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    Posted November 29, 2013 by
    East Troy, Wisconsin
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    Painted Ladies: Why more women than ever are getting inked


       If you were to peek through the Pinterest account of the average college age woman, there are a few standard boards you’d be sure to find: recipes, DIY, wedding, ect. While the wedding Pinterest board might be considered the modern equivalent to a hope chest, the DIY board the new shoebox full of magazine clippings, and the recipe board the new cookbook, there is one board that has no traditional equivalent: the tattoo board.
          A few years ago, tattoos were something that only those on the fringes of society marked themselves with. They were signs of identifying as “other.” They were definitively outside of the main stream. Slowly, though, they picked up in popularity. Young men were scrambling for tribal arm bands and Chinese symbols, while many girls were getting lower back tattoos, charmingly nicknamed “tramp stamps.”
         Today, though, tattoos have picked up quite a bit in popularity, especially among young women. Although the initial fascination with ink among this population was reduced to a derogatory term, millennial women have kept their interest in the art form. Now, women are branching out from flowers on the lower back into tattoos on the rib cage, arm sleeves, back and chest pieces, behind the ears, hands and feet: every image imaginable in any place you can think of. It’s clear from this progression that the meaning of tattoos has changed for these women. The markings are no longer just signs of rebellion or a way to seem cute and edgy. Tattoos and their placement have become art and viable forms of self-expression. But it’s not enough to just theorize about how the perception of tattoos has changed, so I sat down with two painted ladies to ask them just what their tattoos meant to them. Both women sport multiple tattoos, most done by the Milwaukee artist, Ben Murnane.
          During our informal interview, I asked the ladies standard questions most people with tattoos field all the time. They responded with grace and humor to each inquiry and were wonderfully open about their experiences.


    Reporter: So why did you two get tattoos?


    Sara Grzetich, age 20: I always knew that I wanted tattoos, since I was 12 or 13. I knew I wanted a lot and large ones. It’s like adding art to your body.


    Angel Johnson, age 20: I think I just got them because they could represent something that nothing else could represent; like what I was feeling right then. A tattoo is there forever, you can never forget. And I think they’re awesome.


    R: Do you think they’ll keep you from getting a job in the future?


    A: No, because they’re easily hidden. I feel like tattoos are so much more accepted that it’s not even a big deal anymore.


    S: I don’t worry about it… Everybody has tattoos in our generation. The people that are hiring won’t be that much older than me. They probably have kids that have tattoos, or they have tattoos.


    R: Did they hurt?


    A: My first one…well…I remember I was scared when I heard the noise of it. When he started, all of the anxiety just went away, because it does not hurt that bad, if at all. It’s not as bad as people make it out to be.


    S: I remember when I was a little kid, 7 or 8, I saw this lady and she had a bunch of tattoos, really big ones. I was like, “Those are so cool!” My parents told me that tattoos hurt really bad, like a hot knife. I remember being really scared and sad because they told me that it was excruciating pain. But that’s not what it’s like at all.


    R: Do you regret any of them?


    A: No (laughs).


    S: I just wish I would have got my first one done by [Ben Murnane.]


    R: Are you worried about how they’ll look when you’re older?


    S: God no, that’s the last thing I’m worried about. I’m worried about what my face will look like. I just don’t want them to fade.


    A: By the time I’m old and wrinkly, I’ll be old and wrinkly, you know? Who cares?


    S: I want to be tatted in the nursing home!


    R: Do you ever get comments about them?


    A: I get comments all the time.


    S: Yeah, all the time.


    A: [People] ask if I’m Native American because of my dream catcher. Everyone likes the dream catcher; I get lots of comments about how colorful and pretty it is. And people always want to read the one on my back. Then it’s mostly just like, “Oh, that’s such a sweet quote.”


    S: Some people, especially older women in my family, think I’m crazy. Yeah, older women definitely think I’m crazy. Guys love them. Some guys have a thing for tatted girls and it’s really weird. I didn't expect that. I thought it would ward guys off more.


    A: Guys like to touch them. That’s kind of a weird thing. Like if they’re just rubbing your skin, they like to touch the tattoo part.


       Once we got onto the subject of boys, we branched out into new territory. Eventually, I asked them about how they thought their experience with tattoos might change their lives in the future. I posed the question, “How do you think you’ll react if your kids want to get tattoos?”


    A: I’d be like, “You’re a bad*** like your mom!”


    S: Yeah! I would totally not care. I would be excited if my children wanted tattoos.


    A: I would want them to think about it, though. I want them to be like, “I want this tattoo because…” Because they need to realize that these actually do last forever.


    S: Yeah, and I’d want them to go somewhere good. I’d be like, “We need to find a good place to go. I’ll go with you.” A lot of kids that get them now go get some back alley [stuff]. That’s not okay.


    A: I think it’ll help rebellion against their parents. I won’t be saying “No tattoos!” If they want them, they’re going to get them somehow. Telling my kid that it’ll be okay, I’ll even pay for [their] first one, will make them safer.


    R: If tattoos aren't rebellious enough, do you think we’ll see some sort of escalation in body modification?


    S: No, I don’t see it.


    A: [Tattoos] have always been popular.


    S: Yeah. In every culture, there are tattoos and piercings. But I don’t think extreme body modifications will ever be the norm.


       As our interview came to a conclusion, I collected a few final thoughts. One of the most striking comments I heard was from Angel. She just smiled and quietly said, “I feel pretty when my tattoos are showing.” Sara immediately smiled back and replied, “Me too.” That, if nothing else, should be reason enough to explain why millennial women are going under the needle. Tattoos are highly personal pieces of art that people get to carry with them for a lifetime. These young women getting inked aren't doing it for anyone else but themselves; their tattoos make them feel beautiful.
         However, Sara did have sound advice for anyone considering getting a tattoo for the first time. She said, “It’s addicting…once you have one, you realize it’s not that big of a deal. You think it’s going to be life changing or change the way you view your body. But it doesn't. It just adds to you. Once you get one, you’ll definitely want to get more.”


    Find artist Ben Murnane on Facebook at Redbeard and Company.        

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