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Thread: Why is Generation Y so obsessed with tattoos?

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    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Why is Generation Y so obsessed with tattoos?

    When I was a senior in high school, back in 1996, tattoos were, well, taboo (this was in suburban western Massachusetts, mind you- not exactly a bastion of conservatism). I believe there was a perception, particularly among the dominant peer groups at my school, that tattoos were the domain of the underclass subculture- they were either "white trash" (I understand this is derogatory and I don't condone it) or for the Puerto Ricans.

    I knew of only a few guys that had them, and it was usually one on the arm or shoulder- they weren't "tatted-out" by any means. Hispanic males more often had them, and they'd often have something to reference their familial/ethnic background. White guys had mostly 80s rock emblems, like something you'd find on Axl Rose's body. Much rarer was the female tattoo, which usually took the form of a small object on a non-revealing part of the body. Girls with tattoos would keep them hidden, it was not something to flaunt. They didn't want anyone thinking they were a slut.

    Maybe I'm wrong about the cultural meanings we, as naive teenagers, ascribed to getting tattoos. After all, we were Generation X, and we felt the same way about tattoos as we felt about everything else in the world at the time: indifferent, disconnected. If there was a reason tattoos didn't appeal to us it was because we despised trends; pop culture was not something we wanted to emulate ("Smells like teen spirit" said it all, really).

    As I've gotten older, I've noticed that the social circle I interact with has grown considerably to include those in their younger 20's. A main reason for this, not surprisingly, is because I frequent the bar scene. The tastes and preferences of the younger generation, Generation Y, is thus something that I am exposed to quite frequently. In fact, I'd argue the preferences of people in their younger 20s tend to dominate popular culture at any point in time, but this is another matter.

    There are a lot of differences I perceive between generations X and Y, and I don't want to go into them all here. This post is about one of them in particular that I am having trouble understanding: why is Generation Y so obsessed with tattoos? Frankly, I'm shocked to meet someone under age 25 that doesn't have at least one. In comparion, much fewer of my Gen-X peers (those in their late 20s to mid 30s) sport them. I don't have any tattoos myself, and I don't see the appeal.

    Of particular shock to me is the number of young women that have tattoos. A particularly horrid display, to me, is the "tramp-stamp" or "slut butt", a generally large display of ink forming an emblem in the lower back region. I have also noticed that Gen-Y women are not timid about displaying their tattoos publicly, even in business environments (like my workplace). Gen-Y ladies are also incredibly attracted, it seems, to tattooed males. This, of course, means that the young dudes have to go even more hardcore than the girls, sporting sleeves and all sorts of tribal stuff, even lower leg tattoos. Some of these guys look like they did a stint in San Quentin.

    What's going on here? Is getting a tattoo a rite of passage for Generation Y? What say you Cyburbians (particularly you Gen-Y'ers)?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    I don't know why. I have seen many of my peers get tattoos but I don't plan on getting one at all. Nor a piercing.

    There are a lot of things that puzzle me about my generation and make me feel as if I am "Old for my Age"
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

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    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    not a boomer, not an x-er

    don't ask me, I'm Generation Jones - tattos are icky to us, only Hell's Angels get those

  4. #4
    Cyburbian KSharpe's avatar
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    I love tattoos. They are sort of a badge of courage: "I can tolerate pain, and I'm not afraid to commit to something". Also, they remind you of your history. I only have one tattoo, its personal, about something I overcame. Everytime I look at it, I feel proud. They're addictive, though. I totally want another one.
    Do you want to pet my monkey?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Plus PlannerGirl's avatar
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    Ya know I don't get the tat thing and its not exactly hidden that I play the pain game at a um more...PhD level

    Many in my college days had small ones, a small personal right of passage, extra holes were all the rage and I did not get that as well.

    But yes all of a sudden the word went nuts for tats and not just the GenY folks but even friends older than I have gone out and had more than one bit of ink put into their flesh.

    My personal and religious belief system does not look very favorable on them so none for me. I prefer to get my bit of pain having a bit more fun thanks
    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin

    Remember this motto to live by: "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming 'WOO- HOO what a ride!'"

  6. #6
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Very early Generation X (Atart and Zoom subclass) here

    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    A particularly horrid display, to me, is the "tramp-stamp" or "slut butt", a generally large display of ink forming an emblem in the lower back region. I have also noticed that Gen-Y women are not timid about displaying their tattoos publicly, even in business environments (like my workplace)
    At the last place where I worked, I supervised a young planner who not only had a tramp stamp, but also wore blouses that would cause her tattoo to be revealed quite often. To be honest, I didn't know what to do about it; I was afraid if I called her on it, I'd be hit for sexual harassment of some sort.

