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Seeing the Beauty Underneath the Ink and Metal

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Seeing the Beauty Underneath the Ink and Metal
Krysti Barbour
Rogue Community College

Seeing the Beauty Underneath the Ink and Metal There are many people in today’s society who have had some form of body modification done. Body modification, simply put is the deliberate altering of the human body for non-medical reasons. The most popular forms of body modification are tattoos and body piercings (Gay & Whittington, 2002. p. 8). There are many reasons behind why someone would decide to tattoo or pierce their body, along with those reasons there are some regrets, and due to those regrets, there are a few different removal techniques. One of the most common reasons for getting a tattoo is for group identity (Horne, Knox, Zusman, Zusman, 2007 p. 3). There are men and women who have served or are currently serving in our nation’s military that have tattoos that stand for courage, patriotism, defiance of death, and longing for family and loved ones left behind (“Tattoos in the USA,” 2011). It is stated that our current culture can credit the Navy sailors for introducing the art of tattooing to the military due to their coming home from faraway lands with permanent reminders of the places they had been (Van Geete, 2009, para. 1). According to Staff Sgt. Stephanie van Geete, “You could not throw a rock into a military formation without hitting a soldier with at least one tattoo.” Many sailors in the past would get a picture of a submarine ship (“Military tattoos,” 2012). There are sailors past and present that have hula girls wearing grass skirts or pin up style girls wearing a Navy uniform. Some sailors may even have a mermaid, or an anchor due to their nautical symbolism (“Military tattoos,” 2012). Those in the Marines may receive a tattoo of a bulldog, the unofficial mascot of the Marines, or a tattoo of a military issued rifle and bayonet crossed with a variety of possibilities for the center including a skull with a combat helmet (Roper, 2012, para. 5). If they are a member of the Crash, Fire, and Rescue unit, they will probably have a version of the Maltese cross with the words of their unit on the west, north, and east compass points (Roper, 2012, para. 13). Another popular choice is the letters USMC in Old English style with a banner of some sort surrounding the letters. Soldiers in the Army tend to receive tattoos containing the bald eagle, which represents freedom, or the American flag with or without the POW/MIA flag, (“Military tattoos,” 2012). Many of the tattoos that soldiers receive are so they may never forget the buddies they have made and lost along the way. Van Geete also states, “Remembrance is the theme common to most soldiers’ service related tattoos.” Replicas of unit patches or service medals have also been used to remind the wearer of where they have been, kind of like a permanent passport they could never misplace (Van Geete, 2009, para. 3-4). Pilots in the US Air Force typically will receive a tattoo of the bald eagle, which for them represents the sky and the freedom they have while flying (“Military tattoos,” 2012). They may also request the wings of a plane, like the P-51 Mustang if they flew during World War II, or insignias of their squadron. Members of the US Coast Guard may seek out a tattoo of a lighthouse, or of a life preserver (Roper, 2012, para. 15). They also may receive a tattoo of two anchors crossing with the Coast Guard emblem in the center. On the other hand, there are those who get a tattoo to show the public that they tough and are a member of a street gang, like the Bloods. Members of street gangs will typically have their gang’s name tattooed in big letters somewhere like across the chest or back. They do this to show that they are devoted to that way of life and to prove their loyalty (Horne, et al., 2007, p. 3). Gang members have also been known to receive a tattoo that show they have been in prison, killed someone, or even lost someone they cared for (Walker, 2012, para. 3). The teardrop under an eye is usually an indicator that the person has murdered someone. Walker goes on to write that some gang members have a set of three numbers tattooed on their body, and explains that this is done to show the rest of society that they are a member of a gang in that area code. For instance, a gang member that has the area code 916 tattooed is showing the rest of the world that he is a member of a gang in Sacramento, California. Another reason a person may get a