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Davis, California

Saturday, April 13, 2024

To tattoo or not to tattoo?

Students discuss their experiences getting and having tattoos

Turning 18 marks the start of adulthood — with the ability to vote, buy lottery tickets and make one’s own medical decisions, it’s the age of an abundance of new freedoms. Unlike non-ear body piercings, which minors can obtain with a parent present or as notarized by the parent, tattoos can only be obtained after 18.

First-year political science: public service major Mili Bhatnagar got her first tattoo in her hometown as soon as she turned 18. It’s a small symbol on the outside of her wrist, and she described the experience as “pretty exciting” because of how long she’d been planning it, but she was still slightly nervous.

“My first tattoo was something I had decided to get a long time ago,” Bhatnagar said. “I think I was 15 when the design first occurred to me.”

While some people may not tell their parents about tattoos that they have obtained, Bhatnagar talked to her parents about hers.

“In fact, [my parents] actually want to get matching [tattoos] someday! My mom was a really big part of the decision too,” Bhatnagar said. “She told me to get it in a place where I can hide it or show it off when I want. Truthfully, telling my parents about my first tattoo was a very organic decision because that particular symbol holds a lot of meaning to all of us.”

Bhatnagar has three tattoos now, but she plans on getting more. The second tattoo she has is on her arm and is her younger brother’s date of birth in Roman numerals; her third tattoo is a simple flower on her foot. Since getting these tattoos, she has never had second thoughts about them. Bhatnagar would advise people who don’t have tattoos but want some to start small.

“This piece of art will be on your body for the rest of your life, so make sure you’re happy with the design beforehand and have added your own flair,” Bhatnagar said. “All of my tattoos are on the smaller side, so I’ve never felt overwhelmed by them. And smaller tattoos also really help prepare you for larger tattoos.”

Second-year philosophy major Skylar Duvall described herself as “obsessed with astrology” and when she was 17, she got her first tattoo — the Virgo constellation — back home in Houston.

“The first moments walking into the tattoo shop were honestly terrifying because no matter what people tell you, you still can never know what quite to expect,” Duvall said. “I remember my artist going over two basic rules – don’t move and don’t cry.”

Duvall chose to get the tattoo on her ribcage, a particularly difficult first spot, because of breathing regulation that’s required to prevent moving the needle. However, she doesn’t regret that and said that she’s glad she got one of the most painful spots over with. Duvall said that she still cries over a flu shot but finds the tattooing process to be therapeutic. Duvall’s mom went with her for her this first tattoo despite not necessarily approving.

“[She] also figured I would just get it behind her back if she said no because I’m so stubborn,” Duvall said. “She loves my tattoos now and appreciates them much more as an art.”

Duvall has 10 tattoos, and she plans to get more. She originally wanted a few small black tattoos, but her love for bold and colorful tattoos has grown. She is now in the process of completing a full leg sleeve. However, Duvall’s dad does not know about any of her 10 tattoos, most of which she described as being on the “larger side.”

“[My dad] is very conservative and holds the irrational belief that tattoos ruin the beauty of a woman’s body,” Duvall said. “Because of this, I’m just going to wait until he eventually sees them and as mad as he will be, and no matter if he were to threaten taking me out of school, I think it’d be better to have a tattooed, educated daughter than a tattooed dropout.”

Duvall has a favorite tattoo, which she described, but she also thinks that it is all of the tattoos together that contribute to its beauty.

“I have a large hip piece in color of a deer skull with a rattlesnake wrapped around/through it with two yellow roses dedicated to my ranch back in Texas,” Duvall said. “This is probably my favorite just because the detail is so beautifully done, but all my tattoos are so different and blend together well to create one large body of art to appreciate.”

Duvall initially believed that she would only get tattoos with strong meanings behind them, but her view has “totally flipped.” She now often gets tattoos for the aesthetics, because tattoos are “an art, not necessarily a story.” Duvall described how she got into piercings and tattoos.  

“Body modifications started becoming an interest of mine when I was struggling with bodily insecurities during a bad, depressive phase of my life,” Duvall said. “I felt as though adding something to my body would make me learn to love it more, which it definitely has. As cheesy as it sounds, I got my first tattoo inspiration literally from a Tumblr post and it was the first one I felt connected to.”

Duvall hopes to go into law, and said that she is “well aware” of the stigma around tattoos, which is why she chose the locations she did. She also urged people to get tattoos if they want — not all tattoos need to have meanings, and she thinks that people need to appreciate it as an art form more.

“For all the people holding off on tattoos because [they’re] not sure if it means enough, I encourage them to go ahead and get them,” Duvall said. “Be spontaneous but smart. It is your body and you don’t need to impress or please anyone. […] Instead of having the regret of a tattoo, I think it is worse to miss the opportunity to enhance your  body while you’re thriving and young. Once you are older and settle down, I believe the biggest regret would be missing all those opportunities.”

Duvall said that she’s been successful in hiding her tattoos from her dad for the past three years and knows that she’ll be able to hide them in a professional setting. Bhatnagar agrees that there is a stigma attached to tattoos.

“People often don’t realize that tattoos hold a lot of personal meaning and aren’t just decisions made in the heat of the moment,” Bhatnagar said. “Though it may seem that someone’s tats are completely spontaneous, most of us like to plan them out and agonize over the size, placement and detail for months. And not all of us regret our ink either! For me, all of my tattoos allow me to permanently express myself and hold a moment forever. My tattoos are a reminder of memories that I’ve shared with the people I love.”

Duvall hasn’t had second thoughts about her tattoos either, and neither has second-year wildlife fish and conservation biology major Breeze Davis. Davis got her first two tattoos a couple of days after her 18th birthday from a tattoo artist who had previously tattooed her mom.

“My mom has gone with me to get a few of them,” Davis said. “She has a lot of tattoos, so I always grew up going with her to her appointments and that kind of got me excited to one day get my own. […] With all my following tattoos, my process is pretty fluid, sometimes I can have the idea picked out for awhile but [sometimes] I have just walked into the shop and decided what I wanted on the spot.  Both are really great and exciting ways to get tattooed, but I just try to have fun with it and not take it too seriously in a sense. For me it’s my main form of self expression to the world and just something I love to do.”

Davis currently has 12 tattoos, but her favorite is a moth on her leg that she got at Death or Glory in downtown Davis by Cait Gale, who is one of her favorite tattoo artists.

Davis thinks that the stigma towards tattoos that Bhatnagar and Duvall identified has decreased and that people are generally more accepting of tattoos than they were in the past.

“I think that people are starting to realize that anyone can be tattooed and the fact that someone has chosen to tattoo their body doesn’t define who they are as a person,” Davis said.

Written by: ANJINI VENUGOPAL — features@theaggie.org


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