Published in Whatcom Horizon, Oct. 26, 2010
by Matt Benoit
Tattoos. Permanent ink on impermanent skin, significant or meaningless, tattoos have the capacity to reveal much about a person’s life and personality.
They can be tributes to lost friends, symbols of love to family members, or simply fleshy works of art. Sometimes, to paraphrase musician Jimmy Buffett, they can painfully be “a permanent reminder of a temporary feeling.”
Tattoos have been around for thousands of years, and today, they are perhaps more common than one might expect.
A 2006 survey from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology said an estimated 24 percent of Americans ages 18 to 50 have tattoos. The same study said that 36 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 have at least one tattoo.
Although it’s unknown how many Whatcom students have them, you can find tattoos regularly amongst the college’s diverse student body:
Christian Jimmy, 18, has two large tattoos on his right arm. Jimmy got the upper tattoo for his mother, and the lower because he was a part of his high school drama department.
He was three other tattoos, including one of a turtle on the back of his right leg, which he says signifies brotherhood. A tattoo of a fire engine with the words “Pops” on it is in honor of his father, who is a firefighter.
Whatcom student Amber Davis, 22, works at Old School Tattoo and Piercing in downtown Bellingham as a body piercer. While she has a handful of tattoos on her body, none is more noticeable than the colorful Hawaiian ocean sunset scene which covers her upper left arm.
Davis says the tattoo is a combination of four paintings from one of her favorite artists, Christian Lassen. A coworker then combined the paintings into one. Davis said the tattoo took roughly 20 hours to finish, and was worked on in two to three hour sessions every other week over a span of four months.
Eventually, she says the design will be expanded to cover her entire arm.
Davis’s other many tattoos include: a remembrance tattoo of her father—who passed away when she was 18—on her left ankle; a tattoo of two seraphims, or six-winged angels, on her right leg; and an Italian phrase on her lower back which means “live without limits, love without rules.”
“It’s a quote I try [to] live by,” she says of the phrase. Although Davis says she doesn’t really think her tattoos are a reflection of her personality, she notes that the Hawaiian scene depicts her best due to her love of tropical climates.
“I thrive in the summer,” she says.
Whatcom student Richard Jongema, 23, has 13 tattoos, and got his first at the age of 12. Jongema, who says he’s gotten tattoos everywhere from Oklahoma to Washington, says that while some people frown on tattoos and see them as defiling one’s body, he sees things differently.
“I look at my body as a canvas,” says Jongema. For him, tattoos are a way to remember significant parts of his life, both good and bad. Some of Jongema’s other tattoos include his son’s name, Cyrus, which is tattooed on the side of his neck, and a spider hanging from a web on the back of his neck.
His favorite tattoo, across his right side, is a Latin phrase meaning “be apart from this world and not a part of it.” Jongema says the tattoo reminds him not to succumb to the world’s many temptations.
Temptation is a tattoo theme for another Whatcom student, as well.
Holly Polinkus, 26, has four tattoos on her body. She got her first one, on her arm, at age 20, a symbol for the planet Jupiter that is assigned to the astrological sign of Sagittarius.
On her finger, is a small tattoo made up of several symbols, and means that “one is greater than two.” A best friend came up with the design, and Polinkus came up with another for her so they could swap designs.
Perhaps her most interesting tattoo, though, is the image on her left ear: a slithering serpent. Polinkus says she was raised very religiously as a Christian, and the snake symbolizes that temptation is always there, whispering in your ear.
Nick Santini, 28, is a Whatcom student and ASWCC council member. His first tattoo, which he got about 10 years ago on his upper left arm, is a memorial tattoo for several friends that were killed in a 1999 car crash.
Two of his other tattoos symbolize such topics as a battle with addiction—represented by an armor-clad crusader standing with his sword over a bunch of bottles—as well as salvation, with strange looking people clamoring towards a tall, pious-looking woman.
Josh Hathaway, 33, not only has a lot of tattoos, he knows a lot about them.
Hathaway is the owner of Industry Tattoo, which for three-and-a-half years has been located at 4120 Meridian St., the nearest tattoo parlor to Whatcom.
Although Hathaway says probably half of the parlor’s business is college-age students, he adds that their artists have tattooed people into their 70s and 80s.
“It’s a dichotomy of people trying to be different, yet trying to be the same,” he explains of the many reasons people get tattoos, adding that a culture has yet to be found that didn’t engage in some form of tattooing.
Hathaway says he’s had people come into his shop wanting all kinds of tattoos for all kinds of reasons, and in all kinds of locations.
“We get all kinds of weird things,” he says, citing the one time a man had bat wings tattooed on his scrotum. Contrary to the practice of tattooing what Hathaway calls “pin downs,” or ugly women, on the bodies of men, a man—who Hathaway says was straight—once had a picture of a fat, naked man emblazoned onto his skin.
People will do other strange things just to be weird or funny, he adds, such as getting tattoos of exploding toasters or toilets.
But tattoos can also be therapeutic, he says, because when a person or pet dies, having a physical reminder of the deceased can be comforting.
Such was the case when a couple came in to get tattoos remembering their pre-mature baby, who died several months after birth. Using a picture of the baby that the couple provided, Hathaway gave the husband a portrait of the baby over his heart.
Hathaway also says that in general, tattoos tend to go through fads, such as the time phoenix tattoos increased after the release of the film “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”
With gender, he says women mostly tend to go for flowers, hummingbirds, and cherry blossoms, among other things, while men go for more “macho” designs, such as dragons, samurais, skulls, and motor parts. Beautiful-looking script spelling out various things, however, tends to be a popular unisex choice.
As for his own body art, Hathaway says he got his first tattoo at age 21, and has been tattooing both himself and others now for nearly nine years.
“I got sucked in,” he says. His arms are covered in various designs, and when asked how many tattoos he has, he has a simple reply for people.
“One that’s not finished,” he says. “Once you get to a certain point, people stop counting.”