Shortly before my 37th birthday I finally took the plunge and got my first tattoo. My wife doesn’t like it, the kids love it, and my parents were evasive. “We love you no matter what body art you have.” Knowing beforehand some will hate it and the pain involved, why get a tattoo?

Tattoos can be reminders of where we were, and what we were thinking. They can bond us to the people we care about. I’m reasonably sure in my wife’s case tattoos are about memories and family bonds. Her first was a clover she got with her mom, aunt, cousin, great aunt, and grandma. Her second is an old Italian saying she got with her aunt, mom and cousin after grandma died.

This is the point where my first hand knowledge gets a little thin. I know what motivated me but can only guess at what motivates others. This lack of intimate knowledge makes it hard for me to explain certain aspects of tattooing. For instance the average age for getting a first tattoo is 13 years old. From what I’ve read gang tattoos often make up the bulk of these underage tattoos. When survival depends on your gang, tattoos show allegiances in a permanent way. The idea of loyalty and gangs can be taken a step further. Gangs often use tattoos as badges of honor. They become symbols of what contributions they’ve made to the group. Helping to ensure their status, and with status often comes security.

The notions of groups could be important as well. There are two groups and we all belong to one or the other. One group has no tattoos and the other has tattoos. It could be some people get tattooed just to belong to group two. They get something small and meaningless then keep it hidden. While others get head, face and hands covered in offensive and often violent art. In this manner you can see getting inked as a way of standing out to the group with no tattoos or a way to fit in with the group that has many. Belonging is such a part of being human I would guess that it does play into why people do or don’t get tattooed.

The reasons why someone chooses to get tattooed are varied, but the thing that is always the same is the permanence. It could be people get tattoos because they are attracted to the idea of saying something about themselves in a way that will endure. The idea of not being able to change your mind and wash it away is what gives a tattoo its power. Most humans tend to want to express themselves in a way that is acceptable yet personal and tattooing does that for many. They are optional, personal, beautiful and even ugly but once done you are married to them, for better or worse.

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New York Times

It’s hard to look authentically rebellious or menacing these days, when even well-behaved businessmen wear earrings and ponytails and college students destined for quiet suburban lives have body piercings and tattoos.

Tattoos, in particular, are not the radical brandings, the bold violations of flesh and propriety, they once were. Available in New York from almost 1,400 licensed tattoo artists, tattoos are probably better and safer now than they’ve ever been — more creative and varied, applied in many cases by serious, highly skilled body artists.

Then again, there are tattoos, and there are tattoos. It is unlikely that the ambitious professional with a single, understated, discreetly placed and wittily conceived tat, or for that matter the teenager with her boyfriend’s name and two lovebirds emblazoned in the small of her back, will ever have tattoos on the face and scalp, or a full chest or back “panel” or a tattooed arm or leg.

Some tattoo aficionados, though, have transformed large portions of their bodies into multicolored canvases for all manner of skulls, serpents, raptors, flame-breathing dragons, flowers, vines, angels, demons, daggers, buxom bombshells and portraits of heroes and loved ones.

Tattoos have been used for centuries to reflect changes in life status, whether passage into adulthood or induction into a group like the military or a gang. In recent years, tattoos have also become a fashion accessory, a trend fueled by basketball players, bands and celebrities.

A report by the Food and Drug Administration estimated that as many as 45 million Americans have tattoos. The report based the number on the finding by a Harris Interactive Poll in 2003 that 16 percent of all adults and 36 percent of people 25 to 29 had at least one tattoo. The poll also found that 17 percent of tattooed Americans regretted it. And a tattoo that cost several hundred dollars could require several thousand dollars and many laser sessions to remove. — From Times articles.

College Crunch

15 Surprising Stats about Tattoos

Tattoos are hardly a modern phenomenon. Body markings have been around since the Neolithic age, and in the thousands of years since, many different cultures have adopted the practice, which has represented rites of passage, religious belief, status, love, and inferiority due to slavery or imprisonment. Recently, the Western world has warmed up to tattoos, shedding the perception that the ancient tradition is taboo. Everybody and their mother seem to be inked nowadays, and they come from every social background. The appeal is pervasive because to many people, their body art is accompanied with great meaning that only they can truly appreciate. The following statistics pertaining to tattoos show just how popular they've become, which groups like them the most and least, and people's attitudes about them.

Six percent of Americans had at least one tattoo (1936): Life magazine made the estimate during an era when tattoo parlors were often located near military bases and the ink-covered Betty Broadbent was a circus attraction. By World War II, the markings became associated with bikers, prisoners and other people society dubbed as undesirable, causing the popularity of tattoos to reach a new low.

