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Getting Inked: College Women With Tattoos – What’s the Deal?

Admit it: you’ve picked up more than a few trashy tabloid magazines while waiting in line at the grocery store. You’ve also tried (many, many times) to imitate some stars’ styles, whether it be their hairstyle, their workout, their diet, their outfit or even, dare we say it, their tattoos. Lot of celebs have them, and it seems that they’re making their way onto the bodies of a lot of college women as well. In fact, a survey conducted just two years ago showed that 40% of Americans between 18 and 29 had tattoos.

Tattoo artist Josh McQuade, from Jester’s Court tattoo parlor in Pittsburgh, PA said that 80 percent of his customers are women. “I don’t always know how old they are,” he said. “But I would say that most of them are young.” Chances are, a lot of McQuade’s customers are college women, because the parlor is just a hop, skip and a jump from the University of Pittsburgh’s campus.

So if you have a tattoo, if you’re thinking of getting one, if you’re regretting the one you have, or if you’re just curious about them, read on for some insight about the trend of adorning your body with permanent ink.

Do I want to get a tattoo?

If you’re serious about getting a tattoo, then you should do it the right way. The first step in the right direction is to shop around and make sure you’re going to the right place. Elon student Caroline Taylor said she made sure she did her homework before getting a tattoo. “I looked at five or six places before I decided on the right place,” she said.

Five or six places may seem like a lot. But you need to be comfortable with the person who is digging into your skin with a needle. So shop around as much as you want. It’s your body!

When looking for a tattoo studio, the most important things to keep in mind are safety, hygiene, and artistry. Make sure you check up on all these things before choosing a place:

  • Check that the parlor’s certification and sterilization certificate are up to date.
  • Make sure the artists are wearing protective gloves, using fresh ink, and sterilizing their needles, and disposing of dirty ones when they’re done. Tattoo parlors should have an autoclave, or a machine that sterilizes needles—if a parlor doesn’t have one, look somewhere else!
  • Ask to see prior designs of the artists at the parlor so you can make sure they know what they’re doing.

What kind of tattoo should I get?

We’ve all seen the stereotypical tattoos. The tramp stamp. The sleeves.  Your mother’s initials surrounding a heart or a flower. Everyone’s tattoos mean something different to them, and that meaning can change, like writer Emily Gould explained about her tattoos. And while it’s common to commemorate a loss or memory with a tattoo, there are also those tattoos that really mean nothing of import and were just received on a whim.

These are the top 10 most popular designs for female tattoos (according to intstyle.com)

1. Butterfly Designs
2. Tribal Tattoos
3. Stars
4. Flower Designs
5. Fairy Tattoos
6. Heart Desgins
7. Dragonflies
8. Dolphin Tattoos
9. Celtic Designs
10. Zodiac Symbols

Junior Elon student Liv Dubendorf admitted that there could have been more planning involved when it came to getting her first tattoo. “I got the tattoo within two weeks of my freshman year of college. It, along with my nose ring, was part of my ‘testing the boundaries’ phase during which time I did many things without thinking,” she said. Fortunately, the tattoo is not something she regrets. “There are days when I wish I didn’t have it. But I would never take a redo and get it removed,” she said.

Liv’s tattoo is a triskelion and it’s on the inside of her left ankle. She decided on the design when she was in Hawaii singing at a Celtic festival her junior year of high school. “While I was there, I found a necklace, a triskelion. The symbol is Irish, as am I, so I felt a connection with it that was inexplicable. It became part of my identity so I had no problem with putting it on my body,” she said.

*Molly Smith said she chose her tattoo based on the themes of family, home and faith. “I went through a period in my life where I felt that both home and family had let me down, and the only thing I had was my faith in God,” she explained.  “It taught me so much about myself and the possibilities of my relationship with the Lord.”

She used this inspiration to choose the bible verse Matthew 19:26 for her tattoo. “It reminds me that no matter how bad, weird, stressful or difficult things may seem, with God, I can get through it, and then all His doors will open to me,” Molly said.

Molly’s tattoo is a symbol of her living her life for herself, rather than focusing so much on pleasing others. “[Getting this tattoo] was an action of doing something solely for (myself),” she said.

It is common for girls to get tattoos because of religious inspiration or because of a personal experience that really changed them in some way.

