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Inked and enrolled: Students decorate with tattoos

For thousands of years, humans have used their bodies as art canvases. A form of self-expression, tattoos allow a person to convey messages they want to express. Whether these messages are affirmations of love, reminders of religious beliefs or merely a fun character, every tattoo holds significance.

The oldest surviving record of tattooing was found on a mummy discovered in the Ötzal Valley, located in the Alps. Named Ötzi the Iceman, the mummy was dated all the way back to around 3,250 B.C., according to the Smithsonian. Ötzi had 61 tattoos located all over his body. 

Tattooing continued to remain popular in other ancient societies, including in Greece and early centuries of China. In ancient Egypt, female mummies were found with tattoos; some historians speculate their purpose was to denote high priestesshood

Tattooing was also popular in Rome, especially among Roman soldiers. However, once Christianity emerged, Emperor Constantine banned the art form because it was thought to ruin God’s image.

The stigma continued to follow tattoos. Christian missionaries attempted to stop Maori women from tattooing their mouths and faces, but the Indigenous community from New Zealand continued with their practices. Other Indigenous groups all over the world were subjected to similar prejudice and violence as well based on the art form being deemed “barbaric.”

Even in modern times, young people are often discouraged from getting tattoos due to the myth that they will not be able to land a job in the future. According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, getting a tattoo won’t hurt future job prospects.

According to an Ipsos poll, 30% of Americans in 2019 had at least one tattoo. This was a large jump from 2012 when only 21% of Americans had a tattoo. Furthermore, 40% of people aged between 18-34 have at least one tattoo.

In Ohio, tattoo and piercing recipients must be at least 18 years of age, or have written consent from a guardian. Because of this law, the time when many people get tattoos is in college. The sense of freedom and independence fosters a feeling of bodily autonomy.

Zelda Thayer-Hansen, a sophomore studying studio art, has a total of eight tattoos. They got their first one when they were 16, a stick-and-poke from a generous friend, but got their first professional tattoo right after high school.

Their first tattoo is a smiley face, but their second holds more significance.

“The first professional tattoo I got is a skull,” Thayer-Hansen said. “It’s for my grandfather who died when I was in freshman year of high school.”

Thayer-Hansen’s grandfather was owner of the Smiling Skull Saloon, a local biker bar located at 108 W. Union St.

Although unsure if their grandfather would approve of their tattoo, Thayer-Hansen said the art piece serves as a memorial piece for their loved one.

As an artist, Thayer-Hansen views tattoos as a way to express themselves and remember key memories or people. In the future, Thayer-Hansen would like to do their own tattoos, or even the ones of others.

“I’ve always known that I’ve wanted to be an artist,” Thayer-Hansen said. “Knowing other people with tattoos that have significant meaning to them is the main reason why I get them and why I love the idea of tattooing.”

Sam B., a sophomore studying criminology whose last name has been shortened due to privacy concerns, has a total of five tattoos. He got his first in August of 2021. Sam B. has a policy for getting his tattoos when it comes to a timeline and significance.

“I told myself that for every year I made it through something hard, I would get a tattoo to represent it,” Sam B. said.

His tattoos include a letter honoring a friend, words to remind him of his strength and a cracked pattern that was designed by a friend. 

Joee Green has been a tattooer for three years, and is also the owner of Magic Tattoo, located at 26 W. Stimson Ave. Joee works with her husband, Thomas Green, at Magic Tattoo. 

The shop has been open for a little over a year, and Joee said they have just gotten busier and busier. The two artists do anything including floral designs, skulls or even portraits of the infamous Pink Panther or the renowned Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Being so close to Ohio University, the artists said they see a lot of college students. Joee said this is good in regard to customers, but also sometimes hard when regulars move away.

“It’s wonderful as far as clientele goes,” Joee said. “We get a new batch every year. People away from their parents for the first time that want to do something for them. It does suck sometimes because I become friends with these people and these big groups of people who are here for four years, and then they move away. It sucks because you make friends with people and then you kind of lose touch with people.”

Joee said that with youth comes some hesitancy when committing to permanent body art.

“I hear ‘My mom’s going to kill me’ all the time,” Joee said, laughing.

Joee said that owning her own business has been “fantastic” and that the community has been very supportive. She said the camaraderie among the other local shops helps to foster a friendly environment.

“We’re friends with a lot of the other shops in town,” Joee said. “I don’t care if my customers go get tattooed by other people. Everybody’s got a different style.”

For first timers, Joee said it is important to be original and trust the artist. Additionally, the internet isn’t always the best place to gain inspiration.

“I would say to tell them to try to pick something more unique than they see on Pinterest,” Joee said. “At the end of the day, just put your own spin on it because you’re going to have it for the rest of your life. Go for something more unique.”

Thomas said certain tattoo trends are not going to end up looking as good in the future.

“The fad in the last couple years is the super fine line, no shading. It’s just not the way it works,” he said.

Additionally, Thomas said more times than not, photos of tattoos on the internet have been digitally edited to appear more appealing. Photoshop makes the tattoo look crisper, and in the long run, the tattoo won’t end up looking like that.

“People see it on Google and they’re like ‘Oh, that looks great’ and we’re like ‘That’s not real,’” Thomas said. “And it’s not five years old.”

In regard to pricing, both Joee and Thomas said there are many factors. Of course, there is size, detail and color to consider for the tattoo, as well as time, experience and cost of supplies for the artist. Big projects such as sleeves take a long time and require a lot of supplies.

Especially since COVID-19, prices for resources such as surgical gloves have skyrocketed, forcing tattoo artists to up their prices. 

Despite the shortage of key supplies, both Joee and Thomas are very passionate about what they do, and truly want the best for their customers. Joee even said it’s the best job in the world.

“People like to express themselves, whether it's through clothes or body art or whatever, people are just dying to tell you who they are,” Joee said. “And if they can do that from across the room, all the better.”


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