Stories in Ink

According to the Pew Research Center, over 36% of Americans aged 18-25 have at least one tattoo. At Whitman, getting a tattoo has become a right of passage for many. Students tell why they chose to participate in the trend and share with The Pioneer how their body art is more than skin deep. 

Sarah Herron

Sophomore Sarah Herron’s tattoo of the Big Dipper constellation reminds her of her roots, where she came from, and her home in the Seattle area.

“So I got the tattoo done to remind me of my home, family, and the infinite influence of the universe. It was incredibly cheesy – but that constellation is always in the night sky at any time of year at my childhood home, so it is a continual reminder to stay grounded in the things that matter.”

Maxx Borges

For sophomore Maxx Borges, tattoos are little works of art that can symbolize hope and act to keep their meaning fresh in the wearer’s mind. Borges’s way of splurging on himself is adding to his tattoo collection.

“The one I have is of a triskele, a Celtic knot symbol that stands for balance of the body, mind and soul. It has the transgender symbol superimposed on it. I’m trans and the tattoo is a reminder that I can balance the difference in my mind, body and soul.”

Miguel Arneson

Miguel Arneson Tattoo 1 WEB
Photo by Madaline Stevens.

Miguel, a sophomore, has two tattoos: a sunflower on one of his shoulders and a frog on the other. Instead of speaking about the sunflower tattoo’s meaning, Sophomore Miguel Arneson explained the story of how he got it. For Arneson, the tattoo’s story becomes its meaning. He added that the frog tattoo on his shoulder not only holds significant memories, but it also improves his bro-tank game.

“And I saw this guy climbing, and he had a tattoo of a sunflower on his elbow, and I thought that was really cool. And I thought about what a sunflower might mean and I was pretty satisfied if someone really asked, ‘What does that mean?’ I’d have an answer for them.”

Meredith Ruff

Senior Meredith Ruff’s rat tattoo, although unconventional, holds sentimental value and marks the bond she and her sister have.

“We got them on a whim when I was visiting her because we like rats, and earlier that year, a family of rats moved in to my backyard and built a tunnel, and we named them. We wanted to be cool too, not a lot of people have rat tattoos.”

Madeline Gyongyosi

Maddy, a sophomore, has two tattoos, one is a Zia symbol on her forearm, and the second is a monochrome purple skull on her thigh featuring mandala-like designs in the face. Her tattoos remind her of her hometown in New Mexico.

“The Zia Symbol was something I had wanted to get before leaving home. I’m from New Mexico and the State Flag has a Zia Symbol on it and I wanted to have something to remind me of my home town. I also like the meaning within the Zia Symbol: The four directions: North, East, South and West; the four stages of life; the four seasons and the four times of day. One of my friends and I heard that this tattoo parlor was having a sale on these specific tattoos for 20 dollars, so we seized the opportunity and got ourselves some cheap tattoos (they look like we paid about 20 dollars for them).

The skull on my thigh was a little more planned out. I had been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes earlier that year and I wanted to have something that reminded me of life and how we are all stamped with the promise of death. I wanted to make sure that I live a long and healthy life, and the skull, in a way, symbolizes that for me. Along with that, the skull is another symbol that reminds me of home. Getting the tattoo, I didn’t really have any picture in my head of what I wanted it to look like, so I let the artist take control over the design of the tattoo. It was a really great experience.”

Luke Targett

For sophomore Luke Targett, his tattoos distinguish him from the rest of his friends, making him the “tattoo guy.” And while this labeling is not inherently harmful, the nickname itself separates Targett in a way that constantly reminds him of the controversy over tattoos.

“I think that how permanent tattoos are freaks a lot of people out…All I can really say is that I got them for myself and the ideas that I hold dear.”

Ally Knivila

Ally Knivila TattooWEB
Photo by Madaline Stevens.

Sophomore Allison Knivila has a single tattoo of the Giving Tree which represents more than one significant meaning to her.

“It’s a tattoo based on ‘The Giving Tree’ by Shel Silverstein. The tattoo has multiple levels of meaning for me. I had a psychedelic experience with a tree, and ever since then I’ve felt connected to trees. It has an
environmental message of not abusing natural resources, as well as reminding me to not give everything you have to another but rather value the importance of yourself. I adapted the Shel Silverstein illustration and drew my own version by hand which is in itself significant.”

Nick Wechter

Senior Nick Wechter’s only tattoo is a black stick-and-poke of the number “12.” His tattoo is in his armpit and is about the size of a quarter. Stick-and-poke tattoos are made by hand by using a sharp object to poke small holes into the skin in order to hold ink without the use of a professional tattoo gun.

Kenzie Spooner Tattoo 3WEB
Photo by Madaline Stevens.

“I got it with a bunch of other people who like the number 12.”

Kenzie Spooner

Sophomore Kenzie Spooner got her first tattoo done by Annelisa Ochoaat at Two Birds Tattoo last month
in Seattle. The design is a minimalistic line that curves down her spine.

“It’s a meandering river, and I got it because it represents change and stories and the natural world that I’m a part of. It doesn’t necessarily serve a purpose, I just love the meaning and the way it looks.”

Jackson Somerville

Jackson, a senior, has two tattoos: one is a line drawing of a bison on his forearm and the other is a portrait of Mt. Hood on his bicep.

“I’ve had a fascination with bison since I was really little. My whole family loves them. We’d drive through these pretty big herds of bison when we went camping in Montana every summer when I was a kid. It’s sort of like a family crest for us.

I decided to get Mt. Hood because I grew up hiking and snowboarding on the mountain. It is drawn as if you’re looking at it from Portland, so it’s the same perspective of the mountain that I’d see almost every day. I was out of the country for a lot of last year and when I came back I decided to get something that I associate with where I’m from and what I care about. And I know it sounds basic, but it holds a really special place in my heart.”

“I would also like to add that while lots of people (myself included–usually) are totally down to share the story behind their tattoos, it can easily feel like an invasive question to some people, even though it’s arguably not a private thing because it’s out there on your skin for everyone to see. But some people get tattoos that they really don’t want to talk about with just anyone. So it’s important to use your judgement on that one! Like I worked at a really fast-paced restaurant and found it pretty bothersome and kind of rude the way total strangers felt like they were entitled to the entire story behind my tattoos and all the time it took to tell it.”