Body Art Bias: How Tattoos Paint You

Courtesy of

Kasandra Lopez, Social Media Coordinator

Body art is a form of expression that many people still get criticized for wearing. For these people, tattoos suggest someone’s impurity or imply criminal status due to an association with gangs. However, people who wear tattoos feel that they paint visuals of their personalities. 

Although tattoos have been around for a millennia, the art form has evolved over time.

Mainstream tattoo artists in the United States have been influenced by many other cultures. The Polynesian method is hitting a rake made of bone with a mallet to embed the ink into the skin. In the Japanese Tebori method, an artist uses a rod tipped with needles to push ink into the skin.

Today’s method of tattooing is done by a machine that eliminates a lot of human error by being steady and quick. Even though tattoos have a vibrant history, tattoos are still considered taboo by many. 

Jay Jay has been a tattoo enthusiast for most of her adult life and is well acquainted with the dismay strangers express around her when they see her tattoos. 

“The day I went to register my daughter for school, the secretary kept giving me this look because you can see the tattoos on my arms,” Jay Jay said. “She had an attitude and kept looking at my tattoos.”

Jay Jay feels many people’s initial response to seeing tattoos is to make assumptions.

“People automatically assume when you have tattoos that you’re up to no good,” she said. 

Stephanie, a former William Paterson student, said discrimination against tattoos is amplified when you come from a religious background. Her Christian identity is apparent in all aspects of her life and it affected her decision to get a tattoo.

“You’re basically marking yourself for judgment day,” Stephanie said. “That’s your stamp. You’re going to hell. It’s one of the sins you shouldn’t commit.”

She got her first tattoo in secret when she was 19 years old. She said the responses from her parents were pleading and threatening.

“He was like, ‘Oh, go get the sandpaper, I’m ripping it off!’”

However, her parents’ opinions have not stopped her from getting more tattoos. Stephanie does not see getting tattoos as a betrayal of her Christian faith and lifestyle. 

Tattoo taboo is especially apparent in the workplace. It’s one of the reasons why tattoo artists warn their clients about the possible consequences of getting tattoos on their hands, neck, face or head. Employers often look down on potential hirees with tattoos. 

In a situation where someone does get hired, that person may not be able to freely show their tattoos off. They may be seen as inappropriate. Jay Jay works as a receptionist in the medical field and said she is required to wear long sleeves to cover up any visible ink. 

However, tattoos are often revered in the entertainment industry. Many cable shows are about tattoo competitions between artists such as Ink Master, America’s Worst Tattoos and Black Ink Tattoos. This coverage destigmatizes the art form.

Annual tattoo conventions like Inked Out have live tattooing sessions, a sanctuary for artists to meet potential clients and tattoo art contests. The conventions act as a community for people with tattoos.