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Stories in ink

A photo of a tatoo on a person's arm.
Emily Rosenberg / THE GATEPOST

By Emily Rosenberg

You can write your lover’s name on your hand with a pen and it will wash away tomorrow, but if you went to a tattoo shop and had an artist write your lover’s name with a needle, it could be there until the day you die.

Whether it be a small Bower, a quote, or the whole U.S. Constitution, tattooing is another art form that many use to express themselves, commemorate loved ones, or just decorate their bodies.

Christina Chinetti, a sophomore child and family studies major, has 12 tattoos and “a whole list” on her phone of ones she’d like to get in the future.

She said she has both “really meaningful” and “just fun ones,” including Harry Styles quotes, a

mushroom, some dinosaurs, and a quote from one of her favorite TV shows, “The Fosters,” that says “don’t play small my love.”

She got her first one when she was 18, and it is a lyric from her favorite Broadway show, “The Phantom of the Opera.” It says “The Music of the Night.”

She said Phantom is “definitely a huge part of the reason why I fell in love with theater.”

Chinetti added having the tattoo is meaningful because, “It represents the show that introduced me to this entire world that is now something that I love.”

She said when she went to get that Qrst tattoo, she was so nervous she squeezed her friend’s hand so tight that it turned purple.

Chinetti also has three arrows on her wrist to represent the three chromosomes on the 21st pair – the genetic mutation that creates Down syndrome.

She said mothers of children with Down syndrome started getting these tattoos to raise awareness and gain support. Then it grew into the community of people who know someone in their life with Down syndrome all getting the three arrows.

“The arrows are pointing upward because it represents lifting up the community and supporting it versus hiding them away like they were for so long,” she said.

Chinetti added, “Most people don’t know what it is but once you explain it, it’s pretty cool because it’s special for a group of people who all have someone in their life with Down syndrome who has impacted them greatly enough that they want to get that on their body.”

She also has Marvel’s Scarlet Witch’s hands creating a ball of magic on her upper bicep.

Chinetti said the Scarlet Witch is “by far” her favorite Avenger and she was encouraged to get the tattoo after a year of following the lore of highly acclaimed Disney+ show “WandaVision.” Ever since it came out, it has been one of her favorite shows as she had been anticipating its release for over half a year.

One of Chinetti’s newest tattoos is on her ribs and it is the words “big guy” in her grandfather’s handwriting. She said for around the past 10 years, she called her grandfather “big guy,” and last spring, he died of Parkinson’s disease.

Chinetti said a few years ago, she had him write the words on a piece of paper because she knew he wouldn’t be able to write much longer because of his condition.

“I took that piece of paper and I hid it away. And when he passed away this past spring, I took [the piece of paper] out and got it tattooed on my ribs.”

Sabrina Grammatic, a senior English major, has four tattoos. She said she remembers getting her first tattoo, the arc reactor from Iron Man – a fusion type power source that serves as an alternate for Tony Stark’s heart when – she was 19 years old.

She said although “Iron Man” used to be her favorite movie, she got the tattoo because she really loves Marvel in general and thought the arc reactor was a “cool” thing that “not a lot of people” get tattoos of.

She said her “most meaningful” tattoo is of two small outlines of butterflies above her right elbow. It is in remembrance of her father who died a year and a half ago. Her father always said that when she got married, they would dance to the song “Butterfly kisses” at her wedding.

Opposite to the butterfly tattoo, she has a cat with wings and antennas on her bicep. She found the picture of the fairy cat while searching for stickers on Redbubble and thought, “Yep, that’s going on.

“So if that doesn’t explain the dichotomy of tattoos to you, then I don’t know what will.”

Grammatic added the fairy cat was “random” and it “doesn’t really mean anything” besides that she loves the way it looks.

She said not every tattoo needs meaning. “Sometimes, you just want [a tattoo] because it’s aesthetically pleasing, and that’s OK.”

Grammatic added she brings lollipops to the tattoo parlor to “munch on to distract” herself and is always crunching on them to suppress the pain. She said she has a low pain tolerance, and it depends on where you get it but describes the sensation as “deep cat scratches.

“In the end, it’s worth it,” Grammatic said.

Grace Mattson is a freshman environmental science major and she has three tattoos – a butterfly on her wrist, a daisy on her arm, and a snake on her spine. She got her first tattoo when she turned 18 years old.

She added she got only black tattoos because colored ink is “harder for the body to accept” and she was worried about having a “gross, infected tattoo.”

According to the FDA, people can have allergic reactions to certain inks involving itchiness, scaliness, swelling, or raised skin, which are most associated with colored inks such as red. All tattoo inks are not yet FDA approved due to such reactions, and even harsher reactions such as sweats, high fever, chills, and scar tissue.

Mattson said besides the possibility of having a reaction to the color, she has only black tattoos because the style is “prettier.”

She said her mother worked at a wildlife sanctuary when she was younger and she used to help lead Monarch butterfly tagging programs.

“You put stickers on the butterflies and they migrate to Mexico and researchers in Mexico will call you and say they found your butterfly.” Therefore, she got the Monarch butterfly on her wrist in honor of that experience.

Similar to Grammatic, Mattson said she gets really nervous while under the needle.

“I sweat through the pain, my butt sweats through the paper that she [the tattoo artist] put down. Oh my God, it was so embarrassing.”

Christopher Stott is a sophomore nutrition major and has 12 tattoos.

Jokingly, he said the first time he walked into a tattoo parlor he felt like he “didn’t belong there” because he was a “little 18 year old” and the people looked scary and a lot different from him. Now, after 12 times, he goes in there like “any normal day.”

Like Grammatic and Chinetti, he also has tattoos commemorating a family member. There are Roman numerals on his chest in honor of his grandfather, whose death greatly impacted his life.