tattoo or a piercing is for the purpose of self-identity. Rebellion is often one of the reasons why someone will get a tattoo or piercing. Many teenagers have done this form of body modification to show their parents that they are no longer the boss (Garrett, 2007, para. 2). Many parents do not want their children to modify the body that the parent has worked to keep fed and clothed for the past eighteen years (para. 4). The parent may see this as destructive when the reality of it is that the child just wants to show some assertiveness. Teenagers that have just turned eighteen tend to run for the nearest tattoo or piercing parlor and get the first tattoo they see placed upon their body or the first piercing they see inserted through their tongue or belly button (para. 6). There is yet another popular reason for getting tattooed and pierced, celebrating a life changing event (“Reasons why people get tattoos” para. 8). A brand new parent may have their newborns foot prints placed above their heart along with the date of birth and name, or an adult child may have the name of a parent that had recently passed along with the date placed on their left wrist so that the parent will never be forgotten (para. 1). Many eighteen year olds get a tattoo or body piercing on their eighteenth birthday to mark the transition into adulthood (Miller, 1997, p.29). A breast cancer survivor may get some type of body modification done to show that since they survived cancer, they can do anything (Facing Cancer Together, 2011, para. 5). This type of celebration can be a life changing experience that one may not wish to forget, so they memorialize it in tattoo ink and stainless steel. Spirituality plays a big role in why someone gets pierced or tattooed. Some believe that it is a way to show their spiritual and religious beliefs (Gordon, 2011, para. 2). Tattooing was prohibited by many religions, for example Orthodox Judaism, due to the belief that the art of tattooing was connected to some disreputable countercultures, such as Paganism, that went against their religious views and ideas (“Religious Tattoos,” para. 2). Today, these markings can serve as a reminder for them to do what they must according to their own faith. Some cultures look at body modifications as a blessing. Buddhist devotees will come together for the sacred art of Yantra tattooing, or Sak Yant (Gordon, 2011, para. 3). These followers believe that a person having a tattoo will protect them from any harm. The more tattoos a person has, the more protection they will have is something that the devotees believe. Many Christians have a tattoo of a cross, or a set of praying hands (“Religious Tattoos” para. 4). Some may even have a portrait of a saint or of Jesus. Some of these Christians believe that these types of tattoos will protect them from the bad intentions of others. Even though Judaism strictly forbids all forms of body modification, you will still see a Star of David or a menorah on some of the Jewish community (“Religious Tattoos,” para. 4). Some believe like the Christians, that permanently marking your body will make it easier for their higher power to locate their soul. Many Christians may believe that having a cross or a portrait of a particular saint on their body is a permanent reminder that their God is always with them (“Christian Tattoos,” para. 3). During the 11th century, it is said that the Christian crusaders wore a tattoo on their hands of a cross (Gordon, 2011, para. 5). This was done to indicate that they wanted a Christian burial.
Native American Indians would tattoo themselves so they identified as belonging to a specific tribe (“Native American Tattoos,” 2010, para. 2). It is said that if a member of a tribe was permanently tattooed, then the other members of that tribe believed that person possessed a great power, or gift from the spirits above (para. 4). Several Native American tribes believe that they will not be permitted entrance into the Spirit World without a tattoo on their body (Gordon, para. 5). There are many different Native American symbols that can be used as a tattoo; however not all of the symbols make a good tattoo (“American Indian Tattoo,” 2011, para. 2). The nature elements, like the Sun, which in Native American heritage stands for warmth and life giver, are symbols that will most likely not show any disrespect (para. 3). In addition, animal tattoos, including feathers of birds, are known to be highly respected symbols. Most Native Americans believe that the animals, whether the flying type or walking type, are protectors of their bodies and souls (para. 4).
