Students and staff think beyond the ink with tattoos

Students and staff think beyond the ink with tattoos

Photo: Alona Skipper

Tattoos come in all shapes, sizes and colors, but almost every tattoo has a cool story behind it. These Fairmont students (and teachers) took the chance to show off their ink and share the meaning behind their body art.

By Cole Cavanah, Staff Writer

Tattoos used to be for sailors, outlaws and biker gangs, but now even Fairmont students and teachers adorn themselves with their own unique body art. Tattoos are more common in today’s world than ever before. They are seen as artwork, a form of self-expression and, in some cases, a sign of rebellion.

Tattoos are made by a needle puncturing the skin into the second layer of skin called the dermis while injecting ink into the dense skin cells so the mark becomes permanent. Tattoos used to be created manually, and in some countries they still are, but for the most part, tattoos are now made by a machine. The tattoo artist uses a foot pedal to control the speed of the needle based on how detailed the design is.

Most tattoos in today’s society are for looks and to achieve a “cool” image, but some are symbolic and have more meaning. Some even have stories behind them.

The legal age to get a tattoo without permission is 18, but kids as young as 15 can get their own mark with parental permission. Many students at Fairmont have tattoos with stories behind them.

Students show off personal markings

Some might be surprised to learn that USB Commissioner of Spirit Justin Kihn has been inked.

“My tattoo is two Chinese symbols and it’s on my back right shoulder. The first means ‘family’ and the second one means ‘strength,’” said Kihn. “I got it because my mom said if I qualified for state in wrestling, I could get one. I qualified, so my whole family got one just like mine.”

Chelsea Robbins is a 2011 graduate Fairmont who has a few tats of her own.

“I got my first of five tattoos 20 days after I turned 18,” said Robbins. “I have a tattoo on my side; my friend Dan who’s in the army has the same one on his wrist. It’s a treble clef with a music staff wrapped around it. All of my tattoos have references to music, except the stars on my ankle that stand for my mom, dad and sister.”

Robbins said she has a favorite tattoo. It’s of a blossoming flower with music notes coming out of it. “It has a lot of meaning to me,” Robbins said.

Sophomore Brandon Boykin is willing to share the story behind his tat.

“My tattoo is on my left hip and it says ‘Blood is Thicker Than Water,’” said Boykin. “I got this tattoo because it has a lot of meaning to me. It means that family comes before friends. My grandpa used to say it all the time, and my dad has it tattooed around his wrist.”

Teachers get tattoos, too

Some Fairmont teachers also have adorned themselves with their own permanent mark.

Biology teacher June Martin and English teacher Josh Oliver got matching sea turtle tattoos while on a school trip. Martin’s is located on her ankle.

“It’s a petroglyph of a green sea turtle that is only found in Hawaii,” Martin said. “I also have the words underneath it that say ‘sea turtle’ in Hawaiian. I have had it for eight years, and I got it because my favorite memory of living in Hawaii was swimming with the green sea turtles.”

Oliver says the turtle tattoo he got on the school trip is located on his left clavicle. He also has another turtle tattoo on his upper right arm. “It’s a painted turtle with the saying underneath, ‘Keep the turtle fertile,’” he said. “I got it because when I was in high school, I was in a Boy Scout group called Order of the Arrow. I was on the ceremonies team, and the ceremonies had a Native American influence.”

Oliver explained how the Native Americans believed the world was on the back of a sea turtle. “We would always huddle up before a big speech to pump up, and my friend, Rhett, would always say, ‘Keep the turtle fertile.’”

Oliver also has tattoos on his left wrist, across his back, on each deltoid and on his right thigh. He even has a rule that helps him control the number of tattoos he has.

“My tattoo rule is that if I have an idea for a tattoo, I have to wait a year until I get it. If I still want the tattoo a year from then, I’m probably destined to have it.”

Does Oliver have a favorite tattoo?

“No, picking a favorite tattoo is like picking a favorite child. It just can’t be done.”

Are tattoos worth the pain?

When most people think tattoos, they think needles; and when most people think needles, they think pain.

But Kihn didn’t think the pain was a big deal. “It didn’t hurt at all; I thought it felt like an Indian burn that I used to get as a kid,” he said.

A needle puncturing the skin no doubt hurts, but some say they get accustomed to it. “Getting the tattoo hurt pretty bad at first,” Boykin said. “The first letter was the worst, and then it got better after that.”

Then there is the pain of regret. Parents are always talking about how teens will regret tattoos when they’re older. But do teens think their tattoos are regrettable?

“No way! I actually plan to get a couple more in the future,” said Robbins.

Boykin also sees no reason to regret his tattoo. “This tattoo means so much to me; I would get it in another spot if I could,” he said.

Kihn likes his tattoo so much, he plans to get at least two more. “I have no regrets at all,” he said.

The teachers, however, do admit to some regrets in terms of their ink.

“I regret it a little bit. If I’m going to a wedding or someplace that I have to wear a nice dress, the tattoo sticks out like a sore thumb. It can be a burden,” Martin said. “Nevertheless, it’s my tattoo and I have to deal with it.”

Does Oliver have any longtime regrets?

“I regret the tattoo on my thigh. I didn’t follow the tattoo rule I have, and it turned out to be stupid,” he said, declining to reveal what it is.

Tattoos are everywhere — from the skins of burly people in biker gangs to skinny high school students. The ink of tattoos may fade, but it seems the desire to express through tattoos will be around for many years to come.