Tattoos and piercings: branding for the young (and young at heart)

One commonality that strongly characterizes our generation is body modification by way of tattoos and skin piercing. Since I am fully fascinated with the concept that every other twenty-something-year-old has changed their body with ink or metal, I further investigated. After calling the three main tattoo parlors in Sylva, I finally reached the owner of No Regret parlor. He agreed to sit down and let me pick his brain for a while. When I pulled into the parking lot, another car pulled in beside me. Out stepped two women- one I figured to be in high school, and I guessed the other was her mother. They reached the door ahead of me. I quickly learned from the young woman that she was going to get her navel pieced that evening. As we sat down on the couches, I ventured to ask her a few questions about her decision to get a belly button ring. Her name is Ciara Byars, and she is a 17-year-old senior at Smoky Mountain High School. I quickly learned that she is no stranger to tattoos and piercings; she first got her nose pierced at age 15, and then a butterfly tattoo and a tongue piercing followed. North Carolina state law explains minors can get piercings with parental consent before the age of 18, but no person can tattoo a minor, regardless of parental consent. Because Ciara had a tattoo at the age of 17, I knew she didn’t get the ink in NC. The other woman, Teresa Byars, who was indeed her mother, told me she was fine with her daughter getting these things done. She added that as long as her daughter was tasteful about any tattoos and piercings, it ultimately didn’t matter to her. When I learned of Ciara’s age, I was further intrigued at the desire young people have to get tattoos and piercings. Soon after she went back to the room, Dave Hammett, the owner of No Regret, walked in. Visibly having tattoos, piercings and gauged ears, I had no idea what kind of opinion he would give me about the industry in which he was involved. Hammett has been tattooing for over seven years, but he expressed how much the tattooing business has picked up in the past two or three years. To defend this point, he offered two reasons. The first was the idea that tattooing is becoming more acceptable in today’s society. He told me that he does work on just as many older men and women as he does younger students, a statistic he didn’t expect when he decided to open his shop near WCU in January 2006. The second reason why business has picked up, and probably the reason why so many different types of people are requesting tattoos and piercings, is the direct influence of the media.Consider celebrity gossip. When Britney Spears shaved her head, we also heard about the tattoos she got the same evening. We hear about Angelina Jolie’s authentic Buddhist tattoo, the tattoos painted on Brad Pitt in Fight Club and on Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. We see ink on reality TV stars, and there are more and more reality shows on television about tattoo parlors, the most famous being Miami Ink on The Learning Channel. “People are being brainwashed into people from TV,” Hammett said.Hammett expressed that one of the most interesting and sad parts about society’s interest in body modification is the loss of intention in getting a tattoo or piercing. Generally, body modification is described as art on the body and is used to express oneself. However, custom work on tattoos is not as common as some tattooists expect. When someone only has a vague idea of what the design will look like, or someone sees another person’s tattoo and wants the same design, individuality is lost in the desire to be like someone else.This notion of copying celebrities or other people isn’t invisible to those getting tattoos or piercings. When I asked Ciara what influenced her to get her nose pierced, she said, “I did it because I liked it on other people, so I wanted it, too.”The strong desire that young people have to conform is one explanation why Hammett disagrees with minors getting body parts tattooed or pierced. Teenagers who are younger than 18 do not fully consider the permanent and semi-permanent natures of tattoos and piercings. Rash judgments to go to a tattoo parlor definitely can result in regret later on in life. And with the expense of laser tattoo removal, most people can’t afford to regret the decisions they made when they were 17-or younger.Both Hammett and Kevin Hammond, another tattooist and piercer at No Regret, agree that even if they don’t support the decisions of young people, the parents should be primarily responsible for the actions of underage youths. Hammond recounted a story of two girls that came in to the shop recently with their mother. He said they were about 12 and 13, and they were both getting their navels pierced, with encouragement from Mom. Even though navel rings can be removed, one has to question the mother’s judgment call. It seems that as parental values become less stringent and traditional, the parents’ acceptance of things such as tattoos and piercings are becoming more common.After discussing the trend of tattoos and piercings in our generation, it seems as if their popularity is spurred by increasing media exposure. The more often tattoos are popping up on peoples’ skin, the more acceptable tattoos and skin piercings are becoming acceptable in society. Whether a parental or a personal decision, the frequency of tattoos and piercings definitely characterizes our generation.