Wishful Inking – Why It’s Not Just a Tattoo


In a world so often driven by the fear of change, a fear shared by millions and millions of people, another paradoxical fear seems to counter it, stirring the pot of social norms and generations of animosity. The fear of change is undoubtedly paralleled by the fear of permanency; the fear of tattoos.

“An eye for me is just a little reminder for me to open up. I’m Buddhist so it’s just a little bit of my inner guru and be good, be kind. Just open your eyes and be awake.”

From the rebellious eighteen-year-old just out from under their parents’ roof to the newly-crowned Olympians ready to advertise their athletic accomplishments, millions of people across the globe are going under the needle to ink their skin with pictures that will last a lifetime. Whether it be a quote or drawing, a full sleeve or a stand-alone, each tattoo holds a meaning, a history, a story. But as any of us who has ever considered getting, or has gotten, one of these personal marks knows, with the freedom to express yourself through the art of ink comes the opportunity for others to question – and sometimes even attempt to undermine – your decision. And often times, the animosity toward this act of individualization comes from the very people that fueled it in the first place: previous generations.

“I got it because I love Basquiat as an artist, it’s the Basquiat crown. It was from his piece that says, “I’m an artist, not a black artist” and I think that really speaks to me being an art student at RISD.”

As children, we are given paper and crayons by our parents and encouraged to be creative, to express our feelings and thoughts through images. We are taught to read and write. As teens, we watch movies and read novels, make art and learn how to put meaning into what we do. As young adults, we learn how to put these acquired skills and the meaning we have come to understand into our everyday lives, knowing that what we do represents us as individuals – who we are and what we are. From the cradle to the grave, life proceeds as a series of expression that becomes increasingly more unique, more emotional, more personal. Tattoos are permanent pictures or poems – ink on skin instead of canvas. But our parents’ generation and the generation that raised them often draw the line at art taken to the extent of permanency. With the increasing frequency of tattoos in the younger generation, a fear of change stirs in the older one as a result of the new set of unique social norms and values. What bigger oxymoron is there than the fear of change to permanency?

“I had a huge crush on the person who was going to tattoo me so I told her that I wanted a tattoo but I just wanted to talk to her.”

A further example of this paradoxical nature can be observed at many familial holiday gatherings around the world. When the generations all meet under one roof, inside four walls, sentences often begin to sound the same, starting with the familiar “when I was a kid” and ending with eye-rolls of the fresh-faced teens in the room. The resistance to the changes brought forth by the younger generation, a generation arguably characterized by a more progressive and open-minded approach to various forms of expression and opinion, highlights both just how far we have come and just how far we have to go in terms of accepting individuality. It is not just a tattoo – it is a debate of acceptance, rights, and ultimately, freedom.

So before bashing on the grilled cheese doodle forever living on the inside of a stranger’s ankle or the ex’s name that your friend just can’t seem to get off their arm, think twice. As a generation, we are more progressive, more individualized, and more open than any of the generations prior to ours. Regardless of whether it be in terms of politics or tattoos, we are setting the precedent for both the previous and the future generations of respect of individuality and opinion. We are shattering the paradox.


Photographs by Hannah Latham

Edited by Amber Yildizel

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