A Changing Reputation of Ink: The Evolution of Tattoo Culture

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By Danielle Duggan
Clinton County Chatter

In the past, the touch of ink on skin was the mark of an outcast. Though tattoos have taken on a new role today, some employers think differently.

When one was looking to differentiate themselves from the crowd and rebel against societal rules, a tattoo usually resulted. Due to this trend, older generations still associate tattoos with the mark of those who “were in the navy, went to jail, or were part of a biker gang,” said etiquette expert at Emily Post, Daniel Post Senning.

Though tattoo acceptance has evolved drastically over the past twenty years, the Baby Boomer generation, and the generations prior, have carried with them their original preconceptions about tattoos, according to Senning.

According to tattoo artist Tim MacCowan, from Aardvark Tattoo and Body Piercing, located in St. Johns, MI, tattoos’ role in modern culture has shifted due to media exposure.

“It’s accepted a lot more just because more people are getting them and they’re getting more visibility on TV and stuff like that in the media,” said MacCowan.

R.J. Munger, tattoo artist at Splash of Color Tattoo and Piercing Studio in East Lansing, MI, also said that these body markings have increased in popularity and acceptance.

“Ever since tattoos have been on TV, they’ve become very mainstream,” said Munger. “It’s made them not such a rebellious thing anymore.”

On Feb. 17, Fritz Geil, a man with multiple tattoos, watched as his daughter, Celeste Geil followed in his footsteps and received a tattoo similar to his own at Aardvark Tattoos and Body Piercing.

“What we’re seeing especially in the case of my daughter and I, is we’ve been [part of] a shift where she’s now getting tattooed to honor me instead of telling me to piss off,” said Fritz Geil.

Celeste Geil added a large dream catcher tracing the entire left side of her back to her tattoo collection.

“When I was younger, I found the dream catcher that my dad made, and after that, I stopped having nightmares… That’s why I’m getting it with the two feathers and two tiers like it is… I want it to be as close as possible,” said Celeste. “Then I’m getting the eagle feathers so they’re like the ones my dad has.”

Fritz said the reasons for his tattoos differed greatly from his daughter’s, due to the time period he grew up in.

“I’m old school and I got them to piss off my parents at first. Then I joined the Navy, was a truck driver and a biker, and musician… it was expected of me. That’s why I got so many,” said Fritz Geil.

Modern society has transformed tattoo culture, and Fritz Geil has a new outlook on the reasoning behind his daughter’s tattoo.

“She’s…saying, ‘Well, I’m not rebelling…I don’t want to do that; but I’m respecting my native heritage and I’m respecting you’…I’m seeing that more and more in the kids,” said Fritz Geil. “It’s that the tattoos that they’re getting, while tattoos are still about rebellion to an extent, the one’s they’re picking are respectful of their history.”

Many fear that tattoos will hinder their ability to get a job. According to Senning, the majority of bosses and those who run company interviews still have negative perceptions of tattoos. Older generations still associate tattoos with acts of rebellion.

“That’s no longer true,” said Senning, “but for that generation that’s what was true and they base assumptions on that. It’s important to be aware of that perception.”

Senning provides etiquette advice to both those from older generations doing the interviewing and those from younger generations going in for interviews.

“I like to remind older generations that for younger generations, a tattoo is a right of passage and it doesn’t mean the same thing it used to. Don’t close yourself off from an entire pool of talent because you have a perception of what a tattoo means,” said Senning. “[At the same time, a tattoo] doesn’t say something about you, but it does tell employers about your long-term decision making.”

According to Senning, and reporter, Hoag Levins, in his article covering tattoo history, this is rapidly changing. Twenty years ago, Senning gave much different advice to those going into interviews. Tattoo culture and acceptance has evolved with each generation and he predicts it will continue to do so.

“In some industries [tattoos] may work for you in the same way wearing a good shirt will work for you. Know something about the norm in the industry you’re applying for,” said Senning.


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