  7. #7
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Tattoos are just another phenomenon in a long long line of fashion tragedies. What makes 'gen Y' so special in this regard? The only difference is the fashionable elements are worn on the skin instead of in the form of garments. In the 70's there were polyester leisure suits. In the 80's there was big hair and leg warmers, the 90's saw 'grunge' attire, and in the 2000's tattoos are all the rage.
    Last edited by Maister; 11 Mar 2008 at 4:55 PM. Reason: added fashion chronology
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

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    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    As a generation Yer I would have to say it is about self understanding. I personally don't see the point in them, but I know many people who have them and feel that it represents them. They try and make it seem like the tattoo represents who they are today.

    The main issue I have is that the person you are today is not who you will be in 30 years when you inevitably gain a bit of weight.....
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  9. #9
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Erm... Neither I or any of my Gen Y friends have a tattoo, save for one friend who has a ton of them and has gotten like one a year since he turned 18. We are older Gen Ys, born in the early 80s.

    I don't see what you mean.

    I have seen the lower back tattoos, but those are nothing new, really.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    At the last place where I worked, I supervised a young planner who not only had a tramp stamp, but also wore blouses that would cause her tattoo to be revealed quite often. To be honest, I didn't know what to do about it; I was afraid if I called her on it, I'd be hit for sexual harassment of some sort.
    Perhaps "House" can help you with that. I have glimpsed that TV program twice, and both times it was the same episode...something about the pain pills, the dog eats them...and House tells one of his female medical professionals, "your attire is far too revealing for the workplace."

    Seriously, speak up. Silence gives consent, and tacit approval.

    No tattoos on me. I picked up a set of those Halloween costume tattoo sleeves (made of fabric and removable), got a few double-takes with them (especially when I wandered through Home Depot).

  11. #11
    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
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    What's the problem? Some of you people need to be a little more accepting and open-minded IMO.

    I think the biggest change is that tatoos are more accepted in mainstream society. most people realize that a tattoo- even on the lower back portion of a female - means virtually nothing about the ethics or promiscuity of that individual.

    IMO being offended or judgemental about someones tattoo (unless it is a four letter word or something similarly innapropriate) tells me more about you and your issues.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    It's just a part of a larger trend of uniqueness-seeking collective culture. Like you pointed out, HD, there are many differences between the GenX and GenYers. Other areas where they differ you've already pointed on (the feeling of detachment and disillusion has been replaced by uber-activism and involvement). Was it Bear or Dan or someone who posted the "Stuff White People Like" a couple weeks ago? That sums up GenY culture better than anything I've ever seen.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian craines's avatar
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    My back side is covered in tats and I am 46 years old. I also had piercings but have since let them go!!

    and by the way I got the piercings same time as my wife around 16 years. My tats I have over twenty years.

    Go figure!!
    Looking for Sanity
    In this Crazy Land Of Ours

  14. #14
    Cyburbian jsk1983's avatar
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    I'm a generation Y-er and have no desire to get a tatoo. Of course I don't like needles, but nonetheless don't see the appeal in them.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Hmmm. Interesting thread.

    I was born in 1968 )I don't know what "generation" that puts me in, but I hate labels anyway - probably why I don't have any tattoos on my own body...) My body is clean, but I really am fine with tattoos and have many friends with one or more. I've never quite determined if I actually like the way the ink and colors look on/in skin or not, but I really don't mind that others are so enthusiastic about it. It certainly makes life more interesting.

    But I think hilldweller is generally right about a shift in public acceptance of and interest in body art over the years. It seems to be everywhere now, whereas in my own high school and collegiate youth, it was fewer and farther between. Having a tat (or unusual piercing - ie. anywhere but in your ear) was much more of an unusual and brazen statement than I think it is today.

    Consider this: Albuquerque has a population of close to 500k. A quick google search turned up 297 tattoo shops! That's a lot of tattoos, especially wen you consider the number of clients each store must have to remain open and viable as a business. I have not stats on what this number was, say, 25 years ago, but my personal impression is that tattoos, piercings and other body modifications are definitely more a part of American culture (especially youth culture) today than in the past.

    On a similar note, I remember reading a story not long ago about Starbucks having to revisit their policy of asking workers to cover tattoos and remove piercings while working. The problem? They couldn't staff the positions with enough people that didn't either have tattoos in places that couldn't be covered, or flat-out refused to comply with the ordinance. This tells me that lot and lots more young people are sporting body art than in my day.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  16. #16
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by imaplanner View post
    What's the problem? Some of you people need to be a little more accepting and open-minded IMO.

    I think the biggest change is that tatoos are more accepted in mainstream society. most people realize that a tattoo- even on the lower back portion of a female - means virtually nothing about the ethics or promiscuity of that individual.
    Oh come on, now. What guy upon seeing a young woman's lower back tattoo isn't thinking: Oh something to read while I am, uh, you know, waiting in line at the bank!
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    I also graduated in 1986. I didn't get my first tatt till 10 years later. I now have 4. They all have a very personal meaning to me. I suggest if they don't to you, then don't. On the other hand, rather than condemn them, explore the meaning.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    I got my first one in 1998 when I was 19 and have gotten a few more since then. Of course, I was in the Marine Corps when I got my first one so I definitely wasn't an oddball for having one.

