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Jessica Jacobson

Paper #4

Victims of the Inked Needle

In the year 2000 B.C. tattoos were first seen in Egypt and in

many countries tattoos were used to denote status (Nicoletti,

215-216). But honestly today, why do people want to get

tattoos? I do not understand what is so riveting about tattoos;

they are so permanent. Is it the adrenaline rush one gets when

their skin is constantly being poked by a sharp tool? Is it that

they think it is the cool thing to do? Or is it the fact that they just

want to express themselves through art on their body? The

answer varies from each individual; there is no set reason why.

But it is not the reasons that interest me; it is the people that

decide to “tat up” that catch my attention. The predisposed

biases and ideas of what a “common”

tattooed person looks like is what

spurred my interest to study such a

place, a place I would never have

walked in otherwise.

Growing up, I was seen as the

“perfect” child. My grandpa even tells

me time in time that I should be in the dictionary under perfect. I

guess I owe this to my parents whom put me into a Catholic

school for nine years in which the Ten Commandments and the

Bible were our guides in life;

therefore, my morals and ideas of

what was “right” were formed based

on these two writings. Christians

even point out that though there is

nothing written in the New Testament

about tattoos, the Old Testament states: “Do not mark yourself”

(Firmen, 195-204). One could say I was sheltered. I was never

allowed to date until I was sixteen, and if I dare to get my belly

button pierced, I would be taken off insurance. I was taught

certain things growing up like tattoos only ruin the body in which

God made for us. They are right, but I have learned that so many

people do not think of it in that way. So many believe that

tattoos are a way to express them selves and allow people to see

their personalities. Chris Toler, the tattoo artist I interviewed,

was so close to fully convincing me of this, until I looked at him

and saw how stretched his ear was, I concluded that there had to

be another way to express oneself.

I believe that people that have tattoos are rebels. I see

people with tattoos as the same people that gage their ears or

have piercings in places they should not be such as: belly

buttons, noses, eyebrows and tongues. Because of everything I

was taught, I came to dislike tattoos very much, and began to

form a common bias of those that had a tattoo. It is funny,

though, how that saying “parents are always right” is true, cause

you always want to fight against them and prove them wrong,

but it rarely ends up happening. Everything I was taught about

the people that get tattoos was proven true the first time I

walked into the shop.

Walking into Danny’s World Famous Ancient Art Tattoo for

the first time to observe the surroundings is an experience I will

never forget. I quickly learned that if one walks in with a pink

American Eagle sweater and Ugg boots on, they will get the stare

down. I nervously walked over to the counter, and from the

glimpse of my eye I caught the piercing lady staring so intently at

me. She had that expression on her face like, “What the hell is

she doing here?” and “Look at that annoying little girl.” I did not

feel welcomed in this place, because I was the impediment

description of a “prep.” I did not have my hair dyed pink or

purple and cut short like the rest of the girls there, my long

flowing hair was in complete contrast to them. “What the hell

was I doing there?” went through my mind several times, but I

was there for one reason, not to make friends, but to study them.

I proceeded towards the front counter, which was

conveniently located as soon as you walk in the door, so I did not

have to walk far with the glaring eyes staring at me to state my

purpose. At 5:00 pm on a Friday night, the only person behind

the counter was a guy, the main guy of the place. I began to tell

him that I was doing a project for class, and he honestly did not

even care to really listen, he just told me that I was not the first

and not to touch anything, because everything was sanitized. I

gave him a nervous smile and agreed to his conditions and

proceeded to look around. Everything was so brightly lit. I felt

like I was underneath one of those interrogation lights police use

to make their suspects nervous. Luckily the shop had a black and

red theme, thus it was not like I was going crazy sitting in an all

white room with bright lights, but no, I was in a place that was

bright yet dark. The walls were painted a blood red with some

black varnish on it, which greatly toned down the bright lights,

which were used to help the artists see what they were doing.
I walked over to the couches,

