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Under the Skin:
Telling the Stories of Tattoos

The permanent modification of bodies to display art is a tradition that has been passed down and has been around for over five thousand years. Modern tattoos serve the same purpose that the old ones did; to tell a story. The collection of those has always fascinated me and I found it very fulfilling to gather these stories and put them all together.


After significant culture shifts in professional modesty, tattoos have become a healthy addition to the lifestyle of millions of Americans. Nearly half of all Americans, 46 percent to be exact, have some sort of tattoo or other similar body modification.


Whether you have a deeply rooted, emotionally traumatic story behind your tattoo or you just happened to have two hundred too many dollars in your bank account and thought that a random Wednesday in April was the best time to get ink, the story behind your tattoo and the perspective the canvas has on tattoos helps build and mold tattoo culture as a whole.


The research for this project included gathering information about tattoos alongside the markings and pieces that people have on their bodies. Facts like how New Zealand is the most tattooed country in the world or how only 24 percent of people actually say that a tattoo had a negative effect on their occupation. Or my personal favorite, tattoo comes from the Somoan word “tatua”.


Mackenzie Trainer, 21, is an Ole Miss junior and has two tattoos, with one more in the immediate future. Her first tattoo was a spine piece with a collection of monarch butterflies to memorialize the passing of her two younger brothers and late younger sister with the butterflies shaded in and filled with the respective child’s favorite color: red, yellow, and pink. The second is the hilt of the lightsaber of Obi-Wan Kenobi, a legendary and powerful jedi and prominent character in the Star Wars franchise. She plans to get a third tattoo of a set of her parents’ birth flowers. After being edited out of the previous tattoo with the butterflies, her and her mother are getting tattoos together over the summer of 2023.


Erika Pratt, 22, is an Ole Miss sophomore and has one tattoo. It is a set of bonnets right at the pelvic bone that she got while in her freshman year of college and decided that a tattoo was just the medicine she needed to get through her year of COVID-esque schooling. After researching and finding a guy named “Snake” that her father used to go to for his tattoos, she received a discount for it being her first piece. I was not given that same luxury for my first piece.


Han Johnson, 20, is an Ole Miss sophomore and has one tattoo and is planning to get one more in the near future. Their ears and eyebrows both have piercings and colorful accents. They have a cat with a circus clown’s ruffle collar on their stomach. They wanted to get a tattoo just because they wanted one and jokingly said they had: “two hundred too many dollars”. They plan to get either a frog with a wizard hat or another cat in renaissance wear, both lovely ideas. 


Ashton Demny, 20, is a Texas A&M sophomore and has one tattoo but is planning on more tattoos but have no permanent ideas together. As the youngest child of three, he wanted to carve a niche for himself and decided to be the “strong-silent type”. With that he got a skull turned into a shot glass with the words “Warrior Invictus” on top. He uses the tattoo as motivation to prove that he can beat any obstacle and overcome any challenge. 


The collecting of the stories was a fulfilling process and thought it gave the tattoo community a more personable touch. Stereotypes about tattoos and tattooed people are definitely being broken down, withering, and becoming more de-stigmatized. But more importantly, work has to be done for the normalization of tattoos to become a more widely accepted form of expressionism and representation. 


The art of tattooing can have a limitless amount of meanings to every unique design. From unique designs that take a year to plan to a single flash sheet of Pikachu. Every tattoo has a story. Tattoos are an artform built on expression and storytelling. These are just four people willing to share the stories behind the permanent marks they sat through real pain for. It is endlessly fascinating to hear the stories of people willing to give them.

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