Opinion — Tattoos: Hot or not?

A society polarized by ink on skin

Andie Balenger

I recently accompanied a friend on a trip to Appleton, Wisconsin, where he had an appointment for his first tattoo.

Despite dreaming of this moment for the past several years, my friend was relatively quiet throughout the 2-hour drive. The nervous energy seemed to be radiating off him as I watched him bite his nails and fidget with the vehicle’s dials while I tried to make small talk. As we neared the miniature tattoo parlor, which was tucked into a run-down strip mall, it seemed that all the color had drained from his face.

As someone who has never gotten a tattoo, seeing my friend’s reaction to the entire experience before the needle even hit his arm got me thinking about the many reasons people may choose to get tattoos in the first place. Considering the anxiety — not to mention the excruciating pain — that accompanies the process, I began to wonder for myself if a tattoo would ever be worth that struggle.

While my friend was wiping his sweaty palms on the reclining tattoo chair, I reflected on some of my earliest memories related to tattoos. I was probably five or six years old, and I remember studying the patterns, odd shapes and characters that lined some of my family members’ arms. Whenever I would question why they got their tattoos, most of them would shoot me down and say, “all you need to know is you should never get one.”

That answer never sat well with me. Why could they get a tattoo, but I could not?

Perhaps it was my dad whispering in their ears to not plant the tattoo seed in my head, or maybe they were dissatisfied with their finished looks. However, they did persuade me for the longest time to even think about putting permanent ink on my body. 

As the needle touched down on my friend’s forearm, I was transported back to high school. It seemed like someone was coming to school every other day and showing off their new tat. This was the first time that I had ever interacted with someone my age who had gotten a tattoo, and I began to understand the beauty in everyone’s individual design and concept. 

From memorials for friends and family to a unique symbol of motivation and strength, I was soon overwhelmed with inspiration thanks to my classmates. I began to draw out designs that I would one day tattoo onto my body, which included everything from simple butterflies to angel numbers. Everything I sketched out had an important meaning to me.

This is where a common misconception lies when it comes to tattoos, and hence why they are so polarizing in our society. Most of the negative comments I hear from people regarding tattoos exist along the lines of “why would they put that on their body forever?” or “that is incredibly unprofessional.”

The snap judgment of individuals based on their tattoos is incredibly unfortunate. Even though I have never gotten a tattoo, I would much rather take the time to observe and ask questions about someone’s tattoos instead of instantly categorizing them as “unappealing” or “unprofessional.” And even if someone had no meaningful reason for wanting a tattoo — maybe they just thought the design looked cool — I have no right to discredit the validity of somebody else’s interests.

When it comes down to it, tattoos are a form of self-expression. This expression can come in all different shapes and stylings, from hyper-detailed arm sleeves to patchwork on thighs and even intricate linework. The possibilities with tattoos are endless, and that is what makes them so alluring, powerful and beautiful.

Therefore, I believe we need to destroy the stigma that surrounds tattoos. While most workplaces are becoming more lenient on the showing of tattoos while on the job, we need to realize that permanent ink on the skin does not affect how an individual can and will perform their duties. To turn someone away because of their physical characteristics is not only inappropriate but inherently wrong.

Now do not get it twisted. I do understand that inappropriate and vulgar tattoos are not fit for some work environments. But instead of instantly turning someone away from a job because of this, attempt to engage in a conversation and develop some form of mutual understanding about how to professionally move forward.

My reflection on tattoos came to a close as the tattoo artist wiped off the last bit of excess ink on my friend’s arm. After removing the hand that was covering his eyes, the biggest smile spread across his face. Despite nearly passing out and sweating through his t-shirt, it was apparent that he did not regret a single moment.

While I have yet to make up my mind as to whether I will one day get tatted, I will continue to admire the artwork that several others have chosen for their bodies.

Editor’s Note: The North Wind is committed to offering a free and open public forum of ideas, publishing a wide range of viewpoints to accurately represent the NMU student body. This is a staff column, written by an employee of the North Wind. As such, it expresses the personal opinions of the individual writer, and does not necessarily reflect the position of the North Wind Editorial Board.