which were adorned with tape all

over the cushions to hide the rips,

tears, and wears of the seat. Though the tape was black like the

leather couch, the luster of it definitely stuck out. The tape

added character to the couches, though; they gave the feeling

like this place is hard-core. I sat down on the taped up leather

seats and started observing my surroundings from floor to

ceiling. As I was sitting on the couches I still could not help but

notice the piercing lady still staring at me. I did not understand

why she was being so rude, maybe it was the fact I had stumbled

into her territory, or she was just merely admiring my pink

sweater, because pink seemed to be her favorite color since it

was in her hair. She was adorned in baggy jeans and a

sweatshirt. At least we had one thing in common, we both liked


The thought ran through my head that the piercing lady was

exactly who I had pictured working at a tattoo place. Her ears

were gauged, she had her eyebrow pierced, and her hair was

dyed. She also dressed more on the masculine side, which made

her intimidating. She was not the only person that proved my
biases correct. Chris had his ears gauged, too. He also had

tattoos all up and down his arm, but unlike the piercing lady, he

was extremely friendly and taught me many things. The other

worker that worked there, Tibis, well, he was very quite. He had

long stringy hair, and he too had his ears gauged, and tattoos all

along his arms and legs. There was a common trend, too, on

clothing selection. It seemed like the “uniform” was baggy

clothes. Anybody would have been intimidated walking in there

with nobody at their side to break the ice with these people. My

parents were right, people with tattoos are different, they are


I decide to move from my spot on the couch and walk

around, which did not take that long to do, because the shop is

literally four times my dorm room,

which is 11x13. I walk down the

hallway in between the “cubicles” and

out comes another worker from the

bathroom. This man had snakebites,

two studs underneath his lip that are

separated on each side. He also had

his ears gauged, which I believe two pencils could have fit
through those holes. Out of all the workers that worked there,

this one was more normal. He had tattoos up both of his arms,

which consisted mostly of tribal symbols, but who am I to judge?

I would not be able to guess, so I will just have to ask him what

and why he decided to do that. He was dressed in jeans and a

shirt that had a skull on it, much like the theme of the shop. The

bar stools contained skulls on them and some of the pictures.

I continued looking around the tattoo shop, which only

includes three open rooms where people get “tatted up”, and a

private room, which is used for piercings, because according to

the manager it is a law to have a private room with a door on it to

do piercings in a tattoo place. The little “cubicles” one sits in

while getting a tattoo are open to the whole shop. Someone can

enter into one of these areas by passing through a waist high

swinging door, like ones you see in the old western movies but

smaller. For the sake of their customers, the shop did install

blinds in which can be let down to make things more private, and

I must add these blinds were not of the highest quality. In each

room, except for the piercing room, there is a long mirror that

covers a whole wall. This wall also contains a counter in which

the coloring for the tattoos sit, colors of all shades imaginable.
During one of my visits I was

able to see a basketball player at my

school, Terrell Bell, get a tattoo done

in one of these rooms. He oddly did

not fit the predisposed biases I was

always taught and had proven at my other visits. As I sat there

watching, I was unbearably scared for him. I asked him, “Are you

nervous?” He just smiled at me, rolled up his sleeves and

showed me the tattoos that adorned his arms and his chest. He

was definitely not a newcomer to this business. I was still

nervous for him, though. Tibis, the artist that was giving him his

tattoo, dipped the needle in black ink and turned the machine on,

just the noises gave me the cringes. I looked up at Terrell again,

and he winced at the pain of the needle when it hit a certain spot.

He simply stated, “That one hurt.” We both laughed at his

comment. Then Chris came along and pointed out one of his

tattoos that he had done on Terrell, it was black and gray, Chris’


A regular decides to come in to the shop. The artists greet

her with smiles and on a first name basis. I continue to wonder if

maybe I decide to get something pierced if I will be greeted like

that. The girl that walked in definitely had much work done. Her

ears were gauged bigger than the employees. I would say the

hole in her ear was as big as the

half dollar, maybe even a little bit

bigger. Her neck was adorned

with a cross tattoo and yet again

there was another lip piercing.

She had come in with another

artist from having a smoke

outside, so I can only assume that she hung out with the artists

on a regular basis. Her voice was very raspy, due to the fact that

she probably smokes quite a bit. She was young, I would

presume in her late twenties. The sweatshirt she was wearing

had a skull on it and it was black, so she fit into the theme of the

shop very well. She was having a conversation with one of the

artists about her next tattoo, it sounded like she wanted a saying

on her lower back to go along with her cross on her neck. When

she noticed me standing watching someone getting a tattoo, she

gave me a look, too, which brought my eyes back down to my

paper. I came to the conclusion that I should never wear a pink

sweater here ever again.

