Tattoos: Art or Vandalism
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Tattoos: Art or Vandalism

Don't judge a person by the ink on their skin

Tattoos: Art or Vandalism

I have 3 tattoos but for the sake of this article, I'm going to focus on my first one.

Summer going into my junior year I traveled internationally for the first time to Cusco, Peru on a service trip. Our mission was to construct a greenhouse on the property of a small school in Cusco to provide emaciated kids and impoverished families with an opportunity to grow hearty fruits and vegetables essential to young malnourished children's survival and development. Every day before service we would play games on the field to warm up and one day I looked to my left and saw a young Peruvian girl at the top of the hill watching us, I ran to her and asked her if she wanted to play with us and did my best to explain the rules of the game and from that moment forward we were connected.

Her name was Isabella, she was 6 years old and was intelligent, kind and outgoing. While I was working she would sit on the ground and point to and pull on everything and ask, "en ingles?", and I would respond by saying the English word for whichever item she had pointed to. She would repeat and review the words and test herself every day to make sure she had learned them. The greenhouse we were building was made of adobe bricks, which was mud made of local ingredients that we mixed with our feet before they became rock. As I walked in circles mixing the mud she walked outside the pit alongside me. When I was done I walked over to the hose to wash my legs off and immediately Isabella began scrubbing the mud off.

During recess, she would find me and beg me to play Justin Bieber or Selena Gomez and she would sing for us and dance with attitude, she was bold and carefree. Isabella was my shadow every chance she could get but I saw myself in her shadow because at that time she was everything I wasn't and everything I wanted to be. She valued her education and was constantly expanding her learning outside the classroom. She smiled endlessly and was charismatic and bold. She was effortlessly compassionate and kind, always helping others. I looked at her and I saw my parents Range Rover parked in the driveway of my house in Orange County, California.

She wore the same outfit every single day and I knew I had brought more clothes with me on that two-week trip then she owned. I looked at her two-room school and saw all the private and public schools I had attended. Then I thought about college and all the places I had to choose from and knew the odds of her going to college were slim to none. Then I looked at her and saw an infinite thirst to learn and a limitless capability to love. I saw compassion and a sense of community. She radiated happiness and fulfillment. I looked at her and I was jealous because there would never be a time in her life where she had to waste time deciding on what camera or what pair of Steve Madden shoes she wanted to put on her Christmas list. I was envious that her life was filled with a focus on community, family, love, and life.

She altered the way I saw "poverty" and "the poor". My tattoo is a reminder to be appreciative of what I have, to be kind to and help others, to take every opportunity I'm given, to be adventurous, to value and further my education, to work hard and create change, to smile more and love passionately, to live my best life.

My tattoo is on my right bicep. It is roman numerals in black ink of the day I met Isabella, June 26th, 2015, "VI XXVI MMXV".

All tattoos are unique. Take my Roman numerals, it sounds like something easily replicable and generic, but it's not necessarily. If an individual is looking to get a tattoo of a date or a number in Roman numerals they first have to think about where they are going to put it. Then they have to consider what color ink they want, what font they prefer if they want spaces, dashes or dots in between sections, how much space they want between each letter and each section, then how long and wide and how large they want the tattoo to be.

There's a lot to contemplate when it comes to designing something as "simple" as roman numerals. Knowing this, imagine then how much more difficult it becomes to create a mandala or a flower according to each individual's expectations and preferences. This variation is what makes each tattoo a piece of art. It's very unrealistic that even two individuals would make the exact same decisions regarding every aspect of the design of their tattoo. A tattoo reflects one's personal taste and creativity and there are endless ways for one to customize even the simplest of ideas, like my roman numerals.

In our society, we either accept tattoos as a form of art or expression or we look down on others for vandalizing their skin. Tattoos come with contrasting ideological stigmas. My generation grew up learning that we had to hide our tattoos from employers if we ever wanted to get a professional job and have a successful career. Why? Because individuals bias transfers over into the workplace and each employer has an opinion on tattoos and their professionalism.

As time progresses there has been a significant increase in the number of American businesses and professions that allow individuals to reveal their tattoos rather than forcing them to cover them up. Even so, today it is more common and acceptable for musicians, actors, photographers, designers, and athletes to have visible tattoos than it is for lawyers, doctors, and CEOs. So although our visibly inked workforce is expanding in America there is still a long way to go.

Tattoo artists often get the short end of the stick. Let me be clear tattoo artists are artists. They are today's Picasso's, Van Goghs, Monets and Da Vinci's. They are multimodal artists capable of transferring their work onto paper, iPads and human skin using pens, digital editing, and needles. Every day they draw and create one of a kind pieces of art. Yet, tattoo artists and their works are not praised and valued like the Picassos and Monets of the past.

Our society honors exceptional artists like Rembrandt and their paintings, displaying them in museums for the public to awe at and admire. In contrast, our society fails to recognize becoming a tattoo artist as a real and professional occupation. In the past, we placed our painters on pedestals affording them status and respect. Today we walk by artists that have covered themselves head to toe in artwork and we may cringe. Individuals with tattoos are considered to be more dangerous, more likely to do drugs, commit crimes and less likely to go to school and hold a professional job. (Funk, F., & Todorov, A. 2013).

Would you say the same about an individual who has one, tens or hundreds of Van Gogh's paintings hung up on the walls in their home? To me, tattoos are a form of art and individuals should not be discriminated against or profiled because they choose to place a piece of art on their skin rather than on a wall.

Tattoos fulfill different roles in various cultures. In the 1800s the Maori's, a New Zealand Polynesian tribe, were led by Tamati Waka Nene. Tamati Waka Nene was distinguished from his followers by his tattoos. His entire face was tattooed to represent strength and authority. Hundreds of years ago tattoos were more unsanitary, dangerous and painful than they are today. By enduring this process, Tamati Waka Nene was able to prove to his followers that he was a strong and capable leader. (Dr. Billie Lythberg).

In America, our presidents are equivalent to the role Tamati Waka Nene filled. However, we do not expect our presidents to tattoo their faces to prove to us they are capable of representing and running our country. In fact, if a presidential candidate had tattoo sleeves, realistically, they would likely never be nominated and if our elected presidents were to tattoo their faces I guarantee it would significantly reduce our society's confidence in their ability to rule rather than increasing our faith in their leadership.

Different cultures have various expectations and opinions regarding tattoos and their purpose and existence. In America, we tend to view tattoos as art (or vandalism) rather than as a sign of power and authority. Our artwork can be created to represent a significant experience or meaning, like my roman numerals, or it can just simply be a piece of art. Tattoos can be customized, criticized and belong to all communities and cultures. Our individual, political, and cultural ideologies work together when deciding whether we see tattoos as art or as vandalism.

For the rest of my life, every individual that sees my tattoos will decide if my ink makes me more or less favorable and they will make this decision based off of their personal beliefs without consideration of Isabella, without consideration of what my tattoo has to say about me, my character, and my life.

It's my belief that just because you personally would not get one does not mean that you should judge or underestimate an individuals intelligence, professionalism or see them as less "approachable" because they did. Would you ask an employee to take down a painting in their office when they meet with clients just in case they find it in any way "offensive"? If your answer is no, then maybe think a little harder about asking that same employee to cover up the picture/image they chose to mark themselves with for the rest of their life.

Make decisions for yourself that align with your personal beliefs, but don't diminish others for theirs, be understanding, be accepting, be aware.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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