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on Leading the Next Generation


What 3 Tattoo Trends Teach Us About Millennials

Trey is a friend of mine. He's a student who just got his first tattoo. His parents weren't too keen on the idea, but eventually caved and allowed their son to obtain what millions of others have added to their bodies. My guess is that you know someone who has one, too. What's happening in the tattoo industry is actually a portrait of our youth culture today. And we did it to them by creating this culture for them. After doing a little digging, here are three conclusions I drew:

1. Tattoos enable this generation to clarify their identity... externally.
Young adults have always experienced a crisis of identity as they move from childhood to adolescence and then into adulthood. Today, piercings and tattoos enable them to further mark their identity externally. The number of young adults who say they, or someone in their home, has a tattoo has increased from 21 percent in 1999 to 40 percent today, according to a poll by The Wall Street Journal. While folks of all ages get them, Millennials lead the pack. Ours is an age of cosmetic identification. Instead of defining ourselves by internal character, values or even gifts, we can do it superficially on the outside.

2. Tattoos illustrate opportunities for permanent choices... prematurely.
Even the shadiest of tattoo parlors must remind their customer that tattoos are permanent. Still, young adults make this forever decision with a very short-sighted perspective. Roy Geronemus, director of the Laser and Skin Surgery Center in New York, says, "Many come in with names tattooed on themselves that are no longer relevant to them... or, they're about to enter the workforce." Tattoos illustrate how early we allow our young to make a lasting decision with such a limited viewpoint. Decades from now, we'll get to see those tattoos sagging on millions of bodies. Wonder what it will look like.

3. Tattoo removal is now a big business enabling us to rectify... instantly.
Tattoo removal fluctuates in the U.S. every year, but it has become an upward trend over the last twenty years. According to a survey of plastic surgeons and dermatologists, 40,801 people underwent laser tattoo removal in 2011. That jumped to almost 60,000 in 2012. And right now, lasers are pretty much the only option. It's a little painful, but it's instant. The side effects are usually minimal. Once again, what a portrait of our world today. We can make what appears to be an adult decision -- a lifelong choice -- and still change our minds later.

Tattoos are just a picture. Some get them to fit in. Some get them to differentiate themselves. I'm not judging any of my friends who have them; I'm just saying they illustrate an emerging culture that is:

  • Cosmetic
  • Instant
  • Superficial
  • Fluid

I really like many of the tattoos I see on people. I'm not fundamentally against them. I'd like to see a new trend, however, that enables our young to define themselves by what's inside, not outside, and make it genuinely permanent because it's about their character, not cosmetics. Tattoos of the heart -- I like that.

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  • Adopt education strategies that engage (instead of bore) an “I” generation
  • Employ their strengths and work with their weaknesses on the job


  1. Cathy on June 16, 2014 at 5:52 am

    I also see a lot of “tribal identity” here in Australia. Footy (Aussie Rules) have a tribal code and tattoo… smacks (for good and bad) of gangs and family, wanting to belong. I guess with the breakdown of families, and insular living people need to belong. Tats seem to be a way they can express that belonging. It borders on acceptable agression and rebellion perhaps? That is why it is adopted by Footballers and supporters and advert campaigns like below, I suppose!

    In the Maori culture Tattoos are family expressions, and national icons (for lack of better words)especially used and sometimes rightly in defiance of white imperialists!! Here down under we are pretty close to the Kiwis!!

    Anyway it is a great thought and worthy of examination for sure! …..Even my dear friend who is unmarried Barrister has a Tattoo!!!!


  2. Timothy Lynn Burchfield on June 16, 2014 at 7:02 am

    Do your children have tattoos? I think it is easy to talk about expressions like tattoos until your own children decide to express themselves that way.
    BTW, send us a picture of your tattoo expression.

  3. Erin Brown on June 16, 2014 at 9:02 am

    Three things come to mind on this topic:
    1. I thought about getting a small tattoo when I was about 20 years old. I’m almost 40 now and really glad I didn’t because I would have regretted my immature tattoo image selection.
    2. My kids and their friends are too young to choose to get a tattoo, but when the subject does come up, we discuss the growing uniqueness of tattoo-FREE bodies.
    3. Starting a meaningful conversation with a stranger is easy when they have a visible tattoo. When they wear their story, it’s usually an open door to discussing it.

    • Dalla on August 13, 2014 at 10:41 am

      I’ve one of my fav biblical verse n a lot of ppl want to knw more ..every time I touch it it reminds me behave more Christ like … An everyday struggle for most us Christians ?

  4. Ann Carlson on June 16, 2014 at 9:12 am

    Has anyone ever thought that this generation is finally confident enough to express their own identity and not feel compelled to have to fit into the societal dogma that we think is right? Truly maybe we should step back take a long hard look at where all the ideals we keep trying to have them buy into have really gotten us! Less judgment more exceptence could be the answer our society needs? I know I have absolutely no right to judge. One last thing..can anyone tell me why tattoos are bad? Really give me a solid legitimate reason that is based on fact and not opinion?

    • Lorena Wood on June 16, 2014 at 7:15 pm

      I’m sorry Ann but we are to judge. We make judgements every day. Should I wear this coat or that one? The meat is way too expensive at this store and it smells funny. That person next to me is texting and driving and it’s against the law and wrong!

