Press "Enter" to skip to content

Taboo? Abnormal? Timeless? Tradition? Outgoing? Outspoken?

                                                 …the answer depends where you live in the world


[dropcap]T[/dropcap]attoos can be seen everywhere, in metro stations, restaurants, magazines, schools, and on the streets. According to an article in Deutsche Welle, a German news site, tattoos worldwide are on the rise, a US  survey shows that 40% of generation Y (born between 1980-2000) currently have tattoos. The meaning of tattoo is often influenced by cultural or traditional meanings. Tattoo art started way before those colorful and playful ink pictures usually seen on the Tumbler. It all began in ancient Egypt. Little did Egyptians know that their creation would spread from the Mediterranean Ocean to Turkey, then jump to the borders of India, moving into China, and then even to Korea. All of these countries have different cultures, values, leaders, and laws. In the various parts of modern world represented by our student body, the beliefs about skin art differ.

In the United States many teens take for granted their ability to express individual style and opinions. TV shows, fashion, magazines, and social media all promote an America where individuality and freedom are prized. Many teens growing up in more conservative countries, facing serious restrictions in what they can wear, do or say. These controversies about conservative versus traditional ideologies in countries like Turkey, Korea, and China also extend to tattoos.  

Ilayda Celik (senior from Istanbul, Turkey)

Turkey is a beautiful country between eastern Europe and western Asia. It is a traditional and religious country. Moimg_1551st people believe in Allah, and have Islamic beliefs, so having a tattoo wasn’t common in the past. Although, Turkey is more open towards the tattoos now, in the 21st century, the religion is still a significant factor that discourages many people having something permanent on their skin.

“I respect my religion,” says Ilayda Celik. “I believe in Allah, but I’m not really religious, so, for example, I have a tattoo, as well as my father and friends do.”

Ilayda is from one of the biggest city of Turkey, Istanbul. She says that living closer to the European borders makes a difference, because it is more open and modern than the East side of the country. In Istanbul, it is common to see tattoos around the city, but if you travel up to the countryside, where more religious people live, it’s uncommon and poorly accepted. “You really have to hide your tattoo, because otherwise they will stare at you.” Even in Istanbul when it comes to jobs, tattoos can be frowned upon.

Celik said, “My cousin told me that when she applied for a job, they told her she is not allowed to have tattoos which are visible at the workplace. She had to either cover them or remove her tattoos if she wanted to work there.”    

There are thousands of different pictures to choose from and many different locations on the body to have the art tattooed, however as part of a new tattoo trend in Turkey, many people are currently getting the signature of Musafa Kemal Atatürk. He was a turkish army officer, revolutionary, and founder of the Republic of Turkey. He was also President from 1923 until his death in 1938.

“I was thinking about having it [Ataturk’s signature] on my arm too, but then my parents told me that now our government is against him, so I shouldn’t do it, as for my future it can cause problems.”  Despite the government’s displeasure, the K. Atatürk Tattoo became the most popular choice among the secular Turks. According to an Al Arabia News interview with the tattoo artist Murat Arti: “The government is trying to make them forget Atatürk. The government is even trying to change the constitution now.” The tattoo is the people’s way of saying they will remember him.

Ilyada’s story of her first ever made tattoo is more personal than political. She explains how during Christmas vacation she visited her cousin who has lots of tattoos. As they were talking on various topics, her mom suggested that she would allow Ilyada to have a tattoo if she wanted one. This nonspecific comment made a huge impact on Ilyada’s next day when she was drinking coffee near the tattoo place.

“I said no to my cousin, I was sure that my dad would kill me. But in the end she was persuasive enough to make me get one.” Celik says that she had no clue what exactly she wanted for her first tattoo. “We talked with the tattoo master about my favorite flowers, and I picked daisy.” Celik doesn’t regret choosing daisy because the flower represents new beginnings and that seemed perfect since she was just beginning school in America that fall.

When Ilyada got back home with her new tattoo, her parents had different opinions on it. “My mom loved it, but my father couldn’t say anything for 5 minutes. After a while, he showed me his tattoo and told me to let him know the next time I’m thinking of getting another.”

Ilyada also wants to have a new tattoo this Christmas during her home visit. It will be a matching tattoo with her mom on their necks or on their backs. She has already started to think about having a unicorn on her ankle after that.

[quote]I think if you have a tattoo, you will always want more, and more, and more.”[/quote]

Subin Jung  (senior from South Korea) 


Korea is a country with deep history and ancient culture. Many of their traditions are sacred to them. Tattoos can mean a lot of different things in this Asian country and its acceptability is continually evolving.

