Body art stereotypes misrepresent tattoo and piercing culture

It wasn’t until the artist lifted his handheld machine from my skin — as it buzzed like a dental drill — and wiped my ink and blood splattered arm clean that I realized I had just made a decision that would affect me for the rest of my life.

I was shaky and fatigued. I looked down at my forearm, swollen and red from the irritation and I thought to myself the old cliché, “There is no turning back now.”

I had just gotten tattooed.

Although it wasn’t my first, this one in particular — a traditionally stylized portraiture of the Greek god, Poseidon — was definitely the most bold. The tattoo was an extension of a piece I had gotten a few years earlier, covering my forearm down to the bend of my wrist. Even living in San Francisco, it’s hard finding a job where I don’t have to wear long sleeves to cover it up.

According to a study by Harris Interactive, currently one in five people in the U.S. has at least one tattoo. Although this 21 percent tattooed population is actively growing, 40 percent of people think this progression is a change for the worse, according to Pew Research Center.

It’s interesting how perspectives are so different. In the study by Harris Interactive, people with tattoos generally seemed to have a positive outlook on each other and themselves, whereas people without tattoos were much more critical of their inked-up counterparts.

The study showed that “At least two in five (without tattoos) say that people with tattoos are less attractive (45 percent) or sexy (39 percent),” and “One quarter say that people with tattoos are less intelligent (27 percent), healthy (25 percent) or spiritual (25 percent).”

I can definitely understand how a person’s physical attraction to another can be affected by body art — some tattoos, piercings and modifications are a bit extreme. However, the perception that those with tattoos are less intelligent, healthy, or spiritual, is completely ridiculous.

I knew what I was getting into each time I modified my body, whether it was a tattoo, stretching my ears or piercing my septum but it doesn’t give anyone the right to judge or harass a person with prejudices because someone is different.

There are times when people, usually in their late 30s or older, approach me and ask me, “What’re you going to do when you’re older? Didn’t you think of that?” They make a face full of disgust thinking about old wrinkly tattoos.

My response? Well, I’m going to be an old guy with tattoos. It makes no difference if I have tattoos or not, we all get old.

At work I was waiting on a customer. I was polite, helpful and attentive as I usually am. She stared me straight in the eye, blatantly ignoring everything I said and told me, “You’re going to grow out of that, you know?”

It caught me off guard. She made herself clear and pointed out that my “earlobes have holes big enough to fit bottlenecks through” and she said I was going to grow out of it. She said I made a mistake and I was going to regret it when I was older.

She didn’t know me. She still doesn’t know me. All she knew was I had holes in my ears and she looked at me like I was a stupid punk kid.

Every person is different, having had unique experiences in life. Yes, I think tattoos look bad ass and I feel like my piercings and tattoos give my look a bit of an edge; but next time you’re standing in front of me I’d appreciate it if you had the respect and decency to hear what I have to say, rather than assuming that I’m going nowhere in life.

People just don’t understand the tattoo culture. Honestly, I barely understand it. All I know is that I like tattoos. I like piercings. I don’t regret any single modification I have done, whether it be a tattoo, stretched ears or a stretched septum. This is me and I am not a afraid to show it. My piercings and tattoos have nothing to do with my heart and determination.