Tattoos: Expression or taboo?

Shayna Leonard, Staff Writer

For CMR science teacher Chris Hibbert, having tattoos isn’t about being rebellious.
“Every tattoo I have has some sort of meaning to it,” he said. “They stand for something in my life.”
Tattoos reflect his personality and individualism, he added.
For instance, a tear drop on his hand represents a friend who recently passed away, along with two tattoos on his arm that say “Try, Fail” and “Love, Hate” when inversed.
Growing up with a biker dad, Hibbert has been around tattoos for a long time, so they don’t come off as alien to him. He received his first tattoo when he was only 10 years old. It consisted of an eight ball on his ankle.
However, he said he was often ridiculed at school because the tattoo was considered “gang-related material.” He said that he “just liked playing pool” and it had nothing to do with gang activity.
The judgment resulted in him actually cutting off the tattoo with a razor blade, but he later covered up the scar with another tattoo.
Although many people are criticized for their body art, each tattoo tells a story, and helps its owner express his or her individual personality.
Although he experienced rough times in his early tattooing years, he still wanted more. Hibbert has a dozen tattoos, almost all of which he drew himself. All but one on his back he actually tattooed onto himself.
“I really like artwork,” he said. “And I see the body as a great canvas.”
By doing his own tattoos, he said he can control whether it hurts or not. If an artist is good enough to puncture only the first layer of skin, then the process should be relatively painless, he said.
Although he received tattoos at a young age, Hibbert advises that teens wait until they are 18.
“A lot of times people end up regretting them,” he said upon reflecting on a friend who tattooed Dopey, one of the seven dwarfs, on his rear-end.
“Get something personal,” Hibbert said. “Draw it yourself or have someone draw it for you.”
He also said that he won’t regret getting tattoos later in life because of the connotation each one has stitched into it.
“Individualizing yourself is awesome,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be just through tattoos.”
However, even though someone may desire some body art, it doesn’t always turn out as planned.
At 14, junior Desarae Sipes wanted a tattoo. She was thinking of getting her initials or even a butterfly. Nevertheless, it turned out to be more than she bargained for.
“I was really pressured into it,” Sipes said. Her mother had a friend who owned a homemade tattoo gun. He was a good artist but wasn’t a professional, she said.
This incident resulted in the words “PMS Queen” permanently inscribed on her calf.
“I was scared of him,” she said, but she didn’t have the “voice” to stand up for herself. And because he didn’t much care for her, he ended up giving her that tattoo instead of her initials.
“He said it was because I was ‘grouchy’,” she said.
Fortunately, she said getting a tattoo didn’t hurt, but the emotional scars are more than skin deep.
“It used to be where I couldn’t even share the story,” she said. “It really taught me to use my voice, and not let others do just want they want.”
Even though she had a bad experience, Sipes doesn’t think badly of tattoos in general.
“They represent who you are; they aren’t bad for your body,” she said.
However, she advised that if someone wants to get a tattoo, they must make sure it’s what they really want. “Carry around a picture of what you want around with you,” she advised. “Wait for a while before you make your decision.”
“Go to a professional artist and examine their previous work,” she said. Getting a tattoo is a big decision, and a lot of research should go into it.
Additional body art is in Sipes’ future. “I want to get flowers to cover up this one,” she said. “Then maybe a butterfly or something later on.”
Covering a tattoo is a lot of work. The artist has to take a photo of the original, and find a design that will completely cover it, but still look good. The cost for Sipes is going to be about $40.
Still the emphasis is clear: tattoos are permanent. It can be harder to obtain jobs, and some people are ridiculed for their ink.
“If you want one, definitely make sure you want it,” Sipes said. “You might regret it, and I know from experience that really sucks.”
Great Falls tattoo artist Jeff Gardipee also believes people should wait a while before getting their first tattoo. He deems tattoos as a luxury, and they should be taken seriously.
“It isn’t like going in to buy a new pair of shoes,” he said. “Shop around. It’s costly and lasts forever,”
“We get a lot of teenagers in here,” he added. “And I personally won’t work on anyone 16 and under.”
Gardipee has been tattooing for eight years, starting after he received his first tattoo gun upon graduation.
“I wanted to be a tattoo artist ever since I was in high school,” he said. “My mom gave me my first gun for a graduation present.”
Portraits and Tribal body art are some of Gardipee’s specialties, but he considers himself a well-rounded artist.  A piece of his work was featured in an international tattoo magazine.
Gardipee advises that persons interested in getting tattoos should take the process seriously.
“Know what you’re getting into, cause it’s gunna hurt.”