My first impressions of people with tattoos were proving to

be true with every person that had walked in the door of the

shop. As I continued talking to Chris about his work, and listening

to other people talking in the shop, another girl walked in, this

time her hair was dyed purple, but mind you it was only her

bangs that were bright purple and she was adorned in all black

clothing. She sat down in a chair in the front window, picked up a

magazine that only talked about tattoos and proceeded to skim

through it. The secretary went to go sit down next to her and talk

to her. I hear her comment on this one guy’s shirt about how

“sick” all the colors and shapes came

together and how she wanted her next

tattoo to be colorful instead of the just

plain black and white flower she had on

her shoulder. I wonder to myself if she

will be one of the 12 million to 20 million

people that decide to have their tattoos

removed simply because they did not like them anymore (Marin,


When deciding on a tattoo, many consult pictures. The

largest wall in the shop actually contains hundreds of samples of

tattoos. From Chinese symbols to tattoos that spell something

backwards and forwards to exotic animals like tigers, this wall

contains almost every design imaginable. Much of the samples

are drawn with vibrant colors especially the fairies. As I flip

through the samples, I noticed that the most common theme was

that of just random swirls, just like the one workers arm. I turn

around and realize that everyone in the shop is watching me.

The manager, I believe was just making sure I did not

contaminate anything. As he sits there I wonder why someone

would want to cover most of their body with tattoos, like him, and

grow out their hair to their shoulder when it is thin to begin with,

because it just does not look healthy. I also wonder what gives

them the need to stretch their ears. There is a glass cabinet as

you first walk-in and there they are, the gauges for one’s ear,

which contain wood and thick horn-like gauges, which in all

honesty is scary. As I continue to look in the cabinet I see

earrings that look like long sharp stakes and ones with swirls, I

can only imagine where some people have put earrings like this.

I continue walking around, and I accidently knock over a

magazine off the table. Great! I notice the piercing lady staring

at me again and the over-protective sanitizing guy staring at me

like a disease. I pick up the magazine off the floor and place it on

the glass table in which about twenty different tattoo magazines

lie, where the purple-haired girl picked up her magazine she was

reading. Most of the magazines had women on the covers with

tattoos and piercings. There were covers that ranged from a

woman, whom had short black hair that spiked up with tattoos all

over their arms to a woman who had many facial piercings

including her eyebrow, lip and nose. These magazines, once

again, are there to provide ideas to their customers, and they

gave me more insight into what people with tattoos look like.

Much like there was a common theme of people walking

through the door of the tattoo shop, there was a common theme

of the tattoo shop itself. The art hanging on the walls were all

similar but different. Much of the pictures on the wall are

drawings of the trunk of the body, but they have tattoos and art

all over the body. Each picture displays a certain theme. One

picture is a water theme with fish and waves and the colors of the

picture are so bright and vibrant with bright blues and dark blues

and greens. The shop is very well planned out to demonstrate

the power and creativity of tattoos through their use of pictures

and themes. The pictures on the walls were expressions of art,

like tattoos. Many people believe tattoos are expressions of

themselves. “Today, tattoos are used to express “’the self,’ as a

religious or political statement, to challenge society, as satanic

symbolism, to imply bondage or ownership by another, or as a

form of expressive therapy” (Nicoletti, 215-216). I have come to

realize that tattoos are an expression of someone, and through

this expression my biases have been formed and concluded that

people with tattoos are more apt to showing their individuality

than someone who does not contain tattoos. People with tattoos

want to separate themselves from society and be an individual,

not apart of a group, hence the baggy clothes, gauged ears, and


Before I walked out of the house every morning for school, I

was inspected to make sure that I was well put together. I was

never allowed to wear sweatpants to

school, unless it was for a spirit day for

my sports team. This rule of my

parents has shaped my opinions and

biases of people that dress differently

than me. Clothing is an expression of

one, too. The dark colors and skulls on

the people’s clothes I observed leads me to believe that they only

listen to Hard Metal music and that they sit in their rooms in the

dark all day, but who am I to make this conclusion? Just because

I grew up wearing school uniforms and under a strict hold, does

not mean I can make any such conclusions, but it is the fact that

society portrays people with tattoos as rebels. People with four

or more tattoos and seven or more piercings were seen to be the

most active marijuana users, other drug users, multiple sex

partners, cheating on college work, binge drinking and have had

problems with the law (Koch, 151-161). Not only are their clothes

and skin different, but their attitudes and actions, too.

