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'Injected in my skin': What tattoos mean to UK students

"Some people like to hang art on their walls, and I just get it injected in my skin."

- Evan Lenzen, psychology and Russian language senior

Here are six UK students who express themselves through the ink on their skin.

Cheyanne Cunningham, Communications senior

Cheyanne Cunningham’s arm is like a road map— a floral road map.

The tattoo that covers much of her right upper arm is a hybrid of flowers, with each type of flower representing a state that she has lived in.

“I was just like, ‘I really want a flower tattoo,’” Cunningham said. “And I was trying to think of something so it wasn’t just random flowers, then I came up with the state flower idea.

Cunningham’s dad was in the military, so their family moved a lot. On her arm, she has flowers for each state: a hibiscus for Hawaii, where she was born; a columbine for Colorado; the orange blossom for Florida; an apple blossom for Arkansas; a poppy for California; and dogwood for Virginia.

She has one other tattoo, a sea turtle on her ribs. Her mom made her wait a year before she could get it, to make sure she would still like the design after that long.

Cunningham said she has not yet decided if she’ll add Kentucky’s goldenrod to her arm.

“Maybe after I graduate I’ll decide,” she said.

Kylie Mcfee, Dietetics senior

When Kylie Mcfee was 18, she got a matching tattoo with her mother and brother.

Her brother is covered in tattoos, but her mom is more reserved, so it was her and her daughter’s first tattoo.

“It was just kind of an experience that we wanted to do together,” Mcfee said.

The tattoo, which is on Mcfee’s foot and says “ohana,” which means family, in her mother’s handwriting, is one of three tattoos on Mcfee’s body.

Her second is a bird on her side, with the national eating disorder symbol in the wings. Mcfee battled bulimia in high school, and when she got to college, she reached a milestone: one year since relapsing.

“So it was something that I really wanted to commemorate,” she said.

Her third tattoo, which she said is her favorite and the one she researched the most, is script down her spine that says, “daughter of the King,” which represents her faith.

Mcfee said she definitely plans to get more tattoos.

Jordan Bradt, English junior

When most people like a TV show or movie, they might add it to their favorites list on a streaming service.

Jordan Bradt prefers to tattoo references to her favorite pop culture on her skin.

Among her nine tattoos, several of them reference TV shows or movies, especially anime.

Bradt said pop culture and media designates what she likes because “it’s just always been with me.”

“You get so tangled up in it,” she said.

When she was 18, she and her boyfriend got matching tattoos, references to one of their favorite anime shows. She’s still with the boyfriend, but even if something goes wrong there, she’ll still like the show, she said.

She has a Ralph Steadman piece on her back. She has a VHS tape with the movie title, “Akira”— and she has a real-life VHS collection.

On the back of her arm, she has a scene, which she designed herself, from “Donnie Darko,” another of her favorite movies. She said she has plenty of ideas for more tattoos she wants; it’s just a matter of what she decides to get next.

Alexis Morris, Marketing and management senior

Alexis Morris figured her dad couldn’t say no to her getting a tattoo.

She was 16 and he had already signed off on her getting one tattoo— double X’s on her left wrist. Just a few months later, she asked him if she could get another, this one of her mom’s signature, above her heart.

Just as she expected, her dad said yes and again drove her to a tattoo parlor.

Morris’s mother had passed away years earlier from cancer, when Morris was 11. Now, above her heart, she has the words "Love always Mom."

Those are the only two tattoos that Morris got before she turned 18– “I knew I was kind of pushing my luck a little bit,” she said. But now she has seven total.

She said she tends to go in spurts, getting one or two tattoos at a time, then taking a break. She said she thinks she already has her next two or three planned, but that might change.

“I always have like a million in my head,” she said.

Lynn Bowden Jr., Community and leadership development junior

With 72 tattoos, it might seem like a hard task to choose just one favorite, but Lynn Bowden Jr. has a definite answer: the bricks with hearts in them on his neck.

Those bricks and hearts represent his home on Superior Street in Youngstown, Ohio.

“Our road is straight brick up and down,” he said. “I love that place.”

The first of the 72 was inked onto Bowden’s skin when he was almost 14. It was his initials, LB, on the back of his arm.

“I just wanted a tat,” he said. “I was kind of thirsty. My older brother, he had just gotten one. I’m like, I need to go get one now.”

Bowden said he normally gets tattoos of whatever comes in his head. Sometimes it’ll have meaning; sometimes it’s just what he wants.

He knows what he wants next, and he said he’s “long overdue” to get it: the number 1 with flames around it. He wears the number 1 as a wide receiver for the UK football team. He said he’ll probably get that one done the next time he goes home, maybe on a bye week.

Evan Lenzen, Psychology and Russian language senior

The robin on Evan Lenzen’s chest represents his sister, Robin.

He got it when he was 18, fresh out of basic training. Earlier, Robin had gotten a tattoo in his honor, so it was his turn to return the gesture.

It was his first tattoo, and now he has somewhere around 15– but it’s hard to count, because he has big pieces that sort of run together.

“My mom told me that I never wanted to get tattoos when I was younger,” Lenzen said. “I don’t remember that, but apparently I said that.”

Lenzen said he’ll think of a tattoo idea, and if he still likes it six or seven months later, he’ll go get it. He also needs that time to forget how much they hurt, he said.

“Some people like to hang art on their walls, and I just get it injected in my skin,” he said. “Which is weird,” he added.

Lenzen said he’s not necessarily planning on covering his whole body, though he does plan to get more. But space on his body is becoming somewhat limited.

“It’s kind of narrowing down the possibilities a little bit,” he said.

All photos by: Michael Clubb


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