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Tattoos: The permanent ink that has become a hit with millennials and gen z

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Tattoo story

Tattoos have gained popularity among younger generations. This moon and sun tattoo belongs to 19-year-old sophomore Jenee Hensley. 

Tattoos are in the mainstream more than ever. A 2015 poll by The Harris Poll found that nearly half of all millennials have tattoos, compared to just 13 percent of baby boomers. Of the people that have tattoos, 7 in 10 also said that they had more than one. It’s not just the increase in numbers that’s catching our eye, it’s the reason that people are getting tattoos. 

Tramp stamps and butterflies on ankles are in decline, and they are getting outnumbered by unique designs that young people use to signify something specific to them. 

Jenee tattoos

Jenee Hensley's tattoos of a pinkly promise, a sun and moon and a wave. 

Jenee Hensley, a 19-year-old sophomore from Kansas City, Missouri, majoring in pre-med at the University of Kansas, has a tattoo on her upper arm showing a human hand and a skeletal hand engaging in a ‘pinky promise.’ She said that last September she was hit by a vehicle while she was on a motorcycle traveling at 45 miles per hour.  

“Statistically, I should have died that night,” Hensley says. “That tattoo represents how precious life is and how it’s basically a promise to live life to the fullest.” 

On the same arm, Hensley also has tattoos of the sun and moon, because she says that she feels a spiritual connection with them, as well as a small tattoo of a wave because she is a swimmer. 

Hensley is certainly not alone when it comes to her motivations for getting tattoos. A study led by a psychologist in South Africa found that the primary reason that people choose to get tattoos today is to represent something personal about themselves. Another top reason mentioned for getting a tattoo is not just to represent something unique about ourselves, but to remember and honor those who we love. 

Michelle Torres, 27, is an independent tattoo artist in Kansas City, Missouri, who works from a home studio. Torres says the emotional meaning behind tattoos is what got her into being an artist. “I noticed when my friends or families would get tattoos, they were always so happy to show them off and explain why they chose that one,” Torres says. “I eventually decided I wanted to help people get these special marks on their body so I could be the reason that someone went to their friends to show themselves off.”

Torres says that names and bible verses are usually the most popular tattoos, but creative ones such as landscapes and characters from video games and movies have been quite popular as well. She says that video game characters, in particular, are quite popular amongst the under-30 demographic. 

Libby Brungardt, 21, is a chemical engineering major at the University from Baldwin City, who recently got her first tattoo. Unlike the more metaphoric and artistic nature of Hensley’s tattoos, Brungardt has a small tattoo on her leg that reads “I love you” in her mother’s handwriting. 

Libby tattoo

Libby Brungardt's tattoo reads "I love you" in her mother's handwriting.

“We always said we would get matching tattoos one day,” Brungardt says, “but we had a hard time trying to find something unique.” 

She says her mother has always been very supportive of her, so she felt it was important that she got a personal tattoo with her not only for the fun memories now, but to remember her when she’s gone. Eventually, she had a eureka moment when she decided they could both get tattoos of the phrase “I love you” in each other's handwriting. 

“The term is obviously powerful in its own right,” Brugardt says, “but in our family especially, it’s a phrase we would never go a day without saying. 

She added that her mother has very bubbly and distinct handwriting that echoes with her personality and makes it more memorable.

In some ways, the rise in popularity of tattoos, especially among the younger generations, has led to a change of heart about what is acceptable in the workplace. For instance, the same poll that found that nearly half of millennials have a tattoo also found that 7 in 10 parents are OK with visible tattoos on their child's primary school teacher or pediatrician. The change in tolerance of tattoos is moving a bit slower in the world of big business, especially in the fields of healthcare and finance. It seems that many large businesses would prefer their employees to have no visible tattoos, while others draw the line with whether or not a tattoo becomes a distraction. 

It looks like if you are contemplating getting a tattoo, you aren’t alone. Tattoos are now popular ways to express yourself and become a bit of a permanent fashion accessory to your look, and with more millennials having tattoos than owning homes, you certainly won’t be an outsider by sporting some ink of something that speaks to you. 

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