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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

How Tattoos Are Changing The Lives Of The Youth Today

There was a time, not so long ago, when tattoos were reserved for the buff, scary, biker-type crowd; where skulls and knives were the most popular ink designs. A time when mothers would shield their young ones from anyone with a hint of art upon their skin, threatening to disown them should they ‘taint’ their bodies in any such manner. Luckily, this unfair connection between body art and criminality has lessened in recent years, and today, an increasing number of young people are decorating their bodies with creative inkwork for reasons that may surprise you.

Young South African, Hannah Waddington, explains how tattoos can symbolize something more than a mark of rebellion. She speaks for most of the younger generation when she says, “Tattoos have allowed me to believe in myself and my choices and love my body. I can see it as part of a piece of art and admire the beauty I am made of.”

“It is such a cool way to express who you might be as an individual,” says up-and-coming Capetonian tattoo artist, Andrew (@tatsbyandrew on Instagram). Having an important meaning for each tattoo is no longer the most important thing. Rather, amongst today’s younger generations, tattoos are seen as pieces of art, with the meaning of beauty and aesthetics being enough. The same way people purchase pictures and paintings to put on display, Andrew acknowledges that tattoos mean that “people can wear a piece of art for the rest of their lives and take it anywhere with them, unlike a painting that stays at home, only viewed by visitors.”

“Every tattoo can be seen as a form of art, with the receiver being the canvas and the medium being the ink,” says Dan Foster, a local tattoo-enthusiast. This seems to be the consensus in this day and age, with individuals getting tattoos simply because they like the design.

The Change in Societal Mindsets

Decorating your body with aesthetic designs is part of the new appeal of tattoos, But why this sudden and rather monumental change? Matthew Smith, another tattoo artist in Cape Town, believes that the growing acceptance in society is part of the reason. ‘Mainstream media dropping a lot of the stigma towards tattoos means that more opportunities for artists have arisen. ”With less stigma and more artists to practice, more art gets done, and therefore more tattoos are seen in everyday life. This is no longer a mark of rebellion, but rather self-love, identity and empowerment.

Tattoos as Self-Love?

This may seem like a strange concept. How is marking your body an act of self-care or empowerment? Well, since the body-acceptance and inclusivity movement has amplified in recent years, there has been a societal shift in what is considered desirable and beautiful. What was previously negatively perceived, including larger bodies, revealing clothing, cross-dressing etc, is now embraced in the world’s (liberal) societies, and self-expression is at an all-time high. Think back to when men couldn’t wear earrings, women couldn’t have short hair and the colour pink was reserved solely for females. Now look at the icons of today like Lil Naz X, Harry Styles and Cara Delevigne. Celebrities’ defiance of gender norms has allowed society to accept more diverse forms of self-expression and let people reclaim power and autonomy over their bodies. Tattoos are one such form of this self-empowerment.

Hannah sums up the younger generation’s thoughts on body-art; stating that a lot more people practice self-love today and care less about what others think. “Life is too short to justify everything you do to everyone,” she says, “so why not just do whatever you want because that’s what you feel is right!” Although older generations seem to believe tattoos are unprofessional, younger individuals are changing this. “Why should a drawing or piece of writing on someone’s body, something that makes them genuinely happy, be seen as unprofessional?” asks Hannah. They don’t reflect carelessness or reckless behaviour, as once thought, but rather passion and love for certain aspects of life.  She also believes that, with declining mental health in younger generations, people have learned that life is too precious to live only for others, and that your own body and life is key to happiness.

This idea is not simply the ramblings of a young and ignorant youth, but backed up by scientific study. Psychologist, Viren Swami of Anglia Ruskin University, believes that people can use tattoos as a form of personal growth and body ownership. In his studies, Swami has found that individuals’ body-dissatisfaction dropped immediately after being tattooed, suggesting that ink can serve as a means of self-help and confidence-boosting. This is important today that still tries to control women’s bodies and appearance (think abortion laws, weight-loss schemes and the likes). Making the decision to get tattooed is a form of body-alteration that women can choose, entirely from their own accord. It provides them with power and agency over their own lives. Ami, editor-in-chief of GUT magazine, says in an article by Refinery29 that, “I genuinely feel more happy and more ‘me’ with every tattoo I get. I feel like I’m another step closer to being who I am; the final outlook becomes more and more complete. Only good things have come from me being tattooed. It definitely makes me feel happier about everything.”

The evolving mindsets of generations are mostly to thank for the fact that one can get a flower tattooed on their arm without being associated with a biker gang or drug dealership (that may be an exaggeration, but the point stands). But why did tattoos have this bad reputation in the first place? According to Dr David Lane of Illinois State University, centuries ago, tattoos were used to mark criminals and prisoners as “outsiders.”. Additionally, the German Nazis used tattooing as a way of “bureaucratic record-keeping”. Religion has also played a major role in the negative stigma, with protestant Catholics believing that the body should remain pure and any inkwork went against this ethic. These portrayals coupled together would’ve given body-art a dangerous name, so it’s not surprising that the public has harboured disdain for the industry for so long. But this is changing. A study on South African students’ perceptions of tattoos revealed that both tattooed and non-tattooed people thought of others with tattoos as unique, confident, likeable and desirable. Instead of being a mark of deviance, tattoos are now forms of self-expression and empowerment, a mark of self-love.From here on out, the trend is only rising, so be prepared to see more unique, interesting and probably meaningless tattoos that are letting people reclaim their bodies. You only live once,  so why not live how you want to.

A 20-year-old writer, environment enthusiast and spreader of self love!