Being an adolescent is difficult. There are constant struggles with being accepted into peer groups while trying to establish an individual and unique identity. Once upon a time, this personal identity was established through clothing, hairstyles, or makeup trends. However, the current generation often seeks more permanent methods of identifying themselves through the use of body modification, such as those demonstrated through the use of piercings and tattoos.
There are many potential internal and external reasons for an adolescent to seek permanent body modifications. For some, it is a manner of establishing “autonomy, privacy, and insulation” (Martin, A., 1997, p. 860). For many, it is a method of asserting that they make their own decisions concerning themselves and their bodies and provides a sense of control and for others, it is an effort to fit in with their peer group and can signify an affiliation with a specific group, such as a gang.
Evidence of tattooing indicates it has been practiced for over 5,000 years for various reasons, such as identification purposes and as an aspect of social rituals. In some cultures, tattoos are considered to be works of art while in others, tattoos are taboo. In the United States and other western countries, tattoos are traditionally associated with the fringe element of society, comprised of the social outcasts, such as the bikers and former prisoners, many of whom had tattoos imprinted through the more traditional methods of needles wrapped in string and dipped in ink (Franklin-Barbajosa, 2004). The perception was if an individual had a tattoo, they were somehow socially or morally deficient.
For adolescents struggling for acceptance even as they are trying to establish their independence, tattooing offers the appeal of doing something that is cool, yet defiant, to reflect the individuality of that person. Many want tattoos to commemorate significant events in their lives while others may be seeking a reaction or acceptance. Many of these individuals are unable to seek tattoos from tattoo artists as the majority of the states have established the age of eighteen as the minimum age that can seek these services, and resort to self-tattooing or having a friend etch a crude design into the flesh following instructional videos that are readily available on the Internet.
However, as more celebrities display their tattoos, it has surged in popularity during recent years, which has the potential to compel many more adolescents to seek tattoos. Perhaps this trend will soon begin to reverse itself if the application of tattoos becomes so normalized that the only way to be unique is to remain tattoo-free. Even though tattoos may resemble individualized pieces of art, any form of body modification always has the potential to be a permanent reminder of a bad decision. For adolescents, this could make difficult situations even worse.
- Franklin-Barbajosa, C. (2004). “Tattoo: Pigments of Imagination.” National Geographic. Retrieved on 13 February 2016 from http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com
- Martin, A. (1997). “On Teenagers and Tattoos.” Reclaiming Children and Youth 9:3 fall 2000, pp. 143-144, 150.