Tattoos once were viewed in a negative light in the United States. Individuals with tattoos often were judged as living outside a certain set of morals.



Arkansas City resident Paula Plush recalls tattoos as a taboo during her childhood.

“In my family, if your ears were pierced, you were considered to be a bad girl,” she said.

“(In) the 1950s, tattooing had an established place in Western culture, but was generally viewed with disdain by the higher reaches of society,” according to

“Back alley and boardwalk tattoo parlors continued to do brisk business with sailors and soldiers. But they often refused to tattoo women unless they were 21, married and accompanied by their spouse, to spare tattoo artists the wrath of a father, boyfriend or unwitting husband.”

“People now get tattoos that mean something to them, where it used to be the convicts and the sailors that had the tattoos — and the bikers — it was kind of the ‘bad element,’” said Skinsations owner and artist Mike Shea.

“When I was young, only servicemen and bad boys had tattoos — never women,” said Sue Lancaster.

Modern perceptions

While there are some people who still view tattoos in a negative light, the vast majority of people seem to have accepted the sight of tattoos as less rebellious.

“(I) Love the artwork of today,” Lancaster said.

“They used to be taboo, had to have them covered up at work. Now it’s common to see them in all kinds of workplaces,” said Evelyn Shoup. “Still, there are many who do not like them, would never get one and can’t figure out why someone would do that to their skin.”

Shoup said she never would get a tattoo, but she is not for or against others having them.

She also said she thinks it is extreme to be covered by tattoos. “It’s a personal choice, as to the reason for it, and the tattoo chosen,” Shoup observed.

Arkansas City Public Library Director Mendy