Tattoos are trendy. Harris Interactive surveyed adults in 2012 and found that 20 percent of American adults have tattoos, up from 16 percent in 2008 and 14 percent in 2003. Although Pew found that 70 percent of tattooed millennials cover their tattoos with clothing, that means that 30 percent do not, or, multiplying by the overall percent of millennials with tattoos, 12 percent of millennials have had themselves tattooed in places not usually covered by clothing.
As a member of the Baby Boom generation, I find it hard to fathom why tattoos are so popular. Tattoos were definitely a taboo when I was growing up. They conveyed attributes that most middle-class people perceived negatively: A tattooed person might be seen as deviant, freakish, impulsive, lower class, unprofessional, immature, or less intelligent, and as a heavy drinker, rebel, biker, or gang member. As far as women with tattoos, you only saw a “tattooed lady” in circus sideshows.
Tattoos among younger Americans are meant to be a kind of branding statement. They are seen by some people as “body art,” a way to demonstrate individuality and express something about a person’s identity. However, a lot of those who get tattoos these days are trend followers, not trendsetters. Tattoos no longer say much about individualism, given that so many people have them.