattoo yourself, you still stigmatize others just because those norms are so dominant and built in very deep (Goffman, 1963, p.7).
Secondly, even though the new generation is the reason that the stigmatization is decreasing and the older generation profits from that, the older generations stigmatizes the younger generation. But with a new stigma: them being a sheep following the masses with tattoos now being a global trend. They feel the youth are just taking tattoos because they feel like it and don’t think it through enough, considering that it’s on your body forever. The older generation also feel they had to go through so much to get a tattoo and face all these stigmas, and that the youth do not see it as a big step.
Thirdly, both generations feel positive about the stigma decreasing, as they feel more socially accepted and no longer an outcast. But, they also dislike that the rebellious and unique elements of getting a tattoo are weakened. This links to the paradox above, that tattoos are now more for the masses, that there is no special element to it anymore. Because it is something that you have on your body your whole life (most of the time), people like to have something unique. Of course, the meaning is very personal and unique to you, but if you see someone with the same tattoo you do feel a little bit like a copycat.
Lastly, overall there is still stigmatization about tattoos but at the same time they’re also a huge trend. This seems contradictive. Because of the tattoo bursting into pop culture, the stigma is decreasing and it has become more and more socially acceptable to get a tattoo. But since prejudges are so hard to lose it is questionable whether the stigmatization around tattoos will truly disappear.
During the research, I also found that I had quite some prejudges myself about the people who have tattoos. Previously, I didn’t know that Anne, Jesse and Megan had a tattoo and I was surprised that they did. Especially because two of them, Anne and Jesse, are from the older generation and are very refined people who I thought would be against tattoos. Anne as a matter of fact likes her own tattoos but doesn’t like tattoos in general. That was a hard thing to understand for me, why have one when you feel like tattoos are low culture. Moreover, she said she had never regretted her tattoo before. But after the interview when I thought it over, it made sense to some extent. She barely showed her tattoo to others, she has it on her shoulder, and really got it for herself and not to show off to others.
When I looked online for similar pictures of tattoos of the respondents (not featured in this paper), it only took me five seconds to find almost perfectly similar tattoos on google. This shows just how tattoos are no longer original. Respondents picked a tattoo because it stands for something truly personal for them, but there are thousands of people on the world with the exact same tattoo. This is what I see as the downside of the popularization of tattoos, although there were exceptions, like the ‘abstract picture of two friends tattoo’ of Monique. If I would get a tattoo I would also want something that is still original. Although in the past you could only pick tattoos from a picture book, even more people had the same tattoos probably. This research did make me more excited about tattoos and left me desiring for one more than ever.
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