Along with the decision to receive a tattoo or piercing is the possibility that in the future you may regret it. The human body changes its shape all through our life; therefore, what looks good today will probably be in a different position or stretched out in twenty or so years (Latreille, Levy, & Guinot, 2011, p. 182). Also, people’s personalities change, they grow up and become more mature. What was thought to be a “cool” piercing or tattoo, may be keeping a person from advancement in their career or personal relationships. During a person’s rebellious years, typically young adulthood, receiving a body modification can be an attempt to be noticed by their peers (Favazza, 2011, p. 195). As a young adult finishes school and enters the workforce, they may realize that a face full of stainless steel might not help them get the job they want, or even any job at all.
“The tattoo has faded and no longer looks good” is also another common complaint (Corso, 2008, para. 4). The degree at which the tattoo fades will depend on several factors, mainly being the quality of the tattoo and personal behaviors (Gay & Whittington, 2002, p. 80). If the tattoo artist is very well experienced and properly trained, it will take longer for the tattoo to fade (Miller, 1997, p. 92). If the person getting the tattoo does not follow the aftercare instructions such as keep the tattoo out of direct sunlight until completely healed, do not scratch or pick at healing tattoo and so on, then the tattoo will fade (pp. 94-102).
Another reason for regret that one may hear quite often is the fact that the person was too young when they got the tattoo and made a stupid decision (Horne et al. 2007, 1013). This usually happens when an underage teenager is trying to assert their individuality and rebel against their family. They typically rush the decision behind getting the tattoo or they do not put enough thought into placement or meaning (Miller, 1997, p. 86). Typically, they will not seek a professional tattooist; they may find a friend has a crude, homemade tattoo gun, which more often than not is not sterilized and more painful. (Gay & Whittington, 2002, pp. 76-78).
Professional reasons are also a major component to the removal of a tattoo. Many employers do not allow tattoos or body piercing to be visible (Gay & Whittington, 2002, p. 85). If a person if fortunate enough to have the tattoo or piercing somewhere that can be easily covered up with day-to-day clothing, then it might not be a major concern to anyone involved. However, if the tattoo or piercing is on the face, neck, or the hands, they are much more difficult to cover-up, and can be more uncomfortable (p. 87). Some people have no problem covering up their body modifications; they did not receive them for the approval or disapproval of the public.
There are the few people that try to state that their religion does not allow them to cover up their art, however, when questioned more closely, they would state that it was a personal position. This has led to quite a few employers sued for discrimination (Wellner, 2005, para. 3). Most of the time, these cases never make it to trial. The parties involved come to an agreement about covering up the modification in question (para. 4). For tongue and other facial piercings, there are body jewelry retainers. The retainers are made from high quality acrylic, usually come in clear or flesh colored, which used to hide the piercing (“Piercing Retainers,” 2012, para. 2).
For those who can no longer stand to have the tattoo on their body, there are a couple options. The first option and probably the least expensive would be to have a cover-up done (Hudson, 2012, para. 17). A cover-up is exactly what it sounds like. A tattoo artist will draw up something that the person will like and that will either completely cover or incorporate the existing tattoo into something more eye catching and pleasing (para. 18). In order to do this however, the new tattoo will have to be much darker and possibly much bigger. Patterns may also be limited, having a tattoo of a dream catcher, which is pretty open in the center, would not work very well to cover-up another tattoo (para. 20). Many tattoo artists specialize in cover-up work, and the cost is typically about the same as for an original tattoo (para.21).
There is another option, laser removal. Laser removal can be expensive, costing on average $300 to $400 per session and the average tattoo can require eight to ten sessions (Barker, 2008, para. 3). Laser removal is not covered by most insurance plans, since it is considered a cosmetic procedure. There are different lasers to treat different colors in a single tattoo. One laser may only treat the yellows and reds, but will not work on the blacks or browns (para. 4). If the tattoo in question has multiple colors, the procedure will consist of multiple lasers.
Many doctors who advertise laser tattoo removal do not do the actual procedure. They let a nurse or laser technician perform the procedures (Barker, 2008, para. 5-6). This can lead to an unskilled person attempting to do a very detailed job. Some tattoos have many variations of color and depth and someone not trained to see specific details could possibly injure the patient along with costing the patient more money for repeated sessions (Gay & Whittington, 2002, p. 79).
