UF study decodes tattoos, piercings

Tattoo artist Rob Barnes applies ink to the left ankle of UF soil and water science graduate student Sarah Chinault at Body Tech in Gainesville. Chinault, 23, already has 17 tattoos and more than 30 piercings. This new addition has the words "powered by tofu" and shows a smiling block of bean curd.

LISA BALTOZER/Special to The Sun
Published: Wednesday, December 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 1, 2004 at 12:30 a.m.
Young women are much more likely to go for a belly-button or tongue stud, while men opt more often for tribal tats on the biceps or back in what has become a coming-of-age ritual visit to the tattoo and piercing parlor for many college students, a University of Florida study shows.
The growing number of tattoos and piercings in today's world signifies a major shift in the growing acceptance of such body-altering behavior, said Eric Storch, an assistant professor of pediatrics and psychiatry, who surveyed 280 UF students. The stereotypes surrounding body art have shifted, too.
"Fifty years ago the only people with tattoos were military and roughnecks. That was the norm back then, and you probably would make some interpretation of who that person was," Storch said.
"Now, some people with regular frequency would have some body modifications," he said. "Roughneck is not applicable any longer."
But the reasons behind a butterfly inked in on a bikini line or an eyebrow ring can differ significantly for those who get them.
Thrill-seeking young people - those apt to jump out of an airplane, for example - are probable candidates for body piercings and tattoos. Others trying to work through some traumatic life experience tend to have multiple piercings, the survey shows.
Storch sought to obtain the associations between people's personality and their likelihood to obtain some body modification such as a tattoo or nontraditional piercing.
Nontraditional piercings are those anywhere other than the earlobe such as the eyebrows, nose, lips, tongue, chin, nipples, navel and genitals.
The link between sensation-seeking behavior and tattoos and body piercings, Storch said, wasn't a total surprise. But the findings provide a basis for potential counseling opportunities to ensure young people know exactly what they are getting into, he said.
"Why I care is that notion of what you do now is what you may regret later," Storch said.
A tattoo of a mouse on a young woman's bikini line, for example, might not be so neat when she is nine months pregnant years later.
Storch also found a correlation between young people who had faced an illness, death or other stressful experience and multiple piercings.
"For some people, it's more about the meaning behind the event than the piercing," Storch said.
Interestingly enough, however, stressful experiences were not predictive of the number of tattoos a person gets even though researchers had expected to find a correlation between the two.
The study also showed differences in the choices of tattoos or piercings for men and women.
More than 80 percent of the 160 women studied were pierced and only 20 percent were tattooed. For the men, half were pierced and half tattooed.
Storch said he believes the findings demonstrate societal acceptance of multiple piercings for women over men.
Eric Carlson, a manager at BodyTech, a tattooing and piercing parlor on W. University Avenue, said the findings mesh with what he sees every day. Women are much more likely to enter the shop requesting tongue or naval piercings than for a tattoo.
"Women are more interested in jewelry historically," Carlson said.
"Tattoos are more permanent, and that generally tends to scare people away," he said. "They can't take them out or remove them."
Up at Kaoz on NW 13th Street, piercer Justin Payne said 75 percent to 80 percent of the customers in the past month sought a piercing - and most were for belly-button rings.
"I do so many of them I get tired of it," said Payne, who sports a ring just under his front lip, one on the bottom lip, one beside each eye and two ear lobe expanders, among others.
"Fifteen-year-old girls come in here and want to have it done because all of their friends have it," Payne said.
College-aged men, including many members of UF's football team, such as Channing Crowder, are drawn more to tribal scrawls.
Crowder has a tribal-looking cross on his back.
UF senior Jared Utterback has a bar of tribal writing in the small of his back. The 23-year-old studying food and resource economics said he got the tattoo a little more than three years ago.
"I was not drunk. I was with a friend and thought it would be a neat thing to do," Utterback said. "I was around a crowd of punk rock people."
His friend, Jeff Garcia, a senior in finance and economics, said he plans to get a bull tattooed on his back soon. He said he ran with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, last year.
"It's about time I get the ink," he said.
Janine Young Sikes can be reached at (352) 337-0327 or sikesj@gvillesun.com.LISA BALTOZER/Special to The Sun

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