Subin Jung, a senior, said at first she “thought that only boys could get them.” In the Korean society tattoos are seen as a tag for mafia or gang members. The ink art originally started within the borders of the mafia groups. Some of them made black inked tattoos to show their power, other designed them to scare the civilians. This strong and violent perspective is why, “the old generation still judges tattoo art.”

Although the previous generation strongly express their opposition towards tattoos, the youth of South Korea is overcoming this stereotype. “Now celebrities in the South Korea have small tattoos (on the inside of their fingers, or the inside of the upper hand).” Subin also says that lately she started seeing them as part of fashion.[quote] I think that it’s their business and I don’t judge them.”[/quote] She said that while her parents are “flexible” with her putting on makeup or having piercings, “they forbid me from getting a tattoo; they hate tattoos.” Jung says that it’s an Asian way of thinking to believe those who are getting tattoos hurt their skin and body which were given to them by their parents. She also suggests that her generation doesn’t pay as much attention to small tattoos, like stars, short quotes, or couple-matching pictures, however, she admits that the sleeves or full back tattoos are still not fully accepted.

In South Korea two generations are walking on a border between traditional and modern customs. Both try to respect each  other’s views, though one side still has the last word. In Korea, marriage traditions still kept and followed carefully. One of the stories that Subin shared was about a girl who was well-behaved and appropriate in all aspects of etiquette. In order to get married in Korea, the couple has to visit both parents. By the way, before anyone can enter the house, the visitor has to take their shoes off. The relationship between the girl and her boyfriend’s parents were really good, but no one knew that she has a tiny tattoo on her ankle. After she walked in the house and exposed her ankle, his parents were afflicted and therefore started to treat her differently; they thought she was a cheap girl. Subin says it happens not only marriage wise but also in the work industry. It’s really hard to find a job if tattoos are exposed, therefore obligating workers to hide their body art.

Jung also says that some places, like hot springs (a public place with swimming pools filled with extremely hot water), can reject a customer with lots of body tattoos as they might frighten other clients who will be there. However, not only normal citizens of South Korea are getting this type of treatment. K-Pop stars, or actors with ink on their body still have to have them covered or blurred on the national television. Though as Jung said, “we still see some parts, because they cannot cover everything.”

Nevertheless, Korean teenagers try to overlook the stereotype and follow what they think is pretty and fashionable, rather than criminal or evil. Towards the end of the interview Subin Jung shared her personal opinion about the future of the body art in South Korea, “I think that it’s not going to take a long time for South Korea to be more open towards the tattoos, like it is in America. If it just happened like that” she said snapping her fingers, “after some celebrities started this trend, my guess would be that it’s not going to take a long time.”

Alex Wu (Junior from China)

In China, people who have tattoos, are associated with prisoners and members of a criminal gang. Though it wasn’t always like this. For example, in ancient China one of the ethnic groups who wore traditional tattoos were Derung girls, who would get tattoos at age 12-13 as a symbol their maturity. Usually the tattoo would imply the shape of a butterfly (made out of lines between the eyebrows, and around their mouth and cheeks). The history of Derung’s reason for tattooing their faces goes back to the Ming dynasty. Because male warriors were img_1561kidnapping and raping the village women of the ancient group, to avoid such cruelty and misfortune, these women tried to make themselves uglier by inking their face.

Derung’s men, also had tattoos which stood for muscularity and power; they usually had animal symbols on their biceps. This spiritual connection would later became associated with prisoners, vagrants, and criminality.[typography font=”Bubbler One” size=”26″ size_format=”px”]This spiritual connection would later became associated with prisoners, vagrants, and criminality.[/typography]   Communist revolutionary, Mao Zedong banned tattoos, calling them impure, monster like marks. “It’s not  illegal anymore to have tattoo in China,” says Alex (Keyan) Wu, “but it’s hard to find a job with it.” Wu suggests that like in Turkey and South Korea, it’s hard to pursue career in China as a doctor, lawyer, policeman if there is even a bit of permanent ink on the body. In order to work as a governor, or in a government sphere, interns have to be fully body checks to see if any tattoos are being hidden. “I don’t care about it, I have a lot of tattoos,” says Alex, “ I know for sure that I don’t want to work for the government, I want to be a businessman.”

In the last couple years tattoos became more popular among Chinese citizens. Around 40 percent of teenagers and young adults are interested in either getting one, or planning to master skills of making them . “I want to work as a  tattoo designer for my spare time. I don’t have a tattoo yet, but, I want something for my whole arm, I want a sleeve,” said freshman James Zhang , a friend of Alex Wu, who was sitting next to him.



  1. Anett Anett November 10, 2016

    Great article!

  2. Gabor Gabor November 11, 2016

    Interesting summary about an interesting topic

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Copyright (c) 2020 - Thornton Academy, Saco, ME - USA