Tattoos Extend Beyond Counterculture as Form of Expression

In the past 20 years, we have seen tattoos take a turn from taboo to acceptable in popular culture. According to, 45 million Americans have at least one tattoo and people spend over 1.6 billion dollars on them annually.

Tattoos are no longer stereotyped with specific groups, but seen widely on all types of people. But why the sudden increase in popularity?

Amber Updike, a 21-year-old public relations student, said it’s because “our generation is more accepting…it’s a form of expression.”

In the past, tattoos were associated with rebel lifestyles. Those who had tattoos were either in the military or up to no good. Tattoos are also a large practice in prison, and many inmates get them to represent their gangs and crimes. Practices like these create a bad association with tattoos, but in the past years, these perceptions have started to change and tattoos are now seen as more of an artistic expression.

“Tattoos transform a blank canvas, a body, into something unique,” says Alexiah Grant, 21, of Pennsylvania.

Some live by that mentality and literally have transformed their entire bodies into a work of art, like popular rap artist Bryan “Baby” Williams, who has his whole body tattooed, including his face and scalp.

An article from Sociodep says, “In the last decade, tattoos and piercings have increased tremendously in popularity, rising not only in numbers but also involving a broader range of social classes. The main cause of this extension can probably be found in cultural commercialism spread by the media and it comes along with a considerable alteration in signaling function such that body modification does not necessarily assign the bearer to a certain subculture.”

The changing stigma has opened the door up to many. More and more tattoos are becoming accepted, and seeing them is nothing out of the ordinary. A big part of this is the large public display of tattoos in pop culture.

Virtually every big name in the entertainment world has a tattoo to display. Our society mimics the trends set by celebrities and public figures. Big names like Justin Bieber, Rihanna and Angelina Jolie have set these trends and turned getting tattoos into the “cool” thing to do.

“Pop culture has definitely had an impact on the tattoo trend. It’s like the ‘it’ thing right now. A lot of people take pride in being able to say ‘team tatted.’ It’s like the more, the better,” said 21-year-old journalism student Russell Jenkins.

In recent news, Miss America contestant Theresa Vail, better known as Miss Kansas, made headlines as being the first contestant to show tattoos in the competition. She explained how the large quote on her right side has great significance in her life and how she was not willing to cover it up for the show.

Steps like these are making tattoos more accepted by society; tattoos were once a taboo, but are now a trend.

“The next step is in the work place,” Grant said. “Society needs to completely disassociate any bad stereotypes with tattoos and let people live.”