Tattoos help millennial women establish identity

Special to the Star and Wave

Editor’s note: Puzzled at seeing a number of women of the millennial age group sporting tattoos, i asked writer Rachel Shubin, a millennial, what attracted that generation to having permanent artwork on their bodies.

Tattoos are permanent, but generational ideals are subject to change. Millennials enjoy indulging in the latest trends and tattoos are no exception.

The public image of tattoos has changed in the thousands of years they have been available, surging in and out of popularity for the last hundred years.

For some millennials, their tattoos are permanent artwork forever frozen in time on their body. For others, the tattoos are a declaration of their identity.

“I have been surrounded with tattoos my entire life,” Madi Musinski said. “A lot of my loved ones have tattoos. Tattoos are like a piece of artwork. It’s an investment to get a tattoo on you forever, because a piece of artwork would fade over time.”

Musinski, 22, works at Mayer’s Tavern as a server. She has previously filled in as a barista at Magic Brain Café.

“Millennials want tattoos because of the permanence it has,” Musinski said. “Sometimes stability is rare in life and a tattoo is meaningful to you. I got the chemical structure of coffee, to represent this part of my life which is very valuable to me. It is always there to bring me nostalgia and to remind me of better times and my love of coffee.”

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The chemical structure of coffee. ©Madi Musinski.

Perigee Moon Body Art at 301 Broadway in West Cape May, is a millennial-owned tattoo shop that Kirsten Ewing, 31, operates with a group of millennial women.

“I am so grateful for the work that I get to do every day,” Ewing said. “We have the best service job in the world because we get to sit on edge of society and have people come to us when they want to etch something that’s important to them on their skin forever. It is magical, beautiful and spiritual. For for me personally, it gives me a reason to exist and connect with people.”

Perigee Moon has been open for over three years. While their clientele ranges in age, local millennials frequent the place to get inked.

“I have been tattooing for eleven years,” Ewing said. “When we first started we had the intention to create a healing and safe space that everyone could feel comfortable getting a tattoo in and broaden the spectrum of people getting tattoos. I had previously worked in thirteen studios and I was the first female artist in half of them. We wanted a safe atmosphere where the clientele and artists were comfortable.”

The idea of creating a comfortable tattoo shop atmosphere was appealing to the millennials working at Perigee Moon. Millennials know how to cater to their age group. The harsh image that tattoo shops bring a rough crowd is anything but true of Perigee Moon.

“It’s a great thing because it changes peoples’ minds all the time,” Tattooist Destanie Pickin said. “People who never thought they would step into a tattoo come here. And they are happy when they leave, which makes us feel good that we changed their minds.

Pickin, 27, explained that the thoughts about tattoos is different for older generations. Baby boomers are often quick to criticize millennials’ choice to permanently mark their bodies. Perhaps it is because getting a tattoo is not something they were able to do when they were the same age.

“It’s a different though process that is changing. Many of the people who were ashamed to be themselves get tattoos at an older age. Millennials choose bold, positive and beautiful statement pieces. They love themselves and their tattoos are done tastefully,” Pickin said.

Pickin gets to meet clients from all different walks of life. Tattooing is a type of therapy that is healing for both the artist and the client, she said. Ewing said they connect with people on a serious level.

Some millennials opt for ink that has a strong personal meaning behind the design. It is a way to mark a time in life where they are working to establish themselves personally and professionally.

“People come to get tattoos because they want to remember something, or feel better about themselves,” Tattooist Caity Biggers, 28, said. “Sometimes they get tattoos for closure.”

Millennials getting tattoos consider the placement and size, as well as if their permanent artwork will impact their careers.

“I have been tattooed for half of my life and it’s a lot easier than it used to be,” Ewing said. “People get work with them. When I go to a fancy boutique I get followed and that’s annoying. But if that is the worst I deal with, I’ll be okay.”

The clientele of the shop includes many members of the United State Coast Guard and Lower Township Police Department, per Pickin.

“We have tattooed boutique owners here,” Ewing said. “The community has been gracious and accepting and very loving of us which is really wonderful. The town has embraced us.”

It is not uncommon for millennials to make tattooing a family affair. Biggers has often had multiple generations of a family as clients.

“I get grandmas with their daughters and granddaughters,” Biggers said. “My grandma always wanted a tattoo but never wanted to go into a tattoo shop.”

Parents who come in with their kids, but don’t chose to get a tattoo are offered a temporary tattoo.

Millennials’ parents often tend to fall in the baby boomer category. The baby boomer generation’s upbringing has them associate tattoos with the military or even on the opposite end of the spectrum, criminals. Their conservative upbringing tends to cater towards clean, non-tattooed wholesome looks.

“I think the pendulum of tattoos is swinging back to what they used to be,” Tattooist Tessy Mitchum, 30, said. “Those who get tattoos now get whatever they want and do more self-examination and self-discovery.”

Tattooed people often feel judged by non-tattooed people.

“If I get pulled over by a cop, I pull my shirt sleeve down over my tattoos,” Ewing said.

As more and more millennials get tattoos, it will be harder to find people without a tattoo.

“Tattoos all have a belief behind them,” Ewing said. “How can you discriminate against someone who is saying what they believe through their tattoos.”

The Pew Research Center estimates forty percent of millennials have at least one tattoo.

“It depends on where you are in society,” Musinski said. “There was a time when tattoos were representative of negative things. I don’t know why people of older generations look down at the younger generations and think they are doing something wrong. They were in the same position years ago. Older people care adverse to change and millennials are doing something they could not do.”

If a millennial goes for a job in a conservative setting, they might want to hide their tattoos. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against candidates based on gender, age, disability, etc. There is no federally protected class for people with tattoos.

“To me, it is like someone drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa,” Cape May Star and Wave Newspaper Editor Jack Fichter said when he asked me to write this article.

As for the writer of this article, I am 24 and have five tattoos. I never thought I would have any permanent ink on my body because I am terrified of needles.

My parents are from the baby boomer generation and though my mom has come around to not dislike my tattoos, my dad still does not like them. Perhaps it is because my grandmother would not have approved. She did not even like pierced ears.

The Jewish culture particularly dislikes tattoos. Jews associate tattoos with the Holocaust, when they were tattooed by Nazis with an identification number in concentration camps. The Torah states “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves.”

I grew up hearing that I would not be buried in a Jewish cemetery if I had tattoos on my body. It depends on whom you ask. Despite knowing that typically my religion did not approve of tattoos, my first tattoo has my Hebrew middle name, Batyam, written in Hebrew characters under an anchor. Batyam means daughter of the sea.

I got over my fear of needles by getting tattooed. There is something calming in knowing you are making a permanent change to your body that only is temporarily painful. Relinquishing control to a tattooist is scary for anyone, but the artists want you to be happy with the art that you will carry for the rest of your life.

For me, my tattoos all carry a serious meaning about my life story and each one is very personal. They should be, if I am going to live with them for the rest of my life.

Like Musinski said, my tattoos are so representative of the person I am today and strive to be in the future. And I truly believe I will still like my tattoos sixty years from now, because they will hold even less of a stigma in the future