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The Tattoo Journey From Taboo to Trendy

Tattoos, once regarded by the general public as unprofessional, have recently hit the mainstream. Jason Glass, a business owner, said he works with 22-year-olds with face tattoos, a feat once unimaginable to him.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, tattoos are not a new aspect of culture. They have been around for thousands of years, holding varying significance throughout the world. 

Glass, who is 52 years old, got his first tattoo in 1992 when he was 20 and has continued to get them ever since.

“Both my arms are full and my chest,” Glass said. 

In the relatively short amount of time since 1992, tattoos have become more accepted and the general opinion surrounding them seems more positive, but this was not the case when Glass went for his first one.

“I had an idea of what I wanted. It was very different back then, because if you wanted a tattoo you’re either gonna have to go to a tattoo shop that caters to people in the military or a biker tattoo shop,” Glass said.

He got his first tattoo, a music-related piece, in Kansas City, Missouri, from a tattoo shop that was full of bikers.

Glass grew up in the punk rock movement, surrounded by music and friends that he said were on the outlawed fringe of society. This is one of the reasons he wanted tattoos.

“My heroes were always delinquents, and so I was like, ‘I want to be that too,’” Glass said. 

By 1995, Glass knew that he was considered very heavily tattooed. He worked in places that would make him wear long-sleeved shirts to cover up the tattoos.

Now a successful hairstylist and owner of Cha Cha’s Salon on South Upper Street in Lexington, Kentucky, Glass recognizes that there was once a time when clients would turn down haircuts from him just because of his tattoos.

“Back then there was no social media. They didn’t know what I looked like. So, when I would walk up front to meet a client they would just pick up their purse and leave,” Glass said. “Now I think it’s a law, if you do hair you have to be tattooed.”

Glass also noted a shift in attitudes surrounding tattoos outside of the salon space, observing how fast everything seemed to change.

“It is weird when, like, my primary physician has a full sleeve of tattoos. I never thought that would happen,” Glass said.

Beyond being accepted in more walks of life, Glass thinks tattoos are becoming more mainstream because people are starting to view tattoo artists as true artists, tattooing because they care and not just because they can.

One such artist is Alexandra Carusiello. She works at White Dog Tattoo in Georgetown, Kentucky, and has been tattooing for 13 years.

“I love doing my own original artwork. It feels really comfortable when I tattoo it,” Carusiello said. “I also really enjoy pushing myself artistically.”

“It’s fun to … once it heals and seeing the colors settled that you can actually go back in as if it’s like a painting,” Carusiello said. “You can, you know, build the colors in a way.”

As an artist, Carusiello has her own voice and style. She tattoos her own designs but also works with customers who send her their drawings and ideas. She and the customer go back and forth until they have reached a design that the customer is ready to commit to.

Carusiello believes her style of tattooing to be illustrative.

“I don’t really do a lot of realism, but I like to try to tap into bits of realism. I like fine line, black and gray, and I love tattooing, like, neo-traditional or American traditional,” Carusiello said. 

She got her first tattoo at a fairly young age, and they have been a part of her life ever since.

“I grew up in a small town and I really wanted to get tattooed, and we had one darn shop in that town and that’s where I went, and I was 16,” Carusiello said.

Her first tattoo was a peace dove on the back of her neck. She said that she knew she wanted the dove after seeing a friend get a similar one.

Carusiello said that she has always been into a more “alternative” lifestyle. Having tattoos gave her a way to express that.

“I feel like in the moment in time, maybe it was capturing a feeling or it made me feel just like cool and good about myself,” Carusiello said.

Despite growing up in an environment where her tattoos were accepted, Carusiello said she has faced certain disadvantages because of them. She said that she once worked at a restaurant that laid off all of the employees with visible tattoos.

Carusiello sees a lot of clients in her position. They are all different kinds of people, proving that the medium is no longer restricted to bikers or people in the military.

“I have a lot of different clients, it’s kind of wild,” Carusiello said. “I have a lot of awesome women that I tattoo: older women, people who are just getting their first ones, so many moms and daughters, so many random normal dudes that just work hard and come and get some cool tattoos by me.”

She also has experience tattooing older people, sometimes as old as 85. 

“I have seen an older guy at my last job get a lot of tattoos from like 60 to almost like mid-70s and they were really vibrant. So it was kind of cool to see them age from a more older standpoint, but he had other tattoos that still looked really really cool that were from his 30s,” Carusiello said.

Carusiello said she’s not bothered about what may happen to the appearance of her tattoos as she continues to age.

“Your tattoos, no matter what age you get them, they are just going to age with you. It is what it is,” Carusiello said. 

She said that she owns it because her tattoos have just become a part of her body. 

Glass also weighed in on the subject, noting that as people get older they just do not care.

“I think we live in a day and age where you can kind of do whatever you want and you’ll be OK,” Glass said.

Beyond her title as a tattoo artist, Carusiello feels as though it is her job to create a safe space for creativity.

“I just feel like tattoos should always just be definitely not frowned upon. Unless you’re really getting something that's hateful or racist or weird,” Carusiello said. “Don’t be weird, get cool tattoos.”


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