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What 3 Tattoo Trends Teach Us About Millennials

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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 dong 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.