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Tattoo Culture Brings Permanence to Transience of Adolescence

When he died in 3500 BC, the Italian mountain mummy, Ötzi, had 61 tattoos. Scientists have discovered tattooing equipment predating even Ötzi. Tattoos, and the art of tattooing, have been around for a long time. From prison identification to masterpieces to silly stick and pokes, tattoos are a cornerstone of modern, and prehistoric, culture. So where does this art form appear in Berkeley High School’s (BHS) cultural melting pot? They exist everywhere; on the chests of athletes and the forearms of art enthusiasts, every person over 18 has the opportunity take part in the permanent changing of their physical appearance. Tattoos are one of the few fashion choices that do not discriminate. Like Vans or Converse or Levis, tattoos are available to everyone.

However, for each person, tattoos mean something completely different. One senior, whose tattoos are a lighter, a meat cleaver, a bottle, and a reference to a TV show about death metal, stated that “they were mostly spur of the moment decisions because I thought ‘hey, that would look cool.’” Whereas another senior spent longer choosing her tattoo, which states “in recovery.” She got her tattoo “when [she] was diagnosed with anxious personality disorder,” and the tattoo serves as a reminder that she is not complete, but there is nothing wrong with being in recovery. Although these two stories seem to carry opposite and very different significance, each is equally important. Every person gets tattoos for different reasons. For some, it is a quickly made decision made because they are around people they love and they want to remember the moment forever. Others are well planned and intricately decided upon.

But where do BHS students get their tattoos done? There are a few tattoo parlors that offer tattoo services to underage people; it is often risky to get a tattoo done at these kinds of establishments, but this rarely deters those who have made up their mind. Some students wait until they turn 18 and then get a tattoo they have been planning for months, or even years. However, the majority of high school tattoos are done in a living room, a bathroom, or on someone’s bed.

Many people have been there while their friend has gotten a tattoo, squeezed their hand as the ink was deposited into their skin, and they can vouch for how unique the experience is. No matter how many objections their friends may raise, many students agree that it is wonderful to be a part of this pivotal moment in someone’s life. There is a certain intimacy in these moments, when there is total silence, besides the occasional quick intakes of breath as a needle is pressed deep into the skin. Most ask someone they really care about to do the honors of giving them a tattoo, someone they trust entirely. “They remind me of the night I got them and the people I was with,” said a senior. It is a big decision to get a tattoo done, since it will remain inked onto your skin forever.

Although it may be popular among teens, tattoos and tattoo culture is still very taboo among the older generations. For many jobs, having tattoos visible could impede upon one’s ability to be hired. But as more and more young people enter the workforce, the mentality against tattoos in professional settings has ebbed. Currently, the biggest anti-tattoo sentiment within adolescents’ lives comes from their parents. “My mom knows because she knows everything, and my dad doesn’t know because he hates tattoos,” said another senior. But here’s the thing about a tattoo: once it’s there, it’s kind of there forever, so even if your parents hate it, what can they do?

This is partially what draws so many young people to tattoos. Unlike everything else in our fragile and short lives, they are, for the most part, completely permanent. There is so much beauty in the impulsive decisions young people make; no matter what parents say, tattoos are one of the few things in a young person’s life that they can control.

Whether the tattoos are silly or beautiful, large or small, they always mean something to the people who have them. From the place they happened to the symbolism behind them, everything about a tattoo matters.