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When Cye Delaney got the opportunity to become a tattoo artist, he had only one tattoo. But even then, he realized that the decision to get body art such as tattoos and piercings is deeply personal, and can be made by people of all backgrounds. “I love the fact that I meet people from every walk of life,” says Delaney, who’s now an artist at Sakred Skin & Studio in Kamloops, British Columbia.

Underlying Motivations

Whether you’re interested in getting a tattoo or piercing, or you want to better understand body art, it’s fascinating to explore the many meanings behind it. Historically, body art was viewed as a form of rebellion or a way to mark a person’s membership in a group. But students today have widely varied experiences and reasons for getting body art, from bonding with other people to just making themselves happy.

In a recent Student Health 101 survey, over 50 percent of respondents said they have body art. Here are some of their motivations:

  • Body art’s attractiveness: 60%
  • Self-expression: 56%
  • To memorialize a person or event: 22%

Dianne C., a fourth-year student at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, has a tattoo memorializing her grandparents who have died. “I chose this [tattoo] because it reminds me that they’re watching over me and guiding me on my journey through life,” she says.

Katey B., a third-year student at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, has a tattoo that describes her love for travel. “Tattoos are expressive of some aspect of our personality or identity,” she says. “The people they decorate will have a story behind them.”

Is Body Art Right for You?

Not every tattoo or piercing has to have a deep meaning. What’s important is that it makes you feel good about being you.

But if you’re contemplating some art, make sure you think long and hard about the decision. There are not only immediate concerns, but also considerations for the future. Will having body art fit with your long-term goals? What might a potential employer or other people in your future think? Are you ready for both the short-term care and long-term maintenance of the art?

Whether you’re getting your first or next tattoo or piercing, be mindful of the artist you choose. “Find out more about the person. Do your research,” suggests Anthony Quinn, an independent tattoo artist in Ottawa, Ontario.

“I have matching tattoos with my friends, but they’re each customized to our unique personalities,” says Katey. “We’re all expressing our own story, and that’s what really matters.”

Thinking of some art?

Choosing a shop and artist

Here are some tips from Cye Delaney of Sakred Skin & Studio in Kamloops, British Columbia:

  • Visit the shop ahead of time and ask questions. Everyone working there should make you feel comfortable and engaged in the process.
  • If you feel uncomfortable, leave. Even if you’ve started work, you’re in control. It’s your body!
  • Research your artist. Does he or she have formal art training? Have you seen pictures of his or her work? Do the two of you communicate effectively? You can also ask for references and speak with previous clients.
  • Look for the essentials:
  • Clean, well-lit setting
  • Private areas if that’s your preference
  • An autoclave, the machine used to sterilize equipment
  • Packaged, unopened needles (Needles should be used only once and then thrown away.)
  • Sterile, unused gloves for the artist (Ask if they have latex-free gloves if you’re sensitive.)
  • Unused containers of ink (for tattoos)
  • Appropriate jewelry (for piercings)
  • Consent forms
  • Posted “License to Operate” from the local Board of Health
  • Five separate areas: counter, waiting room, piercing room, bathroom, sterilization room
  • Appropriate aftercare information

More suggestions, including what to expect after getting a tattoo or piercing.

More questions to consider

Before Body Art

Tattoos and piercings can be permanent, so it’s important to make sure you’ve truly identified your motivations for getting one before you go for it. Here are some tips and questions to ask yourself as you reflect:

  • Talk with friends and family to explore your thoughts and feelings.
  • Consider what meaning body art has for you, your friends, and your community.
  • Think about whether the art will fit with your long-term goals or is more representative of your current experiences.
  • Ask yourself, “Why am I getting this tattoo or piercing?” Make sure you don’t feel pressure from anyone else.
  • Is this something that you’ll be happy with years down the road? Are you ready to commit to something permanent?
  • How might current or future employers view body art? Will it need to be covered up?
  • Are you prepared for long-term issues, such as the need for touch-ups or getting something re-pierced? Do you understand that piercings may create scars? 

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