Chris kept stressing how tattoos were a way one could

express themselves, but why is it that most people have other

factors that separate them from what is “normal” in society? But

the fact is, society is starting to see tattoos more and more as

“normal.” It is not only certain people now that are getting

tattoos, but a whole range of people, because they feel like

“having one is a rite of passage. A chance to be unconventional.

A personal expression. For every biker or military type with a

decorated dermis, now there's a doctor, corporate executive --

even minister -- with a message of his or her own” (Sierpina, 1).

Eventually, I will be the one that people may see as out of place,

because I am not decorated with ink.

The fact that tattoos are also common in prisons also spurs

my biases. People that go to prison are most of the time

committed of crimes, crimes in which they killed someone or they

were addicted to illegal drugs and

selling them. Tattoos are

especially common among those

in prison that were addicted to

heroine, because the needle

penetrating their skin gave them

the satisfying feeling of pain to

help them get over an addiction

they could not have (McCarron, 85-112). Once again, this shows

that people with tattoos are more prone to deviance, and it

continues to show that my biases against people with tattoos is

valid. Though, not everyone with a tattoo has been or will go to

prison, but just the fact that there have been studies of this

shows that it is a similarity. I wonder with everyone that has

walked through the door if they have some sort of criminal

record, at this tangent, I realized I was reading into things too

much. I realize it was time for me to leave.

As my time draws to a close, I take one last look at this dust-

free place. I take one last look at the people that occupy this

place. I am nothing like them, but in a

way, I kind of wish I was. They seem so

free to express themselves, something

that was not enforced in my house when I

was a little girl. I guess one could say that I never really got an

opportunity during my elementary and middle school years to

express myself through clothing, because I had to wear a uniform

to school everyday. As I went to high school I tended to try to

blend in with the crowd, I did not want to stand out; it was

uncomfortable for me. I was a model of my parents, not my own

individual. Sure, I express myself through sports and my

personality, but other than that, nothing, no physical means of

expression. I could wear baggy black clothes and get tattoos all

over my body, but I do not want to be judged like I judge people

with tattoos. These people, though different, I actually look up to.

They went against the standards of society, and they became

their own person. If I had the courage to face my family and

friend’s judgments, I would get a tattoo, but because I was

brought up to distaste them, I do not think twice about this idea…

with that, I walk out of the shop and across the street to 7-11 to

grab a taquito.

Works Cited

Firmin, Michael W., Luke M. Tse, and Janna Foster. “Christian Student

Perceptions of Body Tattoos: A Qualitative Ananlysis.” Journal

of Psychology and Christianity 27.3 (2008): 195-204. EBSCOhost.

Web. 28 Mar. 2010.

Koch, Jerome R., Alden E. Roberts, Myrna L. Armstrong, and Donna C.

Owen. “Body

Art, Deviance, and American College Students.” The Social

Science Journal 47

(2010): 151-161. EBSCOhost. Web. 28 Mar. 2010.

Marin, Rick and Hannah Dogen. “Turning in the Badges of Rebellion.”


125.6 (1995): 46. EBSCOhost. Web. 28 Mar. 2010.

McCarron, Kevin. “Skin and Self-Indictment: Prison Tattoos, Race, and


Addiction.” English Studies in Canada 34.1 (2008): 85-102.


Web. 29 Mar. 2010.

Nicoletti, Angela. “Teens, Tattoos and Body Piercing.” Journal of

Pediatric and
Adolescent Gynecology 17.3 (2004): 215-216. EBSCOhost.
Web. 28 Mar.

Sierpina, Diane. “The Egyptians also Called it an Art.” New York Times
(1997): 1.

EBSCOhost. Web. 29 Mar. 2010.