For centuries Westerners have associated the tattoo with the marauder, the pirate, the savage. As the timeline stretches and humanity finds itself immersed in post-modernity, what place in society does the tattoo now have? In the American South, especially as there is a rising potential for the country to shift toward a new era of right-wing conservatism, will the tattoo’s newly mainstream identity crumble? Or will we continue to see an upward trend in the commonplace acceptance of those marked with ink?
Before moving to San Francisco, a place synonymous with freedom of expression and all types of alternative lifestyles, Mary Miller was a proud Wilmingtonian. Working part-time as a cocktail waitress at downtown’s local hideaway Blue Post, she was no stranger to patrons with ink. Mary herself sports several pieces. In these difficult economic times, those of us with tattoos (and piercings) may struggle even harder in finding jobs. In addition to working in the ink-acceptable work environment at Blue Post, Mary also worked in a doctor’s office and at a local coffee shop—the latter requesting that her ink be covered.
“When I first started getting tattooed,” Mary explains, “I figured that if a job didn’t want me to have them showing, I’d just wear long-sleeve shirts to cover up.”
Yet, looking at Mary’s work, there is hardly a reason for hiding. The half sleeve on her left arm, a beautiful array of magnolia blossoms, surely poses no offense; nor does the full sleeve of a clipper ship and marine life covering the right.
“All of my tattoos have a meaning to me,” she says. “Whether it’s to remind me of a particular person, something I feel/felt very strongly about, or a certain time in my life. My magnolia flowers remind me of Wilmington and of my best friend. We used to play under a huge magnolia tree that was in my front yard, and every time I see magnolias, I think of her.”
Getting tattooed, however, is not purely for her sentimental benefit but she also finds a calm that comes from it. “I use my tattoo sessions as a time for meditation,” she says. “I’m sure that sounds crazy, but I like the feeling of completely blocking out the pain and fighting the adrenaline rush with complete relaxation. It’s euphoric for me. Some people have drugs, I have tattoos.”
While Earth’s population undoubtedly has its fair share of appalling skin art, there also exists a very healthy demographic possessing work that would rival anything on canvas. As the times change and tattooing becomes increasingly acceptable and accessible, the quality and availability of decent work will no doubt skyrocket. But, if there is true artistic value in a good portion of the work being done, why is there still this prevalent disgrace associated with it? “When I was growing up I didn’t see very many people with tattoos,” Mary remembers. “I feel as though society made it seem as if it were a negative thing—something for prisoners and bikers.”
Perhaps the tides are turning. As society learns that even some of its precious CEOs are starting to follow the inky trend, hopefully, notoriety will dissipate, including in the workplace.
“I don’t think I will ever work somewhere that doesn’t accept my appearance again,” she says. “Tattoos are becoming more popular [and] equally more acceptable. All I can hope for is that some will be more open-minded toward people who like to express themselves through body art. If not, then it’s their loss, because I know some pretty awesome people that are covered from head to toe, literally.”