In 1975, there were only 40 tattoo artists in the country. By 1980, there were 5,000 and today there are 45,000 people plying the “skin mural” trade. Tattooing has become a multi-billion-dollar industry that’s growing at the astounding rate of 13% a year! This remarkable phenomenon is occurring across all gender, age, and socio-economic lines as well as international borders. Once the province of sailors, gang members, and circus freaks, tattoos are now A-OK with suburban moms, doctors, attorneys, and even ministers. No matter what you might think of it, tattooing has undergone a rise in popularity that represents one of the most significant trends in Western culture. Since 20 percent of all Americans and 40% of all millennials have tattoos, don’t be surprised if body art shows up one day in your family, too.
Tattoos go back thousands of years and evidence of them can be found in every part of the world. Whether as a rite of passage or a means of identification, tattoos were created in some tribal cultures by cutting designs into the skin and rubbing the resulting wound with ink, ashes or other agents. By contrast, modern tattoo artists use machines with electromagnetic coils that move an armature bar up and down. Connected to the armature bar is a needle that punctures the skin by about a millimeter and deposits a drop of insoluble ink with each puncture. The procedure is uncomfortable, but given the number of people who have it done again and again, the pain must not be unendurable.
Why did body art move from the underground and fringe crowds to the mainstream? Celebrities certainly had a good deal to do with it. Superstars such as Johnny Depp and Scarlett Johansson have not been shy about flaunting theirs, and soccer legend David Beckham proudly displays his 34. As it has moved from counterculture to mainstream, tattoos can be seen on more parts of the body – fingers, ankles, necks, arms—and in ever more flamboyant colors and designs. They are considered a form of self-expression and in some instances are given consideration as serious art. According to one psychologist who specializes in this area, "It seems to be predominantly about the idea that you feel unique as an individual. People get tattoos for all sorts of reasons but that’s the underlying one."
Not all countries are keen on body art, which is something to keep in mind if you are planning a family trip with tattooed relatives. In Japan, for example, tattoos are anathema because of their association with organized crime gangs, who pledge their allegiance with full-body markings. That’s why even law-abiding citizens with tattoos are usually not allowed in public swimming pools, hot springs, beaches and even some gyms and general stores. North Korea bans religious tattoos and South Korea prohibits tattooing unless it is performed by a physician.
Some Christians object to tattooing based on Leviticus 19:28, which says, “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord.” This is interpreted as God’s desire to keep His people from engaging in pagan worship and sorcery. But one minister has postulated that Jesus himself may have had a tattoo, per Revelation19:16, “And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.”
Orthodox Judaism, too, has a long history of distaste for tattoos, which are considered antithetical to the Jewish concept that our bodies are to be viewed as a precious gift on loan from God rather than our personal property to do with as we choose. However, the rabbis agree, there is no basis in Jewish law for refusing burial in a Jewish cemetery to a tattooed person, as is commonly believed.
People considering getting a tattoo should bear in mind that while tattoos have attained widespread acceptance, numerous studies show that they can still put one at a disadvantage. Not only do employers and society at large still discriminate against tattooed people, but one study suggested that women with tattoos tended to be viewed as "less physically attractive, more sexually promiscuous and heavier drinkers.”
If you are of a generation that finds tattoos repellent, try to remember when your daughter, son or grandchild shows up with one that it’s only skin deep. Besides, there’s hope: the tattoo removal industry is also booming.
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