Skin Deep

Santa Cruz community shares tattoos, thoughts on shifting culture

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“As a woman in science, I want to be a positive role model. If I can show people that you can have a tattoo and still be positive presence, if I can show people I’m a woman and I’m doing a good job for somebody, that’s great.”-Randa Roland Photo by Yin Wu
“As a woman in science, I want to be a positive role model. If I can show people that you can have a tattoo and still be positive presence, if I can show people I’m a woman and I’m doing a good job for somebody, that’s great.”-Randa Roland
Photo by Yin Wu

With 11 tattoos on her arms and legs, UC Santa Cruz student Cat Heavey has gone to great lengths to hide them in the past. She wore long-sleeved shirts beneath her t-shirts to adhere to the dress code of the restaurant where she worked — but the long sleeves made her too warm, so she stopped wearing them and no one reprimanded her.

“The attitudes toward tattoos are changing, as people who enter managerial positions are younger and younger,” said Heavey. “The people who are managing these companies are becoming more lenient because it’s more common to see.”

A 2010 Pew Research Center study found that nearly 40 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 have at least one tattoo and over half of those with tattoos  have between two and five.

Despite this, 70 percent of millennials say their tattoos are hidden beneath clothing in the workplace.

Photo by Yin Wu
Photo by Yin Wu

Heavey explained her future interest in becoming a grade school teacher and was hopeful that she would get a position where she could openly show her tattoos without rules restricting her.

“My dad is the manager at this job, and he always tells me that he’s less likely to hire people with tattoos. And so that makes me feel apprehensive,” Heavey said. “He associates tattoos with some sort of alternative lifestyle that isn’t as mainstream successful.”

But tattooing is not by any means new. The oldest tattoos originated around 3250 B.C., but they serve different purposes across the world. In Polynesian culture, the indigenous people of Samoan and Maori societies use them as a rite of passage and a sacred practice.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that western culture coined the term “Tattoo Renaissance,” referring to the social shift in tattoo clientele — to upper and middle class groups. Artists started to explore sophisticated designs that appealed to this demographic, appropriating and adapting sleeve tattoos, originating from the Polynesian and Japanese art form.

Now, tattoo art is a widespread form of expression and fashion in the modern age, regardless of class, race or gender.

Among other tattooed individuals, there was a sentiment that some from older generations see tattoos as the result of bad judgment or a passing trend.

“The stigma is there. Everyone has their own ideas about what tattoos are or what they mean. Some people are very open and some people aren’t,” said Santa Cruz’s Mission Street Tattoo artist Patrick Blackstorm. “I’m here to help them translate what’s in their heads and hearts — and get it on to their body.”

Tattoo artist Patrick Blackstorm has worked at Mission Street Tattoo for two years and primarily works with detail-oriented black and gray tattoos. Photo by Casey Amaral
Tattoo artist Patrick Blackstorm has worked at Mission Street Tattoo for two years and primarily works with detail-oriented black and gray tattoos. Photo by Casey Amaral

Blackstorm noted the growing interest in tattooing as a career among young people. He himself was originally influenced by his father’s tattoos as a child. Blackstorm has been a tattoo artist for ten years.

“It’s not always a bird or a rose on someone’s shoulder because they think it looks nice — it’s memorial tattoos or to hide cutting scars or someone who’s had some other sort of trauma in their life,” Blackstorm said. “They can come to me for closure […] to find a deeper part of them and [to] help them to heal it.”

The acceptance of tattoos in Santa Cruz culture surprised Blackstorm when he moved from Lancaster 14 years ago. Although some associate tattoos with a violent and deviant lifestyle in history, Blackstorm said, he noticed a shift in who is representing tattoos and tattoos as an art form.

“Everyone’s got them now. I see grandmas, I see sisters, parents […] It’s not as underground as it was,” Blackstorm said.

“I’ve been told a lot by my family members and my mom especially that art should be on a canvas,” said UCSC junior Ania Osuna. “But as an artist, I’ve always felt like it’s a very personal choice if you want to put that on your body.”

UCSC chemistry lecturer Randa Roland has over 23 tattoos covering her calves, shins, arms and back, relating to different aspects of chemistry from molecular models to plants and insects. Wings were added to either side of sulfur mustard, transforming the chemical compound into a butterfly. Roland values her tattoos as a means to appear more accepting in terms of self expression.

Photo by Yin Wu
Photo by Yin Wu

“We’re really fortunate we’re living in Santa Cruz because it’s a very open-minded community,” Roland said. “They have always been progressive in their thinking — the town that’s like, ‘If that’s what you like, you go ahead and do it.’”

Roland explained her mother’s attitude toward her tattoos, who grew up during a time where they were associated with sailors, prisoners and motorcycle gangs. Despite the tendency of older generations to view tattoos through a culturally conservative lens, Roland hoped people would understand her personal sentiments behind all of them — a passion for the subject of chemistry.

“As a woman in science, I want to be a positive role model,” Roland said. “If I can show people that you can have a tattoo and still be positive presence, if I can show people I’m a woman and I’m doing a good job for somebody, that’s great.”

As a lecturer, Roland doesn’t want to seem intimidating, but approachable to her students.

“[Tattoos are] so neat and so personable,” Roland said. “I hope they make me look more like a human being.”