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Sorry, Grandpa: The Generational Differences about Tattoos and Piercings

“Can you make me a promise, Lucie?” my grandfather randomly asked me one day this past summer.

“I’m not sure,” I replied. “It depends on what you’re asking.”

“Never get a tattoo,” he said. 

I like to honor my promises, so I tend to be cautious with the ones I make. And thank goodness I never made him that promise because I would have forever regretted it. 

Almost two years ago, I had an idea for a tattoo to honor my late grandmother (not the one married to the tattoo-hater), who died suddenly in 2019 from cancer. I have always been intrigued by ink, but for some reason, I never considered it as something I, myself, would get. But when I turned eighteen and moved to New York City, I wondered what was holding me back. I never forgot and continued to love my initial tattoo idea. So, I did my research, contacted numerous shops for estimates, and finally got the tattoo I had been dreaming about for years. 

Sorry, grandpa.

I know that his generation and my generation have vast differences. Things that may seem totally normal to me may seem totally outrageous to him (and vice-versa). But the one thing I struggle to understand is why he, and so many people both in and outside of his generation, care so much about the choices others make to their own bodies. 

I have a tattoo and five piercings, and I like them all. Maybe someday down the line, I’ll hate them, but that’s my decision and my problem. I’m not unhireable because I have a tattoo. And if an employer doesn’t want to hire me because of it, that’s not the type of workplace I want anyway. 

I’m not some irresponsible Gen-Z making a decision I’ll forever regret. Tattoos have existed for thousands of years–they’re practically an ancient art form. I understand that it’s hard for older people to ignore past common social beliefs, but it has to be done. We’re no longer in the 1960s (and thank goodness for that). 

I look forward to the day when my future child asks me about the tattoo on my arm. I can tell them all of the stories about their great-grandmother that they never got to meet. She was smart, sassy, and beautiful. But most importantly, she was kind and loved everyone. And my tattoo, which says “love” in her handwriting, reminds me of that every day.

My duty is to support individualized decision-making. If you want a tongue piercing, get a tongue piercing. If you want a sleeve tattoo, get a sleeve tattoo. Who am I to judge you, especially if I don’t even know you?

My guess is that a great majority of the tattoos in this world have meaningful stories. And we can’t understand these stories until we ask. Immediate judgment is a problem that everyone experiences and faces, but I see it particularly in my grandfather’s generation. 

He doesn’t yet know about my tattoo, and I don’t really care. It’s not like it’s some big thing that’s going to impact his life forever. I won’t hide it. In fact, I refuse to hide it. When he sees it, I’ll stand my ground. As the future of this world, we Gen-Zs have to stand up for what we believe in–whether it’s as big as climate change or as small as a piercing hole.

Lucie is currently a freshman majoring in Film & Screen Studies at Pace University in New York City. She was formerly Editor-in-Chief of The Uproar (2020-21), an award-winning online publication based in Pittsburgh, PA.
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