Designs under the skin, holes in the flesh:
By Emma Williams
When Ben Hernried, ’13, got a tattoo on his right arm this summer, his mother cried. His father was angry and sad. His brother was disappointed.
But none of them were surprised.
“I believe tattoos are art,” Hernried said. “It’s cool to have a meaningful piece of art on your body.”
Hernried has wanted a tattoo since his sophomore year, but only just settled on the design—a pine tree with the initials of his biological family as the roots—during the summer.
“I’ve always liked the idea of how evergreen trees have an infinite lifespan,” Hernried said. “Pine trees don’t shed; they remain green. It’s a reminder of the longevity of my family bonds.”
Despite Hernried’s conviction that he wanted a tattoo, he was still apprehensive about the commitment and process of getting one.
“I was really nervous,” Hernried said. “What happens if it looks bad, if (the artist) doesn’t do a good job? How much will it hurt?”
Hernried’s fears came only partly true. While the inking was extremely painful, he said he has not yet regretted getting the tattoo, and is even considering getting more.
“I love having a tattoo,” Hernried said. “I might add two more trees representing my stepfamilies. I’m thinking (of getting them done) either during Spring Break or next summer.”
Those new ones won’t make his family happy, either.
“That whole idea of getting a permanent marking was pretty devastating (for my parents),” Hernried said.
Freshman Daniel Hernried was also unsettled by his brother’s tattoo. “When I saw it, I was like ‘Good God! What is this?’” he said. “It was weird to see him grow up so quick.”
Hernried’s father, John, agrees, but realizes that the decision was his son’s to make.
“I was both a little sad and a little angry with him,” Mr. Hernried said. “On the other end, I knew it was his decision. It caused me to think about why I was sad and angry.”
Mr. Hernried cited generational differences as the reason for his anger.
“When I grew up, tattoos had a different meaning,” he said. “The people I saw with tattoos came from prison. I just have to get over it.”
Nicole Glaser, the mother of sophomore Elie Kuppermann and senior Maya Kuppermann, said that, while generational differences play a part in her disapproval of tattoos, it doesn’t change her view on her daughters’ getting tattoos.
“People of my generation will be interviewing (the younger generation) for future jobs, colleges or graduate schools,” Glaser said. “So it really does pay to care what we think. Most people in my generation still associate tattoos with a lot of negative stereotypes.”
And a lot of parents have had to deal with those stereotypes since 45 million Americans have at least one tattoo, according to statisticbrain.com. Of those, 36 percent are aged 18-25.
Mr. Hernried’s biggest concern for his son is that he will regret the tattoo—a well-founded concern considering 17 percent of Americans with tattoos experience some sort of regret.
In fact, Hernried’s parents offered him $300 to wait four years, according to Daniel. But he decided to forgo the money.
However, Hernried says he doesn’t think he will ever end up regretting his tattoo. “I made sure to pick a design that I would cherish for a long time and that truly spoke to me as an individual,” he said.
On the other hand, Annie Bell, ’13, who wants to get a small elephant inked on her shoulder blade in the next few years, says that her mother is most supportive.
“So far I like the idea she has shared with me and that she is going to wait until she is sure,” said Ev Profita, Bell’s mother.
In fact, Bell was first exposed to tattooing when Profita got her own tattoo in 2010. Profita’s tattoo is Bell’s name in Chinese characters and is placed on her shoulder.
“In my case it is a tribute to her,” Profita said.
Similarly, Bell, who was adopted from China at four months old, wants her tattoo to be a tribute to her mother, whose favorite animal is an elephant.
“I want it to symbolize my mom being with me even after I’m in college,” Bell said.
Bell, who looked through possible designs with her mother before deciding on the elephant, has been thinking about a tattoo for years.
“A big thing when you’re getting (a tattoo) is not to rush it,” Bell said.
Bell is taking her own advice when thinking about the possibility of even more tattoos in the future.
“I’m definitely open to getting more (tattoos),” Bell said, “but I would have to have good reasons to get them. And I wouldn’t (get them all) in college.”
Dermatologist Suzanne Kilmer said that premature tattooing often ends in regret.
Kilmer, the owner and medical director of The Laser & Skin Surgery Center of Northern California, says that a person’s character can change in the years after getting a tattoo.
“College or just life experiences still dramatically mold who you become,” Kilmer said. “Who you are at 25-30 is often different than your more impulsive teenage version.”
Kilmer said people decide to get their tattoos removed for a variety of reasons, including job and military requirements, not wanting their kids to see it, getting a new boyfriend or girlfriend or allergic reactions to the ink.
Even though no current Country Day students have tattoos, many say they’re considering getting some when they are older.
About a third of high schoolers polled say they will “definitely or maybe” get a tattoo in college.
Dominic Stephen, who wants to get a one next year on his 18th birthday, was the only junior to answer “definitely.”
“All the guys in my family have (tattoos),” Stephen said. “(And) it’s a good way to express what’s important to me.”
Given this, Stephen, who is thinking about getting album artwork on his arms or chest, has the support of his family.
“My brother’s going to go with me; it’ll be a whole family occasion,” said Stephen, whose only concern is how much the procedure will hurt.