Boston University transfer student Justine Schulerud has three tattoos. But her second one has the most meaning to her. When she was a senior in high school, Justine was diagnosed with a seizure disorder. She spent a lot of time in the hospital during this time. At one point, she was in such bad shape that she actually went into cardiac arrest. Justine miraculously bounced back and is currently doing well. She is still able to run and live her life with little to no problems. But she will never forget what it felt like to be so close to the end. “That experience greatly affected my life and has shaped who I am and how I look at things,” she said. “I know that no matter what is going on in my life, I just have to believe…believe that everything will be alright and work out…because it always does!” Her experience inspired her second tattoo: the word ‘believe’ on her left foot.

For some, memories are enough. But a lot of people like to have permanent reminders of stages of their lives. And getting a tattoo is one way for them to do that.

Where should it go?

If you’re dead-set on getting a tattoo, then you need to consider where you’re going to get it. Depending on what profession you are pursuing, the placement of permanent body ink could be crucial in terms of your future career.

Here are the top 10 female tattoo locations (according to intstyle.com):

1. Lower back
2. Back of the neck
3. Just below the panty line
4. Hip
5. Upper back
6. Inside of wrist
7. Above ankle
8. Foot
9. Upper arm
10. Calf

Justine made a good point about tattoos in general, but especially the placement of hers on her body. “I placed them all in locations that I could hide or cover if the situation (needed it)”, she said. “But, they also are discrete, because I feel that these situations and things (that inspired my tattoos) are a partof me, not all of me.” Justine said she doesn’t want her tattoos to be a distraction from herself.

Justine isn’t the only one who wishes to keep her tattoos discrete. Holly is also able to hide hers if need be. “My bra covers about half of it so the only time it’s really visible is in a bathing suit,” she said. Holly is happy with where she got her tattoo, because she didn’t want it to be visible all the time and to anyone. “It’s in a private spot not only because it’s convenient for having my parents not know, but it’s also very personal and mine,” she said.

Holly got a simple outline of a dove on her side. She wanted to leave it simple so that she could add more to it over time, instead of getting more tattoos. Her dove tattoo represents peace and freedom.
The foot is also a popular tattoo spot. McQuade said it is becoming the most popular tattoo spot for women. “The tramp stamp is dead,” he said. “And I think the foot is taking its place.”

Molly chose to get her tattoo on her foot. “I got it on my foot because I wanted a location that people would either see it or they wouldn’t,” she said. “It’s not there so I can show it off. It’s there for me to know and see.” Molly clearly got the tattoo for herself, which she believes is the right reason to do it. She also likes that it hasn’t become an overwhelming part of who she is. “Many people don’t even know it’s there unless I tell them,” she said.

Should I tell my parents?

Let’s face it: we all do things that we wouldn’t want our parents to know about. Sometimes, getting a tattoo falls under that category. But unless you got inked where the sun don’t shine, you’re going to have to tell the parents eventually. And you’re going to have to deal with the consequences–good or bad. Molly said that telling her parents was good and bad.  “My dad was pretty chill with it, but my mom doesn’t like it. She didn’t want me to get one, and thinks that me having it is a sign of disrespect towards her,” she said.

Caroline had a similar experience. “My parents found out about my tattoo about nine months after I got it,” she said. “They were very angry and disappointed.”

Telling your parents you got a tattoo or you’re planning on getting a tattoo could present some problems. It all depends on what kind of parents you have. Luckily, sophomore Elon student Fiona didn’t have to deal with too much criticism from her parents.

“They know about it, and they don’t like the size of it but they like the design,” she said. “But when I got my second one, they just looked at it and said, ‘No more.’”

Fiona wanted to get a tattoo that was designed by someone in her country. She is from El Salvador and goes to school at Elon University. She received this tattoo on her back a month before she moved from El Salvador to the United States for school.

Will I regret it?

None of the girls interviewed for this article admitted to regretting their decision to get a tattoo. This regret may pop up later in life, but for now, most college women who get tattoos are happy with their decision to do so. According to thevanishingtattoo.com, “the majority of Americans with tattoos (83%) do not regret getting them, while 17% do feel regret.” The main reason for regret was due to the person’s name they chose to have tattooed on their body. So just be careful not to get someone’s name inked across your back!

Dealing with criticism:

Since the beginning of time, people have disagreed. We all have different likes, dislikes, morals and values. So naturally, some people like tattoos, and other people find them trashy and gross. So just know that if you get one, you’ll be dealing with a lot of criticism. But you’ll also be dealing with a lot of support. Just be prepared for both.

