Under the skin: the meaning behind students’ tattoos

INKED. Any given tattoo may hide a special meaning or personal story behind it. For senior Jamuna Corsaro, her tattoo (her name written in Nepali) pays homage to her birth country across the world. On the other hand, senior Ellie Murphy’s flower bouquet tattoo serves as a reminder of her family. (Submitted by Jamuna Corsaro and Ellie Murphy)

Tattoos. A permanent but complex display of the interests, desires, struggles, and aspirations that define a person. Whether a mark of self-expression, a tribute to a loved one, a reminder of a fond memory, or a drawing of a beloved cartoon character, people get tattoos for a variety of reasons, and there is an untold story hiding behind each one.

After turning 18, senior Jamuna Corsaro got her name written in Nepali on her right forearm. While on the surface, delicately inked characters may seem like a “safe” or typical option for a first tattoo, this tattoo’s importance is far more than skin deep. Corsaro’s tattoo pays homage to a large part of her identity; she was born and adopted in Nepal.

“Because a tattoo can be seen as something so permanent, getting my name in Nepali for me represents a connection to my birth country and the cultures/peoples [within it], even if I am growing up in the United States,” Corsaro said.

This design will forever be a reminder of the aspects of Cosaro’s personal history that make her who she is today and will allow her to reconnect with her past across geographical borders. Though Cosaro put a lot of thought into her chosen design, getting a tattoo was not always in her mind as she thought about her future when she was growing up. She reflected that becoming an adult opened her mind to the many new opportunities and freedoms she would have. Beyond the chance to pay tribute to her roots, Corsaro sees her tattoo as part of her transition to adulthood and assertion of autonomy.

Even the most ordinary objects can have layers of meaning when it comes to tattoos. Senior Ellie Murphy has a bouquet of three flowers to remind her of different members of her family. Murphy has looked forward to getting a tattoo for a long time but wanted to make sure she got something truly special. “I decided to get it because I’ve always wanted tattoos, but I wanted my first one to be something meaningful that I think would age well stylistically,” she said.

When asked about the future, Murphy shared her plans for two additional designs that she hopes to get next summer, “I am planning to get a dragonfly and an illustration of a blueberry that’s drawn on a recipe hanging up at my family’s cabin,” she said. Murphy also wants a patchwork sleeve in the future but has decided to take things slowly at first.

While tattoos are not a new form of art and expression, social stigma has unfortunately persisted throughout centuries. Currently, discussions about tattoos and the everlasting debates on “appropriate” sizes, visuals, and locations for young adults focus heavily on the impact that having visible tattoos can have on one’s ability to find employment. Due to this, many feel pressure to justify their tattoos by proving they possess some degree of personal, artistic, or emotional importance or refrain from getting tattoos altogether to appear more professional.

I’ve always wanted tattoos, but I wanted my first one to be something meaningful that I think would age well stylistically.”

— Ellie Murphy

Corsaro noted significant backlash regarding her decision, explaining that she was told that even the presence of small tattoos would impact her chances of getting a job now or in the future. Despite facing disapproval, Corsaro acknowledged the biases behind these claims and did not allow them to hold her back when getting the tattoo. “The whole stigma around tattoos is very harmful because one’s intellect and skills [are] not dependent on whether they have permanent ink on their bodies,” she said.

Regardless of the amount of thought that is put into the decision to get a tattoo or the significance behind each symbol, it’s important to remember that every person has the right to decorate their bodies with whatever art they please. Beauty lies in the permanence of tattoos, and whether one feels regret or pride as they look at their designs, this art form will forever be a treasured method of self-expression for students and adults alike.