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Coloring in Columbia: Mizzou’s Tattoo and Piercing Culture

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Mizzou chapter.

“It’s college.” Why, yes, we are college students. And because of this, we often do whatever we feel necessary to ensure the best four years of our lives. For college students, expressing independence is a big part of university life, and some choose to get “tatted up” to fully express themselves.

With its college town vibe, Columbia allows local tattoo artists to witness many young people eager to make a permanent statement on their skin. Living Canvas tattoo artist Roxane Jeffries says she enjoys working in Columbia because it’s a good environment for imaginative people. “We’ve got a good, creative pulse that runs through here,” Jeffries says. “Younger people are really thirsty to express themselves and are really vivacious. It gives the city a lively feel.”

Just as with clothing or jewelry, Jeffries says trends in tattoos can reflect what celebrities are doing. However, tattoos are mainly individual and comprised of unique designs. “Everyone’s expressing his or her own individuality,” she says. “That’s one of the coolest parts. And so many more things are being done now. There are tattoos that look like oil paintings. It’s a world of difference.”

Freshman Dana Fulton got a cartilage piercing on her 18th birthday as a present to herself to celebrate her entrance into adulthood. “I was expressing independence because I could sign the dotted line without my mother standing beside me,” she says.

The dynamics of the tattoo industry as a whole have also undergone a change. Female tattoo artists used to have more difficulty obtaining apprenticeships with practicing artists, which are necessary to learn about the industry. However, Living Canvas manager and tattoo artist Adya Crawford says females are now more accepted in the business. “When I first started tattooing, it was outside of Ft. Leonard Wood, so there was even more of a male-dominated society with the military,” Crawford says. “I had people come in and ask me, ‘Oh, are you the accountant? Or you just draw the designs and the men tattoo them?’ It’s gotten a lot better.”

Along with the increase in the number of female tattoo artists, there has also been a rise in TV reality shows about tattoos. Thanks to programs such as LA Ink and Miami Ink, viewers can get as close to the action of tattooing as they can to the inside of The Real World mansion or Grey’s Anatomy‘s Dr. McDreamy.

“[Now], people are more willing to bring in questions to ask, and they can see what a tattoo shop is really like,” Jeffries says. “You walk in the doors and realize that tattoo shops aren’t seedy little holes in the wall.”

Iron Tiger Tattoo (formerly Hollywood Rebels) owner Gabe Garcia says that in the last six years, he’s mostly noticed people in younger generations getting tattoos. But Garcia says that the issue with tattooing is not age – the problem is quantity over quality.

“A lot of people are not good at doing tattoos and are tattooing out of their home,” Garcia says. “Quantity over quality will hurt the industry, and [it’s challenging] educating the general population about what a good tattoo looks like.”

Over time, tattoos and piercings have become more universal. While getting a nose piercing was considered adventurous and daring just a few years ago, Jeffries says that about half of nurses in hospitals have these piercings and don’t have to take them out for work. Crawford has also noticed a more widespread distribution of those who get tattoos.

“Before, it was all about bikers and prisoners, and now people are seeing it’s not like that,” Crawford says. “Everyone has a tattoo nowadays, every profession, every age group.”

Sophomore Jessica Lips had the word “Truth” inked on the back of her neck when she turned 18 to emphasize the importance of truthfulness in her life. “The word ‘truth’ means a lot to me on a grander scale of things as well as just telling the truth,” Lips says. “I would rather have someone be bluntly honest with me than skate around the truth. I really like the quote ‘Speak the truth, life is dull without it.’ It represents the simplicity of life that could be reached if everyone was truthful and honest with every aspect of [his or her] life.”

While tattoos and piercings are common worldwide, Jeffries says that the trends in the design and location of the art vary by region. “Some of it is geographical,” she says. “We have a friend in Berlin who said that girls there all have septum piercings, where very few in the states have them.”

In Columbia, Garcia has noticed that people are more likely to be innovative with their tattoos and designs.

“A lot of times in the Midwest and even in other cities in Missouri, people pick standard, basic stuff off of the wall,” he says. “But Columbia is a nice place for tattooing in a lot of ways. People pick really creative stuff. But even if someone picks something standard, it’s rewarding when people leave pleased with something so permanent and happy about what they got.”

For sophomore Nicole Ackermann, the decision to get a tattoo was about transcending geographical boundaries to bring her closer to her best friend. “I was wanting one for a while, but I finally got one because my best friend and I went to separate schools,” Ackermann says. “We decided we would get tattoos in the same spot. It’s on my right hip, and it’s of two forget-me-nots. The reason I chose that was because one stands for not forgetting loved ones in my life, and the other is so I don’t forget myself either.”

The individual expression that comes with getting a tattoo is not only rewarding to the proud wearer of the ink, but also to the artists themselves.

“We get to do art all day,” Jeffries says. “We live and breathe art. We love what we do, and that’s the dream, right?”

Kelsey Mirando is a senior at the University of Missouri, class of 2011, studying Magazine Journalism, English and Sociology. Born and raised in Tulsa, Okla., Kelsey enjoys travel, volunteerism and any Leonardo DiCaprio movie. She is a member of Kappa Alpha Theta women's fraternity and has served as President of the Society of Professional Journalists, MU chapter. She has reported among the Tiger fans of Columbia, Mo., the hustle and bustle of Beijing and the bright lights of New York City. Kelsey recently completed the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) summer internship program and is now soaking up every moment of her senior year at Mizzou.