Stephen’s parents, however, are in the minority. According to the same poll, 79 percent of freshmen, 72 percent of sophomores, 59 percent of juniors and 70 percent of seniors said that their parents would disapprove of them getting tattoos.
For Glaser, the reason for disapproval is mainly out of concern for her children’s futures.
“I would not want others getting a bad impression on first meeting Maya or Elie,” Glaser said. “When I see someone with a tattoo—particularly in a prominent location—I wonder whether that person is prone to (not) thinking (decisions) through.
“As a physician, I’ve seen how tattoos look on older people. They are not at all attractive once a person starts to have wrinkles. And they are difficult and painful to remove.”
For Stephen, parental approval isn’t a problem, so there is no limit to the number of tattoos he wants to get. “I want to keep getting them until I run out of ideas,” he said.
But for Daniel Hernried, who is afraid of regretting a tattoo in the future, a tattoo is out of the question. If he had been offered $300 by his parents not to get a tattoo, the choice would have been easy.
“If it was me, I would’ve taken the money,” he said.
Do they allow expression?
Working hard sophomore year paid off for junior Lauren Larrabee. After she was on the honor roll throughout the year, Larrabee’s parents allowed her to get a belly button piercing.
While her parents were originally not keen on the idea, they agreed to it on the condition that she kept her grades up for the year.
Larrabee, a competitive swimmer for 10 years, viewed the belly button piercing as part of the swimming culture.
Since she and her teammates spent so much time in nondescript swimsuits, a lot of the girls got belly button piercings to express themselves, Larrabee said.
Larrabee’s mother took her to Stylez in Midtown to get her piercing.
“When I get older and I don’t want my belly button pierced anymore, I can just take it out,” Larrabee said.
Larrabee’s parents are an exception to the general consensus that most other SCDS parents have come to; their children aren’t allowed to get any piercings, except ear piercings, until they go to college.
As a result, almost a third of high-school students polled by the Octagon say they plan to get piercings in college because their parents will not give their assent in high school.
Sophomore Elie Kuppermann wants a nose piercing when she goes to college. She has to wait until then because her mother does not approve of any piercings besides the ear.
“I don’t like the look of it,” Kuppermann’s mother Nicole Glaser said. “For example, with a nose piercing, if something goes wrong, you can end up with a scar in a really bad place.”
Sophomore Dakota Cosgrove plans on getting her nose pierced in college.
Cosgrove is a big fan of piercings. She loves the way they look, she said.
Initially, Cosgrove’s mother did not approve of anything besides the traditional one piercing in each ear.
So Cosgrove turned her piercings into gauges (a large hole in the earlobe that is made by stretching the skin around a traditional piercing). She did it by starting with very small gauges, and gradually switching to larger ones. This process took three to four months. In addition, she pierced her own doubles (piercings above the traditional ear piercings on the earlobe).
Cosgrove also got a belly button piercing with the permission of her mother.
Many parents seem more relaxed with ear piercings, even multiple ones.
It took very little coercing for junior Clare Fina to convince her mother to allow her to get doubles and a cartilage piercing (a single hole in one ear on the cartilage).
“I’ve been thoroughly flexible about the ears because if (Clare) decides she doesn’t like them, they close up pretty easily,” Fina’s mother Terri Kennedy said.
But the extra holes can be painful. After getting her cartilage pierced, Fina was unable to sleep on the ear that was pierced for a few months.
Even so, she said she wants another set of piercings above her doubles within the next few months.
Freshman Isabelle Leavy’s mother, Elizabeth, agrees with Fina’s mother, allowing her daughter to have only ear piercings.
“All other piercings seem really unhygienic to me even though a lot of people have them,” Elizabeth said. “I find it really distracting when I am talking to someone and they have a tongue piercing.”
Freshman Anny Schmidt’s mother also draws the line at tongue piercings, which she finds “strange.”
However, this has not been a problem because Schmidt wants to pierce only her ears.
Schmidt got her first piercings when she was 8 years old. When Schmidt approached her family with her request to pierce her ears, her grandmother agreed that she should be allowed and persuaded her mother to allow it.
Her mother agreed on the condition that she practiced her violin every week for a couple months.
Schmidt’s parents also consented to a second piercing on her left ear if she paid for it herself.
Other parents are not as open to their children getting more than the traditional single hole in each earlobe.
Junior Melissa Vazquez has wanted doubles since she was 11 years old. Vazquez has tried pleading with her mother to no avail.
Vazquez had her ears pierced by the pediatrician when she was two days old because it is part of Vazquez’s Cuban culture to ornament a baby in some way.
“I am afraid that any other piercings will lead to more and more and there will never be an end to it,” Vazquez’s mom Ana said. “The idea of making so many holes in your body is not agreeable to me.”
Ana has the traditional one-hole piercings in her ears but has never gotten any others.
Vazquez’s father, Toni, on the other hand, does not have a problem with her getting doubles.
“I think what people want to do with their bodies is their personal decision,” he said.
Vazquez said she plans on getting doubles when she goes to college—unless she manages to convince her mother before then.
Amongst Country Day parents, a major concern is that the piercings will be distracting or give the wrong impression of their children.
Parents also want their children to seriously consider the effects of getting a piercing because they do not want them to regret it later in life.