There is also a medical procedure called cryosurgery. Cryosurgery is a procedure done by a medical professional that involves the placement of an extremely cold compound on the tattoo, essentially freezing it off (Morgan & Cohen, 2010, para. 15). Liquid nitrogen is a common component that can be sprayed on or applied directly to the skin (para. 35). In light of a few of the recent advances in science and technology, the use of argon gas has been approved for use in the removal of a tattoo through cryosurgery (para. 17). When using argon gas, the doctor has better control over the flow rate using a very thin needle.
With cryosurgery, there is very little pain and scarring, and the cost is usually lower than laser removal (Morgen & Cohen, para. 57). However, as with any form of medical treatment, there are always risks. The main risk associated with cryosurgery is damage to nearby healthy tissue and nerve tissue (para. 59). The most common side effects are redness and localized pain. In addition, blisters may form but they will scab over and fall off in a couple of days, removing the skin containing the ink.
Another removal technique, although some may consider it crude, is excision. Excision tattoo removal is the removal of a tattoo by cutting it out of the skin (“Tattoo removal,” 2012, para. 13). This is usually best on a smaller tattoo since there is less of a chance for a skin graft like with a larger tattoo. When the tattoo goes up in size, there is a better chance of multiple sessions, which lead to a higher risk of infection (“Excision tattoo removal,” 2011, para. 1)
The doctors will start by removing the skin that contains the tattoo ink from the center and then work out (“Excision tattoo removal,” para. 1). This is done to minimalize the amount of skin that is lost and therefore reducing the chances of a skin graft. After the doctor has removed the tattoo, or in the case of multiple sessions, a small portion of the tattoo, he will then stitch the skin back together. (para.3).
One of the main benefits of excision is the immediate results (“Tattoo removal,” 2012, para. 15). In the world today, many people want to see results right away, and with excision as compared to other techniques, the results are visible the moment the doctor places the last stitch. There is a higher probability of complete removal since the doctor has control over where to cut (para. 24). Another advantage is that this is a relatively painless procedure since a local anesthetic is administered. The scars that are left behind are usually in a straight line, and may fade away over time (para. 23). This procedure is done as an outpatient, saving the patient money from not having to stay overnight in a hospital (“Excision tattoo removal, 2011, para. 9).
The last common removal technique is dermabrasion. Dermabrasion involves a medical sanding instrument that sands the tattoo off (“Tattoo removal, 2012, para14). The recovery time is usually longer than that of other procedures due to the removing of the upper layers of skin. The procedure salabrasion is also not very popular used any more. Salabrasion like dermabrasion is a form of sanding (para. 16). After an injection to numb the area, the tattoo is rubbed very roughly using a sanding block made from salt or just plain salt. This method is the most painful and therefore used only as a final attempt when all other attempts fail to give the desired results. (para. 17).
In a world full of individuality and freedom, many people get tattoos and body piercings to express their individuality. There are many reasons why a person chooses to get a body modification. Depending on a person’s mind set for getting the tattoo or piercing, they may eventually regret their decision. Because of these regrets, tattoo removal has become more popular. I have heard strangers walking down the street talking about how an individual with multiple piercings and tattoos should be in some kind of freak sideshow. What some people do not realize is that these so-called freaks have feelings and they are just choosing to express themselves in a way that once was customary. For many years, members of various tribes around the world would pierce various body parts and tattoo their whole bodies just to show they were worthy of spiritual guidance and protection. These days, people still place tattoos and piercings on their body for the exact same reason. I personally have a Native American dream catcher on my left forearm, symbolizing my Cherokee heritage, along with my maternal grandparents’ names written in the Cherokee language. I also have a decent sized star on my lower back. The names are there to remind me not only of my bloodline, but also of my family. Family is more important than anything to me. The star is to remind me to look at the stars for the answers I need. I have seven different piercings although I only wear two. I have had my tongue and naval pierced for the last thirteen years. I did it to symbolize my divorce and to this day, they still serve as a reminder of what I had gone through and for that reason alone, I will never remove them permanently. So, the next time someone is walking by and you mentally or verbally compare them to a pincushion, just remember that they had their reasons. YYou never know, they may end up as your boss or professor.

