Ouch! Perspectives From Under the Gun

Speaking through a fading laugh, Senior Jordan Poole said “I got these stars tattooed on my back shoulder when I was 17 from a guy in a trailer. You know, the way you’re not supposed to do it.”

The hushed buzz of the tattoo machine clicks on, the artist moves their rolling chair closer to the client, takes a deep breath and gently starts to work. The client winces in pain as the needle scratches their skin and their heart rate slowly starts to settle. 21 percent of Americans have been ‘under the gun’ at least once, and there is a distinct niche of students at the College that add to this statistic.

Every culture has their own way of body modification and the College of Charleston is no exception. Students use tattoos and piercings as a way of expression, meaning and art. But what exactly do these modern-day body modifications mean to their canvases and how do their classmates perceive their body alterations?

Photo by Hannah Broder

The Meaning

From the butterfly ‘tramp-stamps’ to the  ‘I heart my mom’ muscle tattoos, people choose their body art for many reasons. College of Charleston junior Grace Hartley said, “My most meaningful tattoo is a tie between my love letter and this heart I have on the back of my arm and they’re dedicated to both of my grandparents who passed away.” Her first tattoo is of her home state of Maryland on her chest, because she says, “home is where the heart is.”

Poole explained that for her, “it’s kind of like I want to put art on my body; some tattoos mean more than others.” Because tattoos are becoming more ‘trendy,’ it is very common for people to have tattoos just for aesthetic purposes. Poole has tattoos ranging from daggers to vomiting cats and even has a Game of Thrones tattoo dedicated to her mother. Needless to say, tattoos do not need a specific meaning to gain a place on an empty canvas.

The Perceptions by Family and Friends

Believe it or not, there is a meaning behind the #SorryMom Instagram captions. Understandably, it can be hard for parents to watch their children permanently mark their bodies, but some parents react differently than others. Hartley, who has 22 tattoos and 18 piercings, said, “My mom hates them so unbelievably much. She was very passive aggressive when I got them, but now she has gotten to a point where she is okay with them,” later saying that “most of [her] family is not a fan of [her] tattoos unfortunately.”

Similarly, Poole said, “On my dad’s side, they are Southern Baptists, so tattoos and piercings are not the norm at all.” Poole’s mom, on the other hand, got her first tattoo because of her daughter, and now has four. Both Poole and Hartley say their friends are very supportive of their tattoos and have tattoos themselves.

The Perceptions by Strangers

The idea of tattoo etiquette is a new term to describe what is okay and what is definitely not okay to do when seeing someone with tattoos. For example, it is not okay to move someone’s article of clothing down to get a better look at their body art or piercings without the person’s permission. Hartley shared that, “Strangers think it’s okay to touch me because I have tattoos and tell me how much they like them.” Some people have directly told Hartley that she was “prettier before her tattoos.” She later said, “I was in a restaurant eating pizza with my friend and this guy came up to us and he told me that he bets since I have tattoos that I’m a slut.” Yes, tattoos can draw attention and spark conversation, but what stops a person from criticizing someone’s character based on their tattoos alone? Poole says that people often assume she doesn’t get along with people well, or is a rebel. Both girls say that two to three people comment on their tattoos a day.  While Hartley likes the attention, Poole frequently sees older people staring at her because of the way she looks, but uses that attention as an icebreaker to try to talk to people. Irritated, she said, “If people stare at others day in and day out, then that’s your issue,” also saying that “some people think I have a bad attitude towards the world and I have a bad work ethic, but that’s so wrong because you can put tattoos on a person but that doesn’t change who you are.”

Photo by Hannah Broder

The Job-Stopper

“You’ll never get a job with those things,” they say. “How do you expect to make a living looking like that?” Where does the ignorance stop? A 2013 survey says that 75 percent of the respondents felt that piercings and tattoos hurt an applicant’s chances of being hired.

Although, since the rise of body modification acceptance, this statistic may be dated. Poole states “My boss right now is okay with my tattoos [and piercings] as long as I have a  good work ethic, but I think about 80 percent of jobs out there have a bias against people with tattoos.” Poole and Hartley have similar outlooks

on how their body modifications will affect their future. The answer: it won’t. Hartley, going into the media field said, “I’ve known this is the way I’ve wanted to look for a long time, so if I’m going to have a job that’s not going to let me look the way I want to, then maybe I don’t want that job anyway.” Adding that if she knew she were going into a suit and tie profession, then maybe she wouldn’t have gotten tattoos and piercings. Similarly, Poole, who wants to go into the arts, added that, “If my job doesn’t like my tattoos, then I guess I’m not going to have that job.” To sum up, Hartley said, “I don’t think my tattoos will affect my job in the future … as long as you’re good at what you do, tattoos shouldn’t affect your job.”

For these tattoo collectors, their bodies represent something more than a shell. They represent a place to depict meaning, art and insight into  who they are. Whether an opportunity of expression or a sign of self empowerment, body modifications have the ability to make someone feel good.  

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