Getting under your skin: Culture changing around tattoos

Pause and think for a moment – how many people do you know who have a tattoo?

Very likely, that number’s even higher than you think.

Believe it or not, according to a 2015 Harris Poll, 29% of all Americans have at least one tattoo (and of those inked Americans, almost 70% have some heavy coverage, possessing multiple tattoos.) And with Millennials now outnumbering Baby Boomers as the largest living population in America, that number’s only going to go up.

This is a quote from Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar,” and has meant a lot to me for a long time. Thanks to Royal Pain on Prince Street.
– Blayne

According to a Pew Research Center study conducted in 2010, nearly half of all people from age 18-29 have at least one piece of ink. (And, as Generation Z, or iGeneration, continues to come of age, this trend is likely to continue.) This is reflected in the landscape: if you take a stroll around any city, you’ll doubtless run across more than a half-dozen tattoo studios; there are at least five within walking distance from Lancaster’s city square. In fact, there are two under a minute’s walk from the Fly offices on West King Street.

So how does that affect inked folks in the workforce?

Tattoos not covered by a suit have long been called “career killers.” In fact, a mere 10 years ago, tattoos in general were widely looked down upon. Brian Via, a tattoo artist at Golden Ages Tattoo on Walnut Street, says that’s changing now.

“It seems that today people are more likely to get tattooed in highly visible places as opposed to places that can be hidden,” Via says.


These three symbols and words are the most inspirational to me because of my belief in Jesus Christ. Whenever there is conflict in my mind my faith in God will give me the right answers. The Love of God will bring new hope for a better tomorrow. The three concepts of faith, hope and love go hand in hand to give me a more peaceful and contented life.
– Angel

Via has been tattooing professionally for nine years, five of them at Golden Ages, and during that time the industry has boomed big-time. Tattooing has become more widely regarded as an art as opposed to simply a trade – and shops also see a far wider demographic walking through the front door.

“Tattooing has changed drastically since I started,” Via says. “Everyone and their mom has a tattoo. It has definitely become more accepted.”

The inside of the studio is covered in flash sheets – pre-made designs that folks can, literally, pick off the wall and get the same day. However, they may not be getting as much use as they did in days gone by. Via has noticed that while flash sheets once reigned supreme as shop inspiration, Pinterest is now the main source of lightbulb moments for walk-in appointments. (No word on whether this explains the abundance of anchors or infinity signs with inspirational words or birds incorporated into the design, but it certainly would explain a lot.) In addition, he notices that folks who aren’t into tattoos, or art in general, tend to be most impressed by photorealism, though that doesn’t necessarily indicate those tattoos are more “acceptable.”


I like images of skulls. This tat was inspired by the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. The tattoo artist is Andy Morrissey. He currently tattoos at Tattooing by Mee in Lancaster. Follow
him on Instagram @andymorrissey1990 to see more of his work.

– Mike

So if you plan on inking up one day, or you’re already heavily tattooed and find yourself in the market for a job, what fields are your best bet? That depends, it seems. Fly’s office has its fair share of inked folks (self included), and tattoos seem pretty popular around the LNP offices in general. However, you’d be hard-put to find anyone with visible tattoos that are more “out there” – like pinups or gory tattoos – so the subject matter of your ink might matter as much as the field you’re in. Via has his own suggestions as to what places might be a little more accepting of ink in visible places.

“Any field that doesn’t have to deal with the general public seems to be the most lenient with tattoos and placement,” he says.

Even so, one might expect that certain areas – the neck, the hands, the face – would stay blank canvas… at least until you’re old enough to order a beer and, presumably, establish yourself a solid career. Not necessarily, says Via.

“I have more and more 18 year old kids asking for hand tattoos than ever.”

Not that he necessarily thinks that’s a good thing – there are still some taboos, he believes, and even though visible tattoos are more common, that doesn’t mean they’re more accepted.

“I hope they are trust fund kids,” Via reflects, “because it will affect their job opportunities for the rest of their lives.”

The hand tattoo, however, may be old news. Lower back tattoos and ankle bands were in for quite some time; now, tiny hand and finger tattoos seem to be in – but once everyone’s getting one, you know they’re on their way out. A glance at Instagram confirms that lower sternum tattoos – particularly for women – appear to be on the rise. Styles shift in and out of fashion; Neotraditional seems to be in, while New School is taking a bit of a backseat for the time being.


I love “The Big Lebowski”, and I figured it would make for an interesting tat. Most of my tattoos are related to films from the ’70s-’90s. My friend Joe Vitale-Lathe did the entire design (and tat) for me, his work is always on point. Follow @joelathe on Instagram to see his work in Italy and the USA.
– Stephanie

But if you’re only looking at style and location when considering the tattoo trend, you’re missing half the story.

Tattoos have been utilized for the purposes of self-expression, memorials of fallen pets or loved ones, even just decoration. But can you imagine someday using one to locate your car keys or send a friend a video of that dog you met today?

That April Fool’s joke a few years back about programmable tattoos is so believable because it’s rapidly approaching the realm of the plausible. Folks out on the bleeding edge of technology have been predicting – and, in some cases, working towards – all sorts of cyberpunk-y combinations of ink and tech. A firm called NewDealDesign – the brains behind FitBit – have concepted out what they believe wearable technology will look like by 2020. They call it “Project Underskin,” because – you guessed it – they believe that eventually, we’ll be tattooing ourselves with a kind of subdermal implant that will do things like open doors, carry health information, and transfer data from person to person by touch. Don’t worry, it’s not even in the planning stages yet, just a concept right now – but it may not stay there for long.

Who knows? The next big trend could easily be implanting ink that you can turn on and off at will.

Might make interviews a little easier to get through.


This rose on my left shoulder was done by Wes Rosenberger of Golden Ages Tattoo; eventually my left arm will be devoted to early modern literature, which has tons of rose and flower symbolism, so I thought it’d be a good way to start – but right now it looks totally sick on its own. My sister’s middle name is also Rose, so I thought it’d be a nice way to honor her.
– Ed

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Ed Hirtzel is the Summer 2016 Fly intern. She’s currently an English Honors student at Millersville University. Her hobbies include scribbling, writing both fiction and nonfiction, and compiling useless information about cryptids.

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