One in two of all respondents to our Youth Culture Uncovered research felt like they weren't part of a generation. They were just themselves, an individual. More and more young people who feel this way are looking for ways to define and establish their individuality as self-expression becomes increasingly important.
In the United States, just under 40% of those born after 1980 – Millennials by another name – have a tattoo. Of those tattooed young people, half have more than one tattoo, and 18% have more than 6! Just 2% were opposed to the idea of tattoos. For young people of a certain vintage, tattoos are incredibly popular.
However, amongst younger young people - those born after the mid-90s (Gen Z) - the negative feeling towards tattoos rises to 10%. For this more cautious generation, tattoos have lost some of their appeal.
"Part of being young is doing something your folks wouldn’t do. Rebelling, I guess. My da has a big tribal tattoo on his shoulder. He's also an accountant. As a result, for me, tattoos just make me think of my da. I love him, but he's not someone I'd go to for style tips, you know?" - Mark, 22, The Love Network
Younger audiences are more considered when it comes to getting permanently inked than the generation ahead of them. Sometimes, not having a tattoo can be seen as more unusual.
IN THE BUSINESS OF UNIQUE INK
Despite not being as rebellious as before, tattoos are going nowhere. As Grace puts it, they are so unique to the individual that there's no doubt the trend is here to stay.
"They're an art form just with skin instead of paper and lots of art forms get push back. There's so many different types and they're all so personal to the individual that it's foolish to lump them all together and declare it a fashion trend. Maybe they'll never reach total universality but they're definitely here to stay." - Grace, 17, The Love Network.
For a considerable number of young people, tattoos remain a popular way to express their creativity and put a literal stamp on their individuality – permanently - from tiny dainty tattoos to face tattoos. Youth are embracing custom pieces – speaking to their tattoo artist and hashing out ideas that mean something deeper to them. They're also going out of their way to get inked by tattoo artists they admire.
"I've 5 tattoos – 4 are insects because I wanted to be an entomologist when I was a kid. I travelled to Cambridge from Dublin just to get tattooed by Mike Stockings. I know one person who travelled to Canada just for a tattoo because they liked the artist. There was a time when people used to just walk into a shop and say, 'I want a bird.' That's over now." - Shane, 29, The Love Network
Spiced rum brand Sailor Jerry is crafted in honor of Norman 'Sailor Jerry' Collins, the father of the old school tattoo. Today, Sailor Jerry's Global Brand Ambassador Gravy Thomas, or 'The Rum Rude Boy' spends his days in the best tattoo parlors and bars all around the world and noted the following shift:
“It is artistically refreshing to see a new level of independence being communicated through tattoo choices of the younger generations. They are more exact in what they want on their bodies - with no exceptions! Whether it’s a modern adaption of a traditional Sailor Jerry style tattoo that relates quicker to their generation through popular imagery, or script that reflects personal thought. I appreciate how they are pushing tattoo artists to not just rest on their tattoo flash books or previous creations.” - Gravy, Global Ambassador, Sailor Jerry.
Younger generations are thinking more about who inks them and what they get inked, travelling for specialist artists to create an end result that is truly their own.
KEEPING UP APPEARANCES
Do tattoos hold young people back professionally? When it comes to work, one of the most important things for young people today is to be accepted for who they are – to not feel like they have to change their personality or appearance when they enter the office.
"I just want acceptance from older generations at work. There may be slight cultural differences but that should be okay. I'm obviously going to have some different opinions." - Grace, 17, The Love Network.
For those who opt to get a tattoo, it's usually something that they’ve put a lot of thought into and they're proud of it. It’s a part of them and a means for them to express their individuality. They don't want to cover it up, as it feels like they're hiding a part of themselves.
Attitudes towards tattoos at work are evolving, but unfortunately there's an outdated generational influence at play. A recent survey of 500 people working in recruitment revealed that 88% believed having a tattoo could limit someone’s career progression, and 41% had actually rejected a suitable candidate because they had a visible tattoo. There's a growing sense that if a workplace doesn't accept someone for who they are, they'll find somewhere else that will.
While Gen Z might be more cautious when it comes to tattoos than their older peers, tattoos are no longer an indication of rebellion. They are a means of creative self-expression – something hugely important to younger generations. By staining their skin permanently, young individuals are 'making their mark' using this historic tradition to reaffirm their own sense of individuality and place in the world.
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