Tattoos and piercings have been a part of the body art landscape for thousands of years. And just like today, some were plain, others were elaborate, but what archaeologists have found over the years is that they were always personal.
In ancient Egypt, tattooing was seen as an exclusively female practice, and while it was originally assumed by early researchers that tattooed women were prostitutes, an article in Smithsonian Magazine reported that based on the placement of the tattoos, they were probably therapeutic and provided psychological relief for women during difficult pregnancies and deliveries.
Men with tattoos were also part of many cultures. Geometrical tattoos have been found on the male mummies of Egyptian leaders; mythical creatures and animals have been found on males of various cultures; and the practice has been confirmed by writings that indicate that tattoos were marks of nobility.
Many people still operate under “out of sight, out of mind.” Senior Spike Yusuf, who has a variety of tattoos, including series of green circles down his spine, wants to work in the medical field after graduation and is holding back on getting more art because of the field’s standards.
“I like expressing myself and my body is a canvas,” he said. “But in a professional setting, [employers] prefer not to see it. When I wear a suit, it covers everything pretty well. Once I get a job in my field, I plan on getting a sleeve done.”
The same can be said about piercings. Freshman Kaylee Wagler started getting piercings in her ears as a teen and increased the number as the years went by. Now, she has her nose and 10 ear piercings along with two tattoos.
“I was 15 and got my first cartilage piercing,” she said. “I look on Pinterest for new piercings and find new ones I love. That’s how I found the Daith piercing. I’m slowly working my way until I have seven piercings on the left ear too.”
Senior Nico Quinn also likes both tattoos and piercings. He has her ears, belly button and nose pierced, in addition to eight intricate tattoos scattered around her body.
“It’s an easy way to express yourself to others and let them know something about you they normally wouldn’t,” he said. “They help remind me who I am and where I’m going.”
Like others today, Quinn believes people become more accepting of body art every day.
“When my dad was a kid, my grandfather always told him that the only people who had tattoos were criminals or in a gang,” he said. “My dad grew up with that mindset and still is against them, but the younger generation is definitely more OK with it. There are worse things and I think people are starting to realize that.”
Body art started getting positive attention in 2005 when TLC introduced the reality TV show “Miami Ink,” starring Kat Von D. Now there is enough worldwide support for such things as a professional organization called Support Tattoos And Piercings At Work and tattoo festivals, which showcase local artists and those with international reputations.
Quinn has attended several tattoo conventions and said they offer everything from entertainment to artisans making ink to vendors selling different types of merchandise.
There are also tattoo challenges, where tattoo artists display their work on willing volunteers. Quinn’s detailed black arrow on his left forearm was tattooed at a convention.
“I knew it was going to be a great tattoo,” Quinn said. “[The artist] did this whip shading technique to show texture in the feathers. In the arrowhead, he added cracks and so many other little details.”
While tattoo festivals and different types of media have been positive influences on body art, technology has also advanced so it now lessens people’s fear. Whether it is a spur of the moment decision because you found a design you think looks good or the meaning of a design is more than skin-deep, tattoos are a great way to chart someone’s life and to express who you are. And the more personal they are, the more the person will be pleased with the decision.
“I love it when someone asks me about my tattoos because I love them and love talking about them,” Gilmore said. “It makes me happy that people compliment the art I want to put on my body.”
Every design can signify some special memory, life-changing experience or a period in someone’s life that they might otherwise forget. Individuality is key and the design only has to make sense to the one who wears it.
“It means something so specifically important to that person,” Quinn said. “It’s a part of their identity, who they are and what they’ve lived through.”
Some people also use piercings to show who they are on the inside and what they want the world to know about them.
“It’s to be different,” Wagler said, “that’s why I did it. Some people like them, some don’t.”
Body art has become one of the most popular ways for people to express themselves. Whether it’s by modifying the body with one or a series of piercings decorated with jewelry or having intricate, color-filled designs or minimalistic black patterns inked into the skin, the history of body modification continues.
“To me, it has become more acceptable and the norm,” Sergesketter said. “It’s up to you, whatever you’re comfortable with. But make sure it has meaning because you’re the one who’s going to have to always look at it.”