References
American indian tattoos (2009). Indians.org Retrieved from http://www.indians.org/articles /american-indian-tattoos.html
Christian tattoo (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.tddi.org/Christian-tattoo.html
Corso, R. (2008) Real info on tattoos and tattooing www.vanishingtattoo.com Retrieved from http://www.vanishingtattoo.com/tattoo_facts.htm
Excision tattoo removal. (2011) Tattoo removal – What works and what doesn’t. Retrieved from http://removeatattooreview.com/surgical/excision-tattoo-removal/
Favazza, MD, A. (2011). Bodies under siege: Self-mutilation, non-suicidal self-injury, and body modification in culture and psychiatry. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Garrett, M. (2007, July). Teenagers and tattoos - A parent’s dilemma. EzineArticles.com Retrieved from http://ezinearticles.com/?Teenagers-and-Tattoos--A-Parents -Dilemma&id=641396
Gay, K. & Whittington, C. (2002). Body marks: tattooing, piercing, and scarification. Brookfield: Twenty-First Century Books.
Gordon, M. (2011) Spiritual reasons for tattoos. eHow.com. Retrieved from http://www.ehow.com/info_8416164_spiritual-reasons-tattoos.html
Horne, J., Knox, D., Zusman, J., & Zusman, M. (2007). Tattoos and piercings: Attitudes, behaviors, and interpretations of college students. College Student Journal 41(4), 1011- 1020.
Inspired ink: Cancer tattoo celebrates the journey (2011) Facing Cancer Together. Retrieved from http://tattoo.falbepublishing.com/whypeoplegettattoos.html
Latreille, J., Levy, J-L., Guinot, C. (2011) Decorative tattoos and reasons for their removal: A prospective study in 151 adults living in the South of France. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 25, 181-187. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-3083.2010.03738.x
Military tattoos. (2012). Tattoo designs and symbols. Retrieved from http://www.vanishingtattoo.com/tattoos_designs_symbols_military.htm 2012
Miller, J. (1997). The body art book. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group.
Native american tattoos (2010). Indians.org Retrieved from http://www.indians.org /articles/native-american-tattoos-2.html
Reasons why people get tattoos. (n.d.), DestinationTattoo. Retrieved from http://tattoo.fablepublising.com/whypeoplegettattoos.html
Religious tattoo (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.tddi.org/religious-tattoo.html
Roper, K. (2012). Military tattoo designs. Lovetoknow.com. Retrieved from http://tattoos.lovetoknow.com/Military_Tattoo_Designs
Tattoo removal. (2012). Cosmetic surgery today. Retrieved from http://www.cosmeticsurgerytoday.com/tattoo-removal/
Tattoos in the USA. (2011). The world’s largest tattoo museum. Retrieved from http://www.vanishingtattoo.com/tattoo_museum/united_states_tattoos.html2012
Van Geete, S. (2009, October 10). Tattoos and the Army: A Long and colorful tradition. The Fort Gordon Signal Retrieved from http://www.fortgordonsignal.com/news/2009-10- 2/News_Update/
Walker, R. (2012, February). Street gangs and prison gangs: Why are tattoos used by gangs? What do gang tattoos mean? GangsORus.com Retrieved from http://gangsorus.com /gang_tattoos.html
Wellner, A. (2005, April). Costco’s appearance crusade. Workforce.com Retrieved from http://www.workforce.com/article/20050401/NEWS02/304019991

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