    Now though the Marines have much stricter standards on where you can get a new tattoo and how large it can be which I think is a good thing for Marines who deal with the public on a much more regular basis (such as those on various security details) but is it really a big deal if some guy who is an infantry rifleman or mortarman has a tattoo on his exposed forearm?

    All of the tattoos I have that are visible when I am wearing a short-sleeve shirt were obtained after I was out of the Marine Corps (and after the policy changes mentioned above were enacted). I have had three jobs since getting them, all at pretty conservative offices, and never once did I feel like I was looked down upon once the weather got nice and I would wear a short-sleeve shirt to work.

    The times they are a changin'.
    "Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." - 1980 Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan

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    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    I don't hang around a lot of Gen Y'ers so I guess I can't really make an informed comment.

    Myself, I am a younger Gen X'er and got a tatoo on my shoulder when I was 19. I think it was more a rebelious act than anything. Never had an urge to get another one. Probably won't get another one, unless my wife wants to get one, then I'd probably support her by getting a 2nd one. .

    I will say that I don't necessarily think the big change has been a generational change, but rather a change in the acceptance of women having tattoos. Any comments to that effect?

  20. #20
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    Consider this: Albuquerque has a population of close to 500k. A quick google search turned up 297 tattoo shops! That's a lot of tattoos, especially wen you consider the number of clients each store must have to remain open and viable as a business.
    You think that's a lot of tattoo parlors? Jacksonville, NC, with a population of just under 70,000 has 204 tattoo parlors according to Google!

    When friends would ask me what the town was like, I always said that every other building was either a strip club, pawn shop, or tattoo parlor. I guess that wasn't too far from the truth.
    "Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." - 1980 Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan

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    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by craines View post
    My back side is covered in tats and I am 46 years old. I also had piercings but have since let them go!!

    and by the way I got the piercings same time as my wife around 16 years. My tats I have over twenty years.

    Go figure!!
    I wouldn't expect anything less- you're from SoCal after all, right?

    Seriously though, SoCal is probably a skewed demographic when it comes to tattoos.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by btrage View post
    I will say that I don't necessarily think the big change has been a generational change, but rather a change in the acceptance of women having tattoos. Any comments to that effect?
    I think that is right on target...as a gen y woman, I know several of my female friends who have gotten tattoos, mostly on their lower backs, on their hips, supposidly to be able to cover it up if it was a problem. However with the low-rise pants being in style for so long, those 'non' visible tattoos are visible when sitting or in anything revealing! I don't have any tattoos because I shudder think what to it will look like when I am older!
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  23. #23
    Cyburbian Emeritus Bear Up North's avatar
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    Quit Needlin' Me !!!

    This Bear has absolutely NO objection to tats or piercings. Good and bad people have tats and piercings. Good and bad people dress as conservative as the Colorado Preacher is windy. Your body, your life.
    _____

    Slightly-off-topic.....

    What the hexx is my generation "letter"? I know I am a "boomer", born in '48. Maybe, we are, like (calling Maynard), Generation "B", assuming that the hip teens of the 1950s were Generation "A".
    _____

    And-really-off-topic-but-not-really.....

    I have about 30 tats.

    (Requirement for radiation treatment, to line-up the rayz.)

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  24. #24
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by otterpop View post
    Oh come on, now. What guy upon seeing a young woman's lower back tattoo isn't thinking: Oh something to read while I am, uh, you know, waiting in line at the bank!
    Off-topic:
    **Wine shooting out my nose.**
    Nice post.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Fat Cat's avatar
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    Fat Cat

    What I have noticed lately is more women in their 50s and 60s are getting them, most them professionals
    when I went for my annual physical, I was surprised at the number of nurses that had them on their ankles.
    When I was sent to the clinic to get the annual blood work for my physical, the nurse drawing my blood volunteered that she had just got a tattoo, I didnt ask and she didnt say where,
    I recently had a job interview and again saw "mature" female elected officials that had tattos on their ankles,
    I made the short list and was interviewed by the senior administration staff and again I noticed similar tattoos in on the ankle.
    I turned the postion down because I did not want to relocate, Actually Mrs Katt told me that we are not going to relocate again
    I asked Mrs Katt about the tattoos on the ankle and she said that she knows a lot of professional people in their 50s and 60s in the private sector are getting them but not where they can be visible in the work place. Since she is in marketing, I asked her if they would be visible on the golf course and she said some would, She said that most of them talk about when at lunch or dinner, but said that she has no desire to get one. But feels like I do, if that is what they want, so be it. She said that some of the men have said that have gotten ones that cover the entire shoulder, but the tattoo cannot be seen when on the golf course, or when out on a fishing boat unless they take their shirt off.
    So I am not sure that it is a generational thing but maybe a fad,
    When I see what tattoos look like after 20 years, they get a little saggy, so maybe it is better to get them in your 50s or 60s because in 20 more years they will either be in senior home or ......

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