How Millennials are Changing the Stigma of Tattoos: Two Sisters in Different Cultural Settings Reveal

Two sisters who grew up in different cultural environments (Aleksandra (20) in Latvia and Jennifer (34) in Sweden) once rebelled by getting the tattoos their dad was so strongly against. They now discuss how Millennials are changing the stigma of tattoos.

By Aleksandra Medina

  Aleksandra Medina / Photo: author's own

Aleksandra Medina / Photo: author's own

When did you get your tattoo? Why did you get it and what does it symbolise for you?

Aleksandra: I got my first and only tattoo when I was 18. It was the end of the summer and I was about to move away from my family and my home country for the first time. So, to symbolise this immense change in my life and also my love for travelling, I tattooed a small airplane on my right arm. It also symbolises my ultimate life goal - to travel to every single country in the world.

  Aleksandra Medina / Photo: author's own

Aleksandra Medina / Photo: author's own

Jennifer: Strange thing. As long as I can remember, I had this weird feeling that there was something missing on my right upper arm/shoulder. It felt naked somehow. Stripped of something. My boyfriend gave me a gift card for a tattoo salon for Christmas in 2007. I was 23 and I saw my chance to finally have that blank on my shoulder filled out. When I got it, it was really in to do old school sailor tattoos in bright colours. I liked that, but wanted it to be more timeless and more me. I went to the tattoo-artist and described more of a feeling than instructions for what I wanted it to exactly look like. I wanted a classic anchor with roses, but more feminine. He took note and came back with a sketch a couple of days later. A classic anchor surrounded by roses, but with a different colour palette. It was perfect. I didn't want my tattoo to reveal anything personal about me. I just wanted to decorate my empty shoulder.

"I work in real-estate law for the local authorities and in that role you’re often perceived as formal and bureaucratic, which I am, but when people see my tattoo I think it humanises me a bit. Maybe."

  Jennifer Medin / Photo: author's own

Jennifer Medin / Photo: author's own

Have you ever felt like you have to hide your tattoo in a professional setting?

A: All the time! I would never wear a short-sleeved shirt when I meet someone for the first time in a professional setting. I am aware of the stigmas people from the older generation hold towards tattoos, so I am very careful with showing my tattoo before making my first impression.

J: No. 

Have you ever felt been treated differently because of your tattoo? Has your tattoo been the basis of someone discriminating against you?

A: Yes. My grandmother, for example, still doesn’t know I have a tattoo and my parents were devastated about my decision to get a tattoo. The only time I was discriminated against because of my tattoo, was when I tried to apply to become cabin crew and was not allowed to because of my small tattooed airplane. Ironic, no?

  Aleksandra Medina / Photo: author's own

Aleksandra Medina / Photo: author's own

J: No. Not that I know of. That might be partly because I seldom show my upper arm in work- related situations, but when I have, no one has ever commented it. But okay, It has definitely got looks. But never disapproving or condescending looks. Or if anything, it has had a positive effect on my professional interaction. I work in real-estate law for the local authorities and in that role you’re often perceived as formal and bureaucratic, which I am, but when people see my tattoo I think it humanises me a bit. Maybe.

Many millennials are deciding to have meaningful tattoos now. But do you believe they will be able to get rid of the negative connotation the society holds of tattooed individuals?

A: YES! At least that’s what I am trying to do. People have to realise that, just because I have decided to express myself by inking my skin, doesn’t change my personality nor my capabilities. I believe tattoos are beautiful. We, millennials, aren’t dumb. We know these things are permanent. That’s why, when you see someone with a tattoo, you know they put in a lot of thought, care and meaning into it. It’s the person’s way of expressing themselves. And when we, the tattooed millennials, become employers, I believe, things will finally change. Just because I have an airplane tattooed on my arm, doesn’t take away the fact that I am a mathematics major. It just shows that I am a mathematics major, with a passion for travelling, art and adventure.

J: Seems natural. 

"The only time I was discriminated against because of my tattoo, was when I tried to apply to become cabin crew and was not allowed to because of my small tattooed airplane. Ironic, no?"

  Aleksandra Medina / Photo: author's own

Aleksandra Medina / Photo: author's own

What would you say to someone who is debating whether or not to get a tattoo because they are afraid that they won’t be taken seriously in an academic or professional setting? For example, concerning the stigma that, ‘real ladies don’t get tattoos’, ‘tattoos are for rebels’, ‘you won’t get a high positioned job with a tattoo’ etc.

A: Are you ready to hide it? And then, of course, are you sure you are ready for this commitment? It’s all about whether you believe this is something meaningful and essential to you. Does your tattoo inspire you every time you look at it? If it does, go for it! Does it make you happy? Then go for it!

J: My starting point is that your body is nobody else’s business, but tattoos generate questions: which questions are you willing to answer to people you don't know? I would recommend to avoid tattoos in areas which are hard to conceal, such as face and hands. Although tattoos are quite common, at least in urban parts of Sweden, I still think tribal face tattoos is a no-go for many employers.