Inspirations from Under the Needle: Tattoos and Why People Get Them

By Mackenzie Pedersen, Staff Writer

Do YOU have a tattoo?

If so, why is it significant to you? Does it mark a milestone in your life or represent a significant spiritual belief? Would you agree that your tattoo helps to tell the story about who you are as an individual?

Respected tattoo anthropologist, Lars Krutak, asks his audience during his Tedx Talk The Cultural Heritage of Tattooing a few similar questions and then emphasizes that during his studies of the world’s indigenous peoples, that “[they] are ultimately responsible for inventing tattooing in the first place.” After his study of a tattoo technique called “skin-stitching” on St. Lawrence Island, Lars become positively obsessed to determine the motivations and meanings behind the various indigenous population around the world. While I yearn to follow in Lars’ footsteps, I don’t have access (yet) to the world’s indigenous populations to ask them about their tattoos firsthand. However, I do have a few friends close by who could answer these questions.

Mohammad Ali (MGM ’18), being the pensive, shy type that he is, always wanted a tattoo, but he wasn’t sure when. He finally got his first tattoo at the age of 31. Ali’s right arm is characterized by a large mandala with three lines of a prayer called ‘Nad-e-ali’ written in Arabic. Ali’s original hesitation stemmed from the idea that if he was going to go through a “ritual of pain,” (as he described it) than its meaning had to be incredibly significant. Then, one day, it hit him. During his time in New York, he knew it was time to get a tattoo, and he knew what piece would embody that significance for him. Nad-e-ali!

Completed. Photo courtesy of Mackenzie Pedersen
The First Tattoo Session- Photo courtesy of Mohammad Ali

This Islamic prayer was taught to him at a young age and has stayed with him throughout his life. Ali describes this prayer as significant to him because it helped guide him through a dark period in his youth and has continued to stick with him. When deciding to get the prayer as a tattoo, he came across a writing of it in Arabic and was struck by its beauty. From that point on, it was unquestionable. Ali spent almost a year, completing a total of 12 hours in the tattoo chair, to complete his first and most significant tattoo. Since then, he has added to his collection of tattoos.

Not only can Amanda Frein (MAGAM ’19) rock her current pixie cut, but she also rocks the edgy bald look! She has a condition known as Alopecia; this is a condition in which case the immune system attacks the root of the hair follicle causing significant hair loss. Beginning January of 2016, she began losing her hair in large patches. This, combined with shaving the little bit of hair she had left, led her to being completely bald. In the struggle to come to grips with the fact that she was now bald, she decided to take advantage of this opportunity. What better time than now to get a tattoo on her head? She decided to show tribute to her hometown of Anacortes, WA in the Fidalgo region, which is widely known for its breathtaking tulip fields.

A Tribute to Fidalgo. Photo Courtesy of Amanda Frein

Amanda used this iconic vision of the Fidalgo tulip fields to forever link herself to her home town. This tattoo means the most to her for the significant milestone it represents as well as symbolizes part of her individuality. Amanda’s hair began regrowing as of January of 2017, and once her hair has grown a substantial length, Amanda wants to shave the other side of her head and get a mirroring tattoo on the other side representing her new home of Arizona. She is not quite sure how to characterize this tattoo yet but dabbles with the concept of picturesque cacti and mountain ranges.

Apichai Sotiwong (MGM ’18) may look like your regular highly school-spirited entrepreneur extraordinaire, but underneath those long sleeves of his neatly buttoned-up shirts, are arms covered in tattoos. The one that represents him the most is the black wing on his right forearm. At the time of deciding to get the black wing, Apichai was looking for something to cover up a previous tattoo (the word “Funk”), he realized some of the signs that the universe was telling him.

“Take Flight, Take Action.” Photo courtesy of Apichai Sotiwong

He had just received word of The Thunderbird School of Global Management and the amazing opportunities it had to offer after originally studying at the ASU Polytech Campus, which, coincidentally, was also an air force base at one time, leading back to a flight symbolism. He also experienced additional avian symbols during his time of decision. Furthermore, Apichai had always been a “think in-depth before you act” type of person; this tattoo now characterizes a motto to himself: “take flight, take action!” Now that he has his wing, he wants to transform it into a growing tattoo until it eventually represents a Chamara of sorts. This Chamara will be used to capstone on his life accomplishments. The head of a lion will be added for courage once he feels that he has strengthened his skills. Finally, he would add some form of a dragon once he feels that he has left a legacy for himself, much like an elusive dragon suggests.

According to the NPR article, “Job Seekers Still Have To Hide Tattoos (From The Neck Up)”: “A Harris poll in 2012 found that 1 out of every 5 adults — 21 percent — has at least one tattoo. An earlier Pew Research Center study found that the number was closer to 40 percent among those ages 18 to 29.” These numbers are still growing. From a personal report, as well as among my friends, tattoos are like potato chips: once you have one, you another one, and another one, and another one! The ability to tell people who you are without even speaking is an amazing way of communicating.

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