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To Ink or Not to Ink: the Meaning of Tattoos Among College Students

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We examine the process of getting a tattoo and its meaning among 195 tattooed and 257 non-tattooed undergraduates. Most tattooed respondents contemplate getting a tattoo for months, get a professional tattoo, can cover it easily, and like it. Respondents acquire first tattoos to represent important role transitions and as a form of identity and self-expression. Most respondents' first tattoos are obtained as a symbolic way to celebrate relationships with family and friends, to signify personal growth or spirituality, or because they just “wanted one” or want “something different.” Respondents express greater positive affect toward their first tattoo if it is larger, has significant meaning and is done professionally. Among the respondents who are not tattooed, the most common reasons for not having a tattoo are concerns with the permanency of the tattoo, lack of desire for one, lack of resources such as time and money, and health concerns. The findings suggest that tattoos serve a symbolic meaning-making function that is part of the development of adult identity.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2015

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  • College Student Journal publishes original investigations and theoretical papers dealing with college student values, attitudes, opinions, and learning. Topics include the areas of undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools, and may also include selected contributions dealing with college preparation.

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