      We are told in scripture to make a right judgement-do a search and word study and read the context of what Jesus says. We are to judge. What we are not to do is to say “you can’t get a tat. but it’s fine if I have four on me and am scheduled for another one in a week. We would be a hypocrite just like Jesus was speaking against. Now, for a “solid legitimate reason” here is my attempt.

      Lev. 19:28 says, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.”

      Now, this was O.T Levitcal law which we are no longer under any more. But that being said, so are the Ten Commandments but I think it still does us good to follow them even if we are not Jesus followers. If we want a tat and aren’t following Jesus, then I don’t think the verse applies. However, the N.T also has things to say about how we treat our bodies if we are Jesus followers and should consider and ask God about it-if indeed we desire to obey Him.

      I found the following and excerpted the story>

      “Dear Abby: You have printed letters about tattoos, so I thought you might get a kick out of my experience. Two summers ago, my sister “Julie” confided that her daughter, “Whitney,” had decided to get a tattoo before returning to college. Julie was upset about it, but could not change her daughter’s mind because Whitney is on a full scholarship and didn’t need anyone’s approval. Julie asked if I could talk Whitney out of it, and I racked my brain trying to think of something to say that would sway her. A few weeks later, our families got together to celebrate Julie’s 50th birthday. Whitney was there with her boyfriend. After we all had enjoyed ice cream and cake, I took Whitney and her boyfriend into the living room and popped in a videotape of a party my husband and I had thrown during the disco craze of the 70s. There we were in our leisure suits, gold chains, permed hair, platform shoes and having a great time.

      Whitney and her boyfriend were rolling on the floor with laughter. They couldn’t believe that “look” was actually the craze at the time. “Yes,” I said, “that was the style. But as times changed, styles changed, and what was once ‘in’ was soon ‘out.'”

      At that moment, Julie and her husband walked into the living room dressed in retro clothes and wigs. They were followed by Grandma and Grandpa, who had applied fake tattoos to their arms and shoulders. Whitney was stunned to see her conservative grandparents so out of character.

      It was then that we reminded Whitney we had been able to buy different clothes and change our hairstyles when the fad was over, but tattoos are forever.

      Disco clothes and wigs: $85
      Fake tattoos: $30
      The look on Whitney’s face: priceless!

      (To date, no tattoos for Whitney.)

      Creative in Las Vegas

      Dear Creative: Your letter: a gem. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. You made your point with an object lesson that was far more effective than any lecture would have been.”

  5. Ann Carlson on June 17, 2014 at 8:10 am

    I pity a legalistic mind. We are to make judgments concerning things that effect us but we are not in anyway allowed to judge or condemn others for their actions. It is not our to do so. Lorena you may want to explore the NewTestament: Luke, Matthew, James, Romans, Galatians, & Titus, to see what is written about judgeing others.:)

    • Luke Henke on June 25, 2014 at 9:31 am

      Let’s be clear.
      How do we know that someone is truly a follower of Christ? You tell by their fruit. First and foremost by their love. Kinda hard to tell if they have fruit if you are only looking at your own fruit. How do you tell if a fruit is good? You measure it up to all the qualities a Christian fruit (note, this is singular!) should have from Galatians 5:22 – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.”
      You can’t judge if a person’s fruit is good or productive without careful examination. As Christians, we should always welcome careful examination with the intent to grow closer to the likeness of Jesus and we do this through accountability. Our personal actions and choices need to be judged and condemned by our peers – this is essential for us to become the best fruit we can. (not only that but peer evaluation is a highly effective growth strategy with a 28 percentile gain! Think of where we would be in 10 years if we had that kind of growth each year…)

      This is completely different for someone who does not know Christ – this is why Jesus in Matthew 7:6 (just after He says “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.”) tells us “Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy.”
      To paraphrase in light of the context: You waste your breath when you try to correct someone who doesn’t want to be corrected. Jesus may have in mind here verses such as Proverbs 9:8 “So don’t bother correcting mockers; they will only hate you. But correct the wise, and they will love you.” or perhaps Ecclesiastes 7:5 “Better to be criticized by a wise person than to be praised by a fool.” or also Proverbs 19:25 “If you punish a mocker, the simpleminded will learn a lesson; if you correct the wise, they will be all the wiser.”

      May every Christian desire to grow wiser! Heat and hammering make us better (rebuke and correction) Proverbs 27:17 “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
      As for my own input on this topic: Let everything we do be done for the glory of God. And let nothing I do compromise the message of Jesus I carry to others. For some, a tattoo can be used to further the message of Christ and give glory to Him. For others, this is not the case. Considering the original purpose of the Leviticus text – God doesn’t want us looking and acting like the world and marking our bodies up or doing anything else that says we worship another god. So, for the Christian the question hasn’t changed since they gave their life over to Jesus – it’s the same one Christians face with every decision: Is it for me or for Him?

  6. Peodabarb on August 11, 2015 at 2:22 am

    Such an informative and important article. For tattoo removal laser treatment is one of the best treatment without any pain. Plastic surgery and other treatment is very costly and chances to some infection. In laser treatment just we need to save and care our skin during treatment.

  7. Dave Bones on May 8, 2017 at 2:53 pm

    Its just emulation of prison culture promoted through the media by corporate marketing. People become what their television tells them to be these days. Lowest common denominator appeals to the widest base and makes the most money. The more population increases the more we will see of it.

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What 3 Tattoo Trends Teach Us About Millennials