Perhaps, because it’s summertime it seems as if there are people with tattoos everywhere. Justin Bieber just got his sixth tattoo, of the Japanese symbol for music. Wherever we look today - movies, advertisements, television and on-line - there are signs that people of all walks of life appreciate and practice the art of the tattoo. Why has tattooing become so popular?
There are no precise numbers available that indicate the size of the tattoo industry in the United States. However, it is estimated that there are about 15,000 tattoo parlors - today, the phrase “tattoo studios” is used more often, as they carry an upscale connotation. Many have been renovated and look like medical clinics. And, many who do the tattooing are called “tattoo artists,” who have had art training. Some even look like medical clinics today. There have been art exhibits and gallery showings. The industry makes more than $2.3 billion annually and is perceived to be one of the fastest growing industries in the country.
Life Magazine estimated in 1936 that 10 million Americans, or approximately 6% of the population had at least one tattoo. Almost 80 years later, a 2003 Harris Poll nearly tripled the figure, estimating that 16% of Americans or 40 million people, have one or more tattoos. Breaking it down further, a Pew Research Center study says that 36% of Americans ages 18 to 25 have a tattoo, 40% in the 26 to 40 age range, and 10%, age 41 to 64 are tattooed. The numbers continue to grow.
Who has the tattoos? Individuals from diverse backgrounds and different age groups have them. Men and growing numbers of women have them. They come in different sizes and shapes. In addition to the basic blue-grey, they often have other colors. They can be seen on the beaches, streets, or college campuses, in subways, at workplaces or, perhaps, you know someone that has a tattoo. They are intended to be permanent. And when they are put on your body, they are more or less painful depending upon which part of the body will be painted.
Tattooing used to be associated with sailors, bikers, gang members and criminals, anti-social activities of the 60s. Once regarded by the general population as frightening, repulsive and undesirable, tattooing often served as a sign of lower economic and social status, a ritual rite of passage, or a way to mark, brand or beautify the body.
In the 1970s through the late 80s, rock stars, such as the Rolling Stones, led the way, followed by professional sports figures, models, and movie stars in the 90s. Today, tattooing is a mainstream activity, helping to establish the culture’s values and mores. In fact, having a tattoo or tattoo is an equalizer among socio-economic, ethnic and geographic groups.
For some, tattooing one’s body is seen as a fashion statement. Some women see it as sexy, particularly on one’s foot. For others, like Rob* (pictured), a 45-year old, metro man who is an assistant director for a feature film crew in New York City, his reasons are personal. He doesn’t care about any external responses. On one arm is a painting of his sister, who was killed as a young girl. Having the tattoo, Rob feels, keeps her memory alive. The tattooing over the rest of his body is an expression of his inner self.
Of those with tattoos, here is an opportunity for self expression, an added identifier, like a piece of jewelry, a design of your own choosing or something that could both set you apart and keep you together with others. Look around you. See for yourself. How many individuals do you see in one day that are tattooed?
*Full name withheld due to privacy concerns.