Fourteen percent of Americans had at least one tattoo (2008): Tattoos are an "in" thing to have — not unlike a fashionable piece of clothing or jewelry. People from all walks of life have them, including accountants, lawyers and teachers. What were once markings of the working class bloke have become the middle class's accessory.

Almost four in ten millennials had a tattoo (2008): The so-called "Me" generation is known for doing things its owns way and according to its own wants and desires. Most adults these days aren't afraid of asserting their individuality, and thus have decided to showcase it by getting tattoos that represent their characteristics, beliefs and experiences.

Seventy percent of tattooed millennials hid their ink (2008): Of course, the "Me" generation also wants to secure a job after graduation, so many opt to mark their backs and stomachs as opposed to their forearms calves. This is especially the case for people who work in more conservative professions — like accountants, lawyers and teachers.

There was an almost nine percent increase in tattooed adults from 2003 to 2006: The tattoo trend exploded during the middle of the last decade, when seemingly every young person was emulating their favorite celebrities from music and film by getting one. As it became more pervasive, it could be explained by the desire of people to express themselves as they attached their own personal meaning to their markings.

People aged 18-24 were the second least likely to have a tattoo (2008): Just nine percent of them said they had at least one tattoo in 2008; down from 16 percent in 2003. Only the aged 65 and older group had a lower percentage. Could the decline indicate that tattoos are becoming less hip? After all, tattoos tend to be associated with youthful exuberance and rebellion. Perhaps the prevalence and mainstream acceptance of them has changed the way they're viewed by young people.

Forty percent of people said more tattoos is a change for the worse (2008): There will always be the stodgy, conservative segment of society that opposes anything related to change. Older generations were raised to look down upon people who marked their bodies in such a manner because, as previously mentioned, they mostly came from questionable backgrounds. Also, some people simply prefer to avoid trends, knowing that the latest "in" thing can be fleeting.

More men had tattoos than women, but barely (2008): Tattoos have long been considered a masculine feature, but recent statistics — 15 percent of men and 13 percent of women have tats — have shown that's no longer the case. Women are getting more tattoos now that it's more socially acceptable and not viewed as a mark of deviancy. In fact, many consider it a thing of beauty, as evidenced by the way many men fawn over tattooed celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Megan Fox.

One-fourth of people who had tattoos were gay, lesbian or bisexual (2008): Some do it as act of solidarity. Some do it for pride. Some do it simply because they like the way it looks. The popularity of tattoos among gays, lesbians and bisexuals fits the stereotype, right or wrong, that they're loud and proud of their "differences."

Thirty-one percent of tattooed adults felt sexier than before getting one (2008): This statistic may go hand-in-hand with the 36 percent who said having one makes them feel more rebellious. We all know about the direct correlation between "badness" and sexiness. Perhaps the perception will change as the current 18-to 24-year-olds become older and more influential.

Democrats were just slightly more likely to have tattoos than Republicans or Independents (2008): More specifically, 15 percent of Democrats have tattoos, while 13 percent of Republicans and 13 percent of Independents have them. So tattoos aren't an inherently liberal characteristic, but that should be common sense given their prevalence in the military and working class.

Miami is the most tattooed city in America (2010): Miami averages 24 tattoo shops per 100,000 people, so South Floridians can easily get inked on a whim and then show off their new body art at the beach. The city has thriving gay and Hispanic populations — both of which possess high percentages of inked individuals. In fact, 15 percent of Hispanics have tattoos, making them most tattooed minority group in the US.

One in five people from the West had a tattoo (2008): The more socially liberal Western US lives up to its reputation. It's not surprising that an area with Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Portland and Seattle is heavy with tattooed people. Of course, there's also the presence of the navy and marines in San Diego, which is a bit more conservative. And as the aforementioned stat indicates, conservatives just barely fall behind liberals when it comes to the percentage who are tattooed.

One in ten people from the Midwest had a tattoo (2008): It seems that conservative Midwestern American values have prevailed against the tattoo trend. Remember, this is flyover country; home of the silent majority, where just about every state is red. After viewing these statistics, you have to wonder just where exactly do all of the conservatives in the US with tattoos live. Perhaps the West Coast's "lite" conservatives make up a good portion of that 13 percent.

Just 16 percent of people with tattoos regretted getting one (2008): If you openly discussed getting a tattoo with, say, your parents, you might have been told that "you'll regret it down the road." Well, according to this statistic, that's unlikely to be the case. Of course, it helps that so many adults these days have one, meaning that distorted, wrinkled body art will be pretty much the norm in 30 years.
Sources: Harris Interactive, Pew Research Center, MSNBC, Fox News, Albany Herald

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