He wanted to put them on his chest to be “close to his heart.”

There are also three crosses on his forearm to represent his grandfather, his brother, and himself. He said when people see the tattoo, they assume he must be “super religious.” But, Stott wants to honor his grandfather’s memory and the Anglican religion.

Stott added, “funnily enough” his grandfather was “very strict” about his daughters “straightening their hair and wearing cosmetics,” but now he hopes his grandfather would be OK with tattoos.

He also has a butterfly on his bicep to symbolize how he feels when he writes. Stott writes poetry and action, and hopes to soon publish his work. He said when he writes, it is as if he is “Bying away” into a place where he is “free.” Having the butterfly there is a reminder not only that he has that space, but a motivation to keep writing and get published.

The majority of his tattoos are on his right arm because guys tend to put all of their tattoos in one area, he said. He always found tattoo sleeves “really cool” because each tattoo is meaningful to him. Stott has a compass to express direction and humility during moments in his life when his family was going through hard times.

Stott said he was definitely interested in getting more tattoos, mainly pertaining to his appreciation for music. Right now he has a “play, pause, fast forward” symbol like you would see on an iPod on his inner arm. Stott added he could play several instruments but would probably get something expressing his love for his favorite bands.

He also advised those planning on getting tattoos to “find someone they trust and stick with them.”

Hannah Checca is a 28-year-old emergency room nurse with two children who takes morning classes at FSU.

Her first tattoo is of an anchor on her ankle that she got on her 18th birthday. She said Mass Maritime was a “huge part of her life at the time” and she was “sure” that she wanted a tattoo.

She also has an evil eye on her arm, which she said is “a symbol of protection” for her as a Jewish woman. She got it shortly after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted as part of her healing process.

“After COVID it felt like I just needed to get away and so that’s what I did. It was cathartic for sure in a way,” she said.

On her arm, she is working on a sleeve with a bunch of different Bowers, two of which are the Bowers for the birth months of her children. She also has her kids’ birthdays in Roman numerals on her wrist.

She added her 5-year-old daughter has asked her, “Where’s my Bowers?” and said she would be “definitely down” if when she got older, they wanted to get matching Bower tattoos.

Nathan Robillard is a sophomore history major and his only tattoo right now is a dragon on his right arm.

He said when he was younger he “always knew” he wanted a tattoo, but never knew what the image would be. That is when he thought of the webcomic series “Tower of God” that he has been reading for over seven years.

“Tower of God” is a South Korean Manhwa that follows a boy named “Twenty-Five Bam” who has spent most of his life trapped underneath a tower.

Robillard said it “has a lot of different symbols for different groups and families in it.” He decided to go with the “Eye of Jahad” symbol because it comes from one of his “favorite fictional worlds.”

Although tattooing is known for being a painful experience, Robillard said it felt like the artist was “just tapping my arm.

“It really depends on your own personal pain tolerance, where you get it, how big it is, and how much outlining the piece needs.”

He also said that he and his tattoo artist “really hit it off.

“We were talking the whole time and found out we had a lot in common. We exchanged numbers and still talk every so often.”

Chinetti, Checca, Grammatic, and Robillard all said they believed the stigma against people who get tattoos still exists.

Grammatic said although the stigma is becoming less prevalent, some people still believe those who get tattoos “aren’t good people, or they’re people who don’t have a plan for the future.”

Robillard said he thinks judgment mainly comes from employers and the workplace. “I work at a bank and if you have tattoos that are visible then you need to have them approved to see whether you need to cover them.”

Chinetti said there are older people who don’t understand times are changing and they think young people are “ruining their lives and futures.

“In their generation, it would ruin their chances of getting a job or having a good life, but that’s not true anymore. Now there are kindergarten teachers with tattoos and nobody cares,” she added.

Chinetti said in her own life, there have been older men who have told her she was ”ruining” her body with her tattoos, in which she responded, “I’d rather die young with tattoos than old and boring like you.”

Checca said that although it is casual for her coworkers to have visible tattoos, she gets a lot of judgment from her parents and older doctors, and notices people giving her looks when she’s out in public. Someone once told her she was “going to hell.”

“At 28 years old, I am somebody else’s mother and I don’t really care what somebody else thinks,” she added.

Sociology Professor Vincent Ferraro said since the ’90s, people began to drop the stigma against tattoos. He thinks tattooing has moved into “the mainstream.”

“We are far more likely to consider tattoos as art and tattooists as artists today than we were a

generation ago.”

He added that there will always be a tendency for those who define what is “in style” to “always be on the lookout for the next big thing and to draw from marginalized populations – to take the interests and tastes to cultural outsiders and turn them into a sanitized product to be sold to mainstream consumers.”

Rich Davino, director of career services, said it is “definitely true” that some employers still “frown upon” visible tattoos. He added some employers care more about the “art or messaging itself” more than if it is visible.

When asked about whether he advises students seeking employment to consider their tattoos, he said it’s ultimately about personal choice and preference. “Job seekers need to consider, if my tattoo could prevent me from working for a future employer, would I want to work for that employer?”

He said, “The thinking is shifting for many employers from opposition to acceptance.

“I will not be surprised if discrimination laws change in the next few years to include visible tattoos – meaning it will be illegal to discriminate against employees with visible tattoos.”

Commenting on the legality of tattooing, Political Science Professor Giuliano Espino pointed out that Massachusetts did not legalize tattooing until 2001.

“My understanding of the literature on American policy change is that the most effective social

movements are ones that frame themselves as advancing the values of America’s founding documents, rather than denigrating them,” he said.

He added, “Tattoo artists were successful in their political and legal challenges because they have explicitly framed themselves as advancing First Amendment guarantees to freedom of expression through body art.”

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