When senior Nigil Houston got his tat, he almost passed out cold in the tattoo chair from not eating anything before hand. Hazel Hitchcock squeezed her mom’s hand and focused on her voice to distract from the tattoo gun pounding on a sensitive spot on her bone. Sensing that his time with his dad was limited, senior Sean McMahill decided to finally go through with getting a tattoo. He no doubt had a lot on his mind, but once he plopped down in the chair, all of his concentration was focused on the grinding needle.
“It didn’t really hurt,” McMahill said about his wrist tattoo. “But once it hit this vein it just shot up my whole arm.”
Students at East aren’t getting tattoos for the adrenaline rush or to be rebellious. They are getting designs on their skin to represent a time in their lives, how they feel or for a person that inspired them. It’s not a just a tattoo, it’s art with meaning that is carried on the skin forever.
Hitchcock got a tattoo of a cartoonish ladybug on her ankle in honor of her recently-deceased ‘Grandma Ladybug’ who loved everything ladybug-related. The ladybug tattoos are a family affair as her mom and four older sisters have their own unique twist on the bug featured on their ankles.
“You don’t really realize it until you’re like, ‘Wow this is permanent. This is never coming off my body,’” Hitchcock said. “I was so sad about my grandma [so] now that I have this, it kind of lifted a weight off my shoulders.”
Like Hitchcock, McMahill also got a tattoo in memory of someone that passed: his dad. He got “love you buddy” on the inside of his wrist—his dad always said that to him. They used to text it to each other; when one of them was going somewhere—it was always “love you buddy.” The last time he talked to his dad was when he showed him the tattoo. Even with the heavy meaning behind it, this doesn’t stop McMahill from showing it off.
“I try to tell everybody the story because I got it in honor of him,” McMahill said. “I don’t really like bringing it up, but I feel like it is worth it.”
Senior Carolyn Kinney also used body art as a way to remember someone. She has in cursive “run” on her ankle with three little dots underneath the R. The tattoo is a way for her to remember her aunt, and a motivator for herself.
“I’m a cross country runner, and I’ve dealt with a lot of destructive eating habits,” Kinney said. “Running was one of those things that for a long time really worsened my conditions, but when I got healthy again, running was the thing that brought me back up.”
Tattoos can also be more than just a memory of someone or about someone inspirational. For some, tattoos can be about the places that have impacted and a shaped a person’s life.
When she was 16, senior Hannah Breckenridge got a tattoo of a black outline of a lotus flower— that she drew herself—with the word “balance” in Hindi underneath it on her hip to represent the time she spent in India. She picked the symbol of the lotus because it is the Indian national flower. Then when she was 18, she got wildflowers on her ankle to continue with the flower theme. To her, wildflowers remind her of Kansas, where she was born and raised.
“I didn’t feel necessarily, ‘Oh this is representative of me forever,’” Breckenridge said. “I wanted something that was like specific to the three years I was in India so that’s really what made me want to do it when I was that age and of that symbol.”
For Breckenridge tattoos are about confidence more than anything else. When she got her first tattoo, she wasn’t indecisive or hesitant like she thought she would be.
“I think I’m confident enough in myself to not feel like [the tattoo] has an impact on me,” Breckenridge said. “Rather I have an impact on the fact I choose to get it and it represents myself.”
Tattoos can represent someone’s persona as well. “Truly blessed” is carved in bold, fat letters on the inside of Houston’s arms, because that’s simply how he feels. He’s always desired a tattoo, but it had to have meaning. In 20 years, he wants to be able to look at his biceps and still feel it has significance.
“That’s how I feel. I feel I’m truly blessed in anything I do,” said Houston.“Whether it’s sports, whether it’s just my day-to-day life […] I just believe it.”
While it may seem like a tattoo is just ink and scarring, it is a motivator and provides inspiration to those who get them.
“It depends on what kind of mood I’m in. If I’m going for a run, I’m like ‘OK you have a tattoo on your foot, just do it,’” Kinney said. “When I’m feeling down and sad, I’ll look at it and be like, ‘Remember why you got this.’”