Tattoo tolerance: older generation must embrace body art

Most grandparents in this country would probably shake their heads with disdain at the idea of their teenage grandson tattooing his entire left arm or piercing his lip. My parents in particular describe tattoos as unprofessional and tasteless, even as likely to destroy one’s chances of ever being taken seriously. Although I’ve always been the type to obey everything my parents say, I think this judgment is ignorant.

As our generation comes of age and begins to preach new moral standings, the stigmas associated with tattoos begin to fade, and rightfully so. In a time when the new generation is breaking social barriers and combating conservative ideologies, discrimination against body art is simply unreasonable and outdated.

When tattoos first reached the Western world in the 19th century, they were, surprisingly, more common among aristocrats and the upper class than any other demographic. Can you imagine President Obama with a full sleeve tattoo? Or a giant heart on his forearm with a banner that reads “I love Michelle?” It’s a hysterical image, but you have to ponder whether or not such body art would affect the way people perceive him. Would it cause us to doubt his intelligence or leadership ability?

I don’t question peoples’ doubts about permanent body art — there was a time when tattoos were associated with gang symbols and rebellion. I understand that a tattoo of a bleeding skull on someone’s neck could be unprofessional and undesirable. But attention needs to be shifted to the fact that many tattoos are simple, positive pieces of art with a short saying, a symbol of a family crest or an image of a deceased loved one. The presence of these non-violent tattoos should not have a negative impact on for those who have them, because they do not portray any rebellious images that professional environments could rightfully discourage.

Body art has also changed as tattoo artists have become respected artists in popular culture. Heavily tattooed women like tattoo artist Kat Von D are now considered some of the most beautiful women alive.

In an interview with Maxim, Kat Von D addresses how others judge her tattoos and often perceive her as rough and dominant, though she describes herself as a hopeless romantic. She is known as one of our nation’s best tattoo artists, and the entire industry of body art is gaining its worthy reputation as a haven of artistic talent and self-expression, rather than an expression of violent defiance.

Today, people get tattoos for many reasons. Like all other individual freedoms and forms of expression, tattoos should not be censored or marginalized. The harmless, personal decision to get a tattoo should in no way be seen as a compromise of one’s professional skill or academic competency.

The main stigma attached to tattoos is that they are unprofessional and regrettable. Yet, the fact is that, according to a 2010 Pew Research Center study, nearly 40 percent of people ages 18 to 29 who were surveyed now have a tattoo. This represents a core demographic of people searching for their first break in the professional world. So is almost one-third of our upcoming generation a mob of anti-professional, rebellious, unmotivated individuals?

Prejudices against tattoos are like refusing to live in a safe neighborhood with murals on public buildings. Does the positive display of the community’s beliefs through art say anything about the quality of the building?

Most tattooed people have accepted the prejudice in professional settings and may get their ink on their back instead of their forearm, just to prevent any future discrimination. But it’s time for people to open their minds and accept the commonality of the practice and the innocence of tattoo art.

If we plan to continue evolving as a nation, the first step is protecting self-expression in such a natural form as body art.

Rebecca Rashid is a contributing columnist. Email her at [email protected]