Editor’s note: This Community Voice was one of numerous entries in our recently concluded Emerging Writers Contest.

I open a text message from my friend, revealing the picture of a well-known celebrity, famous for his good looks and strong, superhero-esque physique. His shirt is off, his body turned away from the camera, a massive yellow, blue, and green fire-breathing dragon stares me down, etched onto the entirety of the Hollywood hunk’s muscular back.

Her text reads, “And this is why I would never date him.”

The popularity of tattoos has risen steadily in the U.S. over the past few decades. With roots in Polynesian traditions, body art in the form of tattoo has become the norm among the American masses. In fact, a 2017 Pew Research Center study found almost 40 percent of people born in 1980 or later having one or more tattoos on their bodies.

In Hawaii in particular we see tattoos of all styles on people of all ages and genders. Some of these are traditionally Hawaiian, Tahitian, or Maori, and depict traditional imagery of the Kumulipo, family lore, or coat of arms-type clan symbolism. Others, however, are remnants of a bygone era in one’s life (an ex’s name), a symbol of a decade’s fad (barbed wire around the upper arm), a bad idea turned worse (a great example: Johnny Depp’s turn from “Winona Forever” to “Wino Forever”), or nothing of much significance whatsoever (ex: my inner wrist heart tattoo).

Tattoo you.

Flickr: Naughty Bear

From the name of an ex-lover to permanent reminder of a drunken bachelorette trip, tattoos are often infamously regrettable. This is seen in American pop culture lore — from books like “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson; Amy Schumer’s memoir spoofing the title, “The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo,” and blockbusters such as “We’re the Millers,” which references a neck tat that reads “No ragrets” to which Jason Sudeikis’ character responds, “Really? Not even a letter?”

Despite the bad rep, we continue to ink our bodies.

Though a 2014 study by Inked Magazine shows Hawaii as not even making the Top 15 list of most parlors per U.S. square mile — cities such as Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Portland, and, ranking number one on the list, The Big Apple itself, — we nonetheless have 1,733 licensed tattoo artists with 153 registered parlors on Oahu, 26 on Kauai, 45 on Maui and Molokai, and 34 on Hawaii Island.

Tourists, however, are loving commemorating their Hawaiian vacation with a tat-to-go. In 2016, Nordic Business Insider found Honolulu came in 15th in an international poll, with 60 percent of tattoos purchased by tourists getting inked in town. Other Polynesian locales with a strong cultural tradition of tattoo made the list as well including Samoa (fourth), Tahiti (fifth), and New Zealand (second only to Indonesia).

Interestingly, however, Yelp shows only 44 tattoo removal shops in the island chain, 29 of which are listed as moderate to pricey. Income from laser tattoo removal is based on session and/or square inches of tattooed area and costs upwards $50 per tat. Often effective tattoo removal requires multiple visits and typically take place in a medical-style facility.

Tattoos Increasingly Common

Speaking from personal experience, my simple, shape-traced $60 wrist tat (yes, a product of my generation completely and, yes, I have seen others with the exact same tattoo) has cost me $150 in removal services (three treatments thus far) and still remains clearly visible.

While both the inking and removal industries can be lucrative, one feeding the other, tattooing is more common and has more patrons so is, therefore, a more income producing industry.

Clearly, the rate of tattooing is increasingly common. Even Honolulu Magazine ranks a “Best Tattoo Artist” in their annual Best of Hawaii issue. Reasons for getting a new tattoo range from the commemoration of a loved one or place (“808”) to personal reminders (“Breathe”) to one’s own name (a favorite of mine is Kauai-born pro surfer Danny who got his surname — “Fuller” — tattooed across his stomach). I have even seen messages to others, including one while waiting in line at the bank that read “Do Not Resuscitate” scrawled on a bicep.

Almost 40 percent of people born in 1980 or later having one or more tattoos on their bodies.

Unlike the 45 states that have laws on the books preventing minors from getting tattoos until they are of age, with parental consent, minors (under 18) in the state of Hawaii are able to get a tattoo at any age.

I have seen collar bone tattoos and neck tattoos on boys as young as twelve. On the opposite end of life, my own grandmother went into a tattoo parlor with a group of her friends, all 86 years old plus, and got inked simply to check it off their life’s bucket list. (My grandmother got her favorite animal — a hummingbird — on her inner ankle.)

The bottom line is, tattoos in Hawaii and elsewhere in the world are a thing of popular modern culture. And while they stem from tradition, they have been reappropriated by the masses and the cultural significance has evolved, carrying a novel and different meaning or meanings. Tattoos are not going anywhere; even when you want them off, they are slow to leave.

So, whether you are of the masses who have an inked body part or not, appreciate the literal bodies of art on daily display at the grocery store, beach, restaurant, bank, just about everywhere … and reflect on Polynesia making its mark on the world of pop culture — regardless of how horrendously regrettable the tattoo may be.

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