Molly said that she hasn’t had to deal with as much criticism as she thought she would. “The only person who has judged or criticized me is my mom,” she said. But she said the criticism no longer bothers her because she’s come to peace with her decision. “Having a tattoo doesn’t change who I am or what I stand for,” she said. “I’m the same girl, just with a tattoo that I didn’t have a year ago,” she explained.

It’s not uncommon for parents to disapprove of their daughters getting tattoos. Liv worried about the same thing. “I had known since I was 12 that I wanted to get a tattoo, which was challenging because I grew up in a fundamentally Christian household,” she explained. “My dad is very strict about what we can and cannot believe. He still disagrees with my decision to get a tattoo but we have come to an understanding that it is my ultimate decision.”

Caroline has also dealt with her fair share of criticism. Her advice for dealing with it is this: “If someone if going to judge you based on anything except who you really are as a person, he or she is not worth your time. Life is meant for living, not judging.” Well said. Live and let live, right?

What guys have to say:

I asked some college guys what they think about tattoos. Are they trashy? Are they hot? Let’s see what they had to say:

“I’m not a fan. Small ones in hidden places can be dealt with, but I’m not a fan overall.” –Dan Enders, Elon Univeristy

“On a girl they can be sexy depending on where they are and what they are. For me any girl that has a tattoo on her side is sexy but girls with sleeves and all that just doesn’t work for me.” –Will Mcpherson, Elon University

“I’ll respect her but won’t date her.” David Gwynn, Elon University

”I find tattoos on girls gross. I don’t think you need to brand your body to be unique, and the idea that they can’t be removed freaks me out.” – Ethan, New York University

I find tattoos on women invariably tasteless…but that could partly be because my ex-girlfriend had a particularly ridiculous tattoo and it turned me off them forever. Plus, they sag on your skin as you get older and only get more unattractive with time. – Andrew, Cornell University

Final words of advice from girls with tattoos:

My advice is to really think it through and decide if you’re prepared for every single possible consequence. I guess my biggest (piece of) advice is to only do it if you’re doing it for you and you only. Getting a tattoo because it’s trendy or because your friends have them is a terrible idea. It has to be something that you want with you forever, and you have to be ready to stand up for what you’ve done.”- *Molly Smith

“DONT GET A TRAMP STAMP! And get something original, and get it for yourself–no one else!” –Fiona
“Think about it for a long time before you get it …don’t do it randomly.” –Caroline

“Be aware that you won’t be 19 or 20 forever or 100 pounds. Make sure it’s something that you want and will want forever. Also tattoos are expensive and semi-addicting. Trust me–after you have one and the pain wears off, you want more ink ASAP. But we have to keep it classy, ladies.” –Holly

“As long as it means something to you, and that you believe it will continue to mean something to you, I think tattoos are a great (form) of expression.” –Liv

“I see tattoos as a form of art, and I think if done right, they are sincerely beautiful and can tell a lot about a person.” –Justine

Tattoo care: Tips on how to care for your tattoo from tattoo artist Josh McQuade, and from TeensHealth.com:

  • Right after you get your tattoo, wash it with lukewarm water and mild soap, and then slowly and gently rub on non-fragrance hand cream. Don’t use Neosporin—although this is great for cuts and bruises, it’s not mild enough for  a tattoo.
  • Avoid the sun and chlorine at least two weeks after getting a tattoo.
  • You do not have to avoid water in the shower after getting a tattoo, but don’t use any harsh or strong-scented soap.


Josh McQuade
Jester’s Court
115 Oakland, PA 15213
(412) 621-2412

Fiona Alfaro, Elon University

Caroline Taylor, Elon University

Justine Schulerud, Boston University

Holly Belkot, Susquehanna University

Molly*, Elon University

Liv Dubendorf, Elon University

David Gwynn, Elon University

Dan Enders, Elon University

Will Mcpherson, Elon University

Ethan, New York University

Andrew* Cornell University

*names have been changed





Gabriela Szewcow is a freshman Print and Online Journalism major at Elon University in North Carolina. She is originally from Pittsburgh, PA. She is the Design Chief of Elon University’s award-winning newspaper, The Pendulum. She is also a designer for Elon’s yearbook and has a weekly radio show. She is a Spanish minor and hopes to study abroad in Spain sometime during her next three years at Elon. Some of her favorite things include York Peppermint Patties, Jane Austen novels, anything involving Hello Kitty and The Morning Benders. She hopes to someday be a page designer for a newspaper or magazine.
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