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When Kelsey Rogers got the opportunity to become a tattoo artist, she didn’t have any tattoos. But even then, she realized that for many people, the decision to get body art like tattoos and piercings is deeply personal. “I love the people I meet, and I love inspiring them and learning from them,” says Rogers, who’s now an owner and artist at Ink ink Tattoos & Piercings in Springfield, Missouri.

Underlying Motivations

Whether you’re interested in getting a tattoo or piercing, or you want to better understand body art, it’s great to explore the many meanings behind it. Historically, body art was viewed as a form of rebellion or a way to mark a person’s membership in a group. But students today have varied experiences and reasons for getting body art, from bonding with other people to just making themselves happy.

In a recent Student Health 101 survey, nearly 50 percent of respondents said they have body art. Here are some of their motivations:

  • Self-expression: 66%
  • Body art’s attractiveness: 51%
  • To memorialize a person or event: 25%

Natasha G., a student taking online courses at Wake Technical Community College, has a tattoo memorializing her mother. “When my mom passed away, I wanted to remember her, and I wanted other people to remember her as well.”

Holly H., a student at the University of Wisconsin-Barron County in Rice Lake, has two piercings that she got as symbols of connection with groups of friends. “Many people use body art as a way to express themselves,” she says. “I love asking people what their tattoos mean to them. I’ve never run into a boring story!”

Is Body Art Right for You?

Brittany Siler, a piercer at Ink ink Tattoos & Piercings, says not every tattoo or piercing has a deep meaning, nor does it need to. “As long as it makes you feel good about being you, that’s all that matters,” she says.

But if you’re contemplating some art, Siler says it’s essential to think long and hard about the decision. There are not only immediate concerns, but also considerations for the future. Will having body art fit with your long-term goals? What might a potential employer or other people in your future think? Are you ready for both the short-term care and long-term maintenance of the art?

“Take into consideration what you want,” suggests Siler. “When you choose body art, you should express yourself and your life.”

Leazel S., a student in a certificate program at Confederation College in Ontario, Canada, expresses herself through her personal image, of which tattoos are only one factor. “I also express myself by the way I dress and what I decide to put on my body. I think everyone has a different way of expressing themselves, and that is their own choice,” she notes.

Choosing a Shop and Artist

Here are some tips from Kelsey Rogers and Brittany Siler of Ink ink Tattoos & Piercings in Springfield, Missouri:

  • Visit the parlor ahead of time and ask questions. Everyone working at the shop should make you feel comfortable, that they’re there to help, and that they want you to be engaged in the process.
  • If you feel uncomfortable, leave. Even if you’ve started work, you’re in control. It’s your body!
  • Get to know your artist. Does he or she have formal art training? Have you seen pictures of his or her work? Do the two of you communicate effectively? You can also ask for references and speak with previous clients.
  • Look for the essentials:
  • Clean, well-lit setting
  • Private areas if that’s your preference
  • An autoclave, the machine used to sterilize equipment
  • Packaged, unopened needles (Needles should be used only once and then thrown away.)
  • Sterile, unused gloves for the artist (Ask if they have latex-free gloves if you’re sensitive.)
  • Unused containers of ink (for tattoos)
  • Appropriate jewelry (for piercings)
  • Consent forms
  • Posted “License to Operate” from the local Board of Health
  • Five separate areas: counter, waiting room, piercing room, bathroom, sterilization room
  • Appropriate aftercare information

More questions to consider

Before Body Art

Tattoos and piercings are permanent, so it’s important to make sure you’ve truly identified your motivations for getting one before you go for it. Here are some tips and questions to ask yourself as you reflect:

  • Talk with friends and family to explore your thoughts and feelings.
  • Consider what meaning body art has for you, your friends, and your community.
  • Think about whether the art will fit with your long-term goals or is more representative of your current experiences.
  • Ask yourself, “Why am I getting this tattoo or piercing?” Make sure you don’t feel pressure from anyone else.
  • Is this something that you’ll be happy with years down the road? Are you ready to commit to something permanent?
  • How might current or future employers view body art? Will it need to be covered up?
  • Are you prepared for long-term issues, such as the need for touch-ups or getting something re-pierced? Do you understand that piercings may create scars? 

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