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While student enrollment may be dropping at Principia College, the popularity of tattoos has gone up. Sophomore Maddi Demaree recently received her first tattoo (a triangle on the underside of her wrist) and is one of a growing number of Principia students with some form of permanent body art.
“People are usually intrigued,” Demaree said in regards to her new tattoo. “They always want to know what it means or what it represents. I got the tattoo for myself, and it did feel a little invasive when people asked me about it at first. But I understand that I got a tattoo in a pretty public place and [now] I am happy to talk about it.”
The growth that has occurred within the Principia community reflects the tattoo trend on a national scale. A Harris Poll conducted in 2012 concluded that one in five adults in the U.S. has at least one tattoo. An earlier Pew Research Center study found that the number was closer to two in five in those between ages 18 and 29. This is a large increase from previous years, and the percentage continues to grow annually.
Freshman Julia Wesman, who recently got a hanzi (Chinese character) tattoo on her spine, enjoys explaining to people the story behind her ink. “The quote is ‘Thy kingdom come’ from the Bible,” she explained. “I think it is important to have a short line that keeps you grounded, and getting a tattoo in Chinese has emphasized my culture while keeping it meaningful.”
A common misconception about tattoos is the idea that they always possess a deeper meaning. While junior Harmony Nash has five tattoos signifying important memories, she said, “I don’t think that tattoos need to have meaning. I know a lot of people who get them solely for aesthetic reasons.”
Sylvester House RC John Biggs is one such person. He has multiple tattoos on his body, including a full sleeve on his right arm. He designed a few of them himself. “Some people like to get art for their walls; I like to get art for myself,” said Biggs.
While the number of people with tattoos is growing, judgements against people with tattoos still exist both individually and institutionally. Many argue that there is a social stigma against workers who possess tattoos in places that are exposed by work clothes. Some people are even fired for having tattoos.
However, when it comes to having tattoos at Principia College, Senior Galen Collins has never felt a stigma against it. “[I have] never had a sense or stereotyping, nor felt negatively impacted here,” said Collins. He added, “I probably wouldn’t notice if I was. I didn’t get them for anyone else, so I don’t usually pay attention to what others have to say about them.”
Nash reported having a similar experience as Collins. “I’ve never been questioned about having tattoos at Principia,” she said. “I think that of all places, a college campus is going to be one of the least judgmental places in that regard.”
However, Biggs’ personal experience of having tattoos within a Christian Science community has been slightly different from Collins and Nash. When asked whether he has been negatively looked at for having a tattoo sleeve, Biggs answered, “In a way. Some Christian Science camps used to have a policy against exposed tattoos, but it is not really a current thing nowadays. I haven’t ever been looked at negatively since I have returned [to Principia], so it obviously didn’t impact my hire!”
Wesman reported that she has been looked at differently since getting her tattoo. “At first, my mom was against it, and most adults usually question as to why I decided to get one,” she said, “but once I explain to them the reasoning and thought process behind it, they have a better understanding.”
Responding to negative judgment against his tattoos has given Biggs a valuable lesson. He said, “The key thing about [being judged] was that it was a great opportunity for me to not judge [those who were judging me]… I realized that if I [was going to sit] around wait for people to change, I [would] be sitting and waiting for a long time.”
A more tolerant community towards people with tattoos has resulted in more students expressing themselves through this specific art form. “It is so awesome to see more people with tattoos around,” Wesman said.
Biggs stressed the importance of seeing people for their true identities as the number of students with tattoos increases. “Some people think… you can draw conclusions about [people with tattoos],” he said. “But all you will find if you view [us] honestly is that we are all [just] people, and [tattoos are just] something we like.”