Inked up: Students face the reality of returning home with tattoos

Students get tattoos when they leave home to go to college for a variety of reasons, but according to those in the industry, many will regret them down the line

Many students get tattoos during the school year, either because the designs are deeply personal or simply because the ink compliments their aesthetic. As summer approaches, those same students face a stark reality: returning home to their families who are less than accepting of their new body art.

Devon Lunemann, a criminal justice sophomore, received his first ink shortly before winter break. 

“A lot of people don’t have a deep meaning for getting a tattoo,” Lunemann said. “But (mine) was a meaningful marking I wanted to get. I always wanted to get one since I was 15.”

His tattoo of a phoenix rests on his left shoulder blade.

“I was planning to get one per year,” he said. “I couldn’t afford it my freshman year so I might get two next year.”

Lunemann said his only concern about the new ink is what certain members of his family will think. While his mother and grandmother know about body art, they have mixed feelings about the design.

"I was a little bit afraid of my grandmother at the time. She is very strict. She will rip your arm off and beat you with it," Lunemann said.

"My grandmother hates it, and my mother says she doesn’t care as long as she doesn’t see it on my wedding day,” Lunemann said. “I was a little bit afraid of my grandmother at the time. She is very strict. She will rip your arm off and beat you with it. My mother is like that but less. They don’t like tattoos because of the way they were raised.”

He said several of his friends have been in similar situations, where family members are unaccepting of tattoos and body art. But for Lunemann and others like him, the benefits outweigh the stigma.

“For a lot of college students, it’s their first chance at freedom,” he said. “That’s what tattoos represent — their personal freedom and the beginning of adulthood, the beginning of being free.”

However, for history senior Jonathan Novak, tattoos are a way of bonding with friends through the college experience.

“A lot of my friends were first to the tattoo thing and I started admiring the art and the way that it looked and the sense of unity that it gave a lot my friends (with tattoos)," he said.

Novak will end his time at ASU in May with 10 tattoos on his forearms.

“I’ve found meanings in all of them,” he said, adding that each one is important to him because of certain things in his life. 

He said he faced some initial backlash from family when he got the tattoos but won over the people close to him after explaining the significance of the images.

"At first (my mom) was kind of weird about it,” Novak said. “But then I told her some of the meanings behind some of them and she was a little more accommodating. My dad’s side of the family is Jewish, so I don’t know if they’re super okay with it, but they’ve seen pictures of me on Facebook and they’re okay with it on there.”

For tattoo shops near campus, such as Tattooed Planet, the students make up about a third of their total client base.

“Most of the people we get coming in for walk-ins and smaller stuff are college students,” said Sophia Wright, the receptionist at Tattooed Planet.

She said the parlor, which is located on University Drive, gets busy on Fridays and Saturdays.

"We get a lot of clients, particularly college students, who come in … when they’re partying,” Wright said.

She said some students try to hide the fact that they have tattoos from their families, using the shop’s piercing business to hide the charge. 

"People are mostly worried about their parents and their reactions to it,” Wright said. “A lot of them are spending their parents' money, so they have to be careful. If they have a charge from a tattoo shop they can say 'Mom, it’s okay, I just got my belly button pieced' because when they get a tattoo it’s suddenly a big deal.”

Many of the students pick small and simple designs for the same reason, she said, choosing ideas off of social media sites such as Pinterest.

“It’s mostly stuff they find online,” Wright said. “They go online and they find stuff that’s trendy. Birds, little hearts, that kind of stuff.”

A majority of people who want to remove their tattoos, however, are people who get them in college.

Stephanie Holland, the office manager for Delete Tattoo Removal, said a significant portion of their clients regret tattoos within a decade.

“Our average patient is going to be in their mid 20s,” she said. “People who got their tattoo right as they turned 18, right as they got to legal age.”

Holland said this change of heart can come from a variety of factors.

“You’ll notice tattoos, they fade over time,” Holland said. “A lot of times, people just want it removed completely, they just don’t want it anymore for whatever reason. It definitely does not come off like it goes on.”


Reach the reporter at ckmccror@asu.edu or follow @ckm_news on Twitter.

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