Teens weigh in on stigma surrounding tattoos


Jackson Spenner

Tattoos, regardless of peers’ opinions, are an artistic right that each and every American possesses.

Danny Conway, Staff Reporter

Teenagers‭, ‬whether or not they like to admit it‭, ‬make impulsive decisions all the time‭, ‬from ditching class‭, ‬to shoplifting‭, ‬to‭ ‬drinking‭. ‬Luckily for them‭, ‬most of their bone-headed mistakes are only consequential in the short term‭. ‬Tattoos‭, ‬on the other hand‭, ‬give young adults an opportunity to permanently change their body during their formative years‭. ‬

There are 45‭ ‬states in the U.S‭. ‬with laws prohibiting minors from getting tattoos‭, ‬including California‭. ‬But in California‭, ‬once‭ ‬you are 18‭, ‬you can get a tattoo regardless of your guardians’‭ ‬approval‭. ‬For many students‭, ‬this means they can make a permanent ink decision before they’ve voted in a presidential election‭.‬

On his 18th birthday‭, ‬Senior Sam Aziza jumped at the opportunity to get a tattoo‭. ‬With his parents’‭ ‬approval‭, ‬he tattooed a French saying on his quadriceps as a tribute to his late grandfather‭.‬

“My tattoo means to be grateful for what you have‭,‬”‭ ‬Aziza said‭. ‬“My dad immigrated from France and his great-grandfather came from Africa to Italy and then to France‭. ‬Basically‭, ‬it means to be‭ ‬grateful for what your family did‭, ‬and that a lot of people have it a lot worse than you do‭.‬”‭ ‬

Although Aziza’s tattoo is discreet‭, ‬he‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬like many other young adults with tattoos‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬feels a need to hide it due to the social stigma surrounding tattoos‭. ‬

“There are certain people who I’m reluctant to show‭ [‬my tattoo to‭], ‬like my childhood friends and certain parents‭,‬”‭ ‬Aziza said‭. ‬“It makes me a little uncomfortable because people in older generations see it differently than I do‭. ‬They see it as‭, ‬‘oh‭, ‬they’re trying to be a rebel’‭ ‬or‭ ‬‘they’re trying to be a bad person‭.‬’‭ ‬Or like‭, ‬‘you can’t get a job with a tattoo‭,‬’‭ ‬and I see it completely differently‭.‬”

Junior Natalia Penaloza has a small tattoo on her back she got during a trip to Peru‭. ‬Despite the fact that parental approval is‭ ‬required for minors to get tattoos in Peru‭, ‬Penaloza got hers by herself‭. ‬

“They don’t really ask‭,‬”‭ ‬Penaloza said‭, ‬adding that her parents still don’t know about the tattoo‭.‬

“I wear baggy clothes all the time‮…‬‭ ‬they are easy to hide‭,‬”‭ ‬Penaloza said‭.‬

In recent years‭, ‬tattoos have become more and more common in the U.S‭. ‬Around 62%‭ ‬of millennial parents have at least one tattoo‭,‬‭ ‬according to online trend site YPulse‭, ‬and general public opinion seems to be veering away from the conservative viewpoints of‭ ‬older generations‭. ‬

Art of Video teacher Stephen Erle has worked at Burlingame for 30‭ ‬years and seen the change in perspective first-hand‭. ‬

“I think tattoos have gotten a little different‭. ‬Over the years‭, ‬they’re not as frowned upon‭. ‬When I was a kid‭, ‬people got tattoos and it was like‮…‬‭. ‬you were a sailor or you were something bad‭,‬”‭ ‬Erle said‭. ‬

But even as the stigma around tattoos evolves‭, ‬the decision remains significant and‭, ‬at times‭, ‬dangerous‭. ‬Many teens who want tattoos but are not of legal age choose to tattoo themselves‭, ‬which can lead to skin infections‭. ‬

Matt Decker‭, ‬owner of Premium Tattoo in Oakland‭, ‬has been a practicing tattoo artist since the 1990s‭. ‬Over the years‭, ‬Decker has‭ ‬tattooed several teenagers looking for ink‭.‬

It’s hard to get past a first impression sometimes‭, ‬but by the same token‭, ‬you shouldn’t be limited in your own artistic expression by someone else’s bigotry‭.

— .Stephen Erle

“As long as they’re 18‭, ‬I don’t second guess it‭,‬”‭ ‬Decker said‭. ‬“If they are underage‭, ‬you don’t tattoo that‭. ‬Not only is it illegal‭, ‬but people should wait for things that they want‭. ‬It’s a valuable lesson‭.‬”

With two children of his own‭, ‬Decker empathizes with parents who push back against their children’s tattoos‭. ‬At the same time‭, ‬he respects his customers’‭ ‬independent rights‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬as long as they are of age‭, ‬of course‭.‬

“Parents are always going to think that what their kids do is weird and wrong‭, ‬but‭, ‬you know‭, ‬that’s just how it goes‭,‬”‭ ‬Decker said‭ ‬“Letting go as your child gets old enough to make their own decisions is an incredibly hard thing to do as a parent‭.‬”

Tattoos‭, ‬regardless of peers’‭ ‬opinions‭, ‬are an artistic right that each and every American possesses‭.‬

“It’s hard to get past a first impression sometimes‭, ‬but by the same token‭, ‬you shouldn’t be limited in your own artistic expression by someone else’s bigotry‭,‬”‭ ‬Erle said‭.‬