Tattoos more prevalent among younger Americans

Anthony Michaels tattooing John Cismas. (Photo by Loc Tran/Arizona Sonora News Service)

Tattoos used to be a sign of risk-taking behavior in adolescents according to a survey done by The American Academy of Pediatrics in 2002, but today, this trend is more mainstream than ever and the view on tattoos has completely shifted.

Today’s millennials were most likely told if they have tattoos, they will be less likely to be hired for a job. A study by The Harris Poll in 2016 determined 47 percent of millennials and 36 percent of Gen Xers have at least one tattoo. With this analysis it’s easy to understand why tattoo regulations, such as forbidding tattoos be shown in the work place, have been loosened in recent years.

The Annual Tucson Tattoo Expo, in its ninth year, welcomed more guests this year than any previous years. The expo is a three-day event consisting of a fashion show, “best of” tattoo contests and more ink than one can ever imagine.

Brittney Powers, a veterinarian and first time goer of the expo, expresses her admiration for the annual event and believes this is a sign that society is becoming more accepting to differences.

“Tattoos are more acceptable now because of a larger social shift,” Powers said. She believes in the idea that everyone should be “inclusive when dealing with different kinds of people” as a way to grow as a society.

Fusion tattoo ink. (Photo by Loc Tran/Arizona Sonora News Service)

The military has been notorious for enforcing rules on tattoos, but have recently loosened-up on their standards. According to an article from the Air Force Times, “The Air Force will no longer enforce its 25 percent tattoo rule.” This was regulated starting Feb. 1 of this year.

Although tattoo regulations differ by branch, airmen were previously not allowed to have any tattoos displayed on their chest, back, arms and legs that were larger than 25 percent of that particular body part.

Recruits would be denied entry into the Air Force if they had a tattoo that doesn’t follow the 25 percent rule. The previous rule would also prevent current airmen from getting tattoos of particular size and placement.

After nine continuous years, the Tucson Tattoo Expo has maintained its objective to be a source for tattoo shops to network and get their name recognized. The expo has welcomed tattoo artists from all over Arizona and California, as well as artists from Boston, Atlanta and two artists from New Mexico.

Amanda Frazier is the owner of Painted Saguaro Studios in Tucson and has participated in the Tucson Tattoo Expo since its first year.

Frazier believes tattoos have become more accepting as a form of self-expression and describes the trend as a natural evolution.

The study done by The American Academy of Pediatrics published in 2002 claimed that “participants with tattoos and/or body piercings were more likely to have engaged in risk-taking behaviors.” The study also states that the risk-taking behaviors in adolescents included disordered eating behavior, gateway drug use, hard drug use, sexual activity and suicide.

“To be honest, in 2002 I would agree 100 percent with that study,” Frazier said, “however, the stigmas are not as dominant in society now.”

Judges examine a contestant’s tattoo for “best back tattoo” at the Tucson Tattoo Expo.(Photo by Loc Tran/Arizona Sonora News Service)

Frazier recalls being asked to speak to a class at Marana High School a couple weeks ago on career day where she spoke about what it takes to become a tattoo artist. “That never would have happened when I attended [high school] in the 1990’s,” she said. “I’m amazed at how much societal acceptance of tattooing has evolved in even the last five years.”

In 2015 the Miss America pageant welcomed the first contestant in the history of the pageant to sport a visible tattoo on the catwalk. Theresa Vail, who was also Miss Kansas, spoke highly of her decision to show her tattoo during the pageant after receiving backlash from critics.

“My whole platform is empowering women to overcome stereotypes and break barriers,” Vail wrote on her blog after the competition. “What a hypocrite I would be if I covered my ink.”

With more than 20 tattoo shops in town, these shops are essentially encouraging those who don’t have tattoos to give it a try and pleading those who already have them, to get another.

The transition of tattoos becoming more acceptable in society has been a great evolution in encouraging an era of young people to be much more open to social progression and self-expression.

“For a very long time society has been conservative in their mindset about people that dress different, color their hair and have tattoos,” Powers said. “It’s wonderful to see people not feeling ashamed of who they truly want to be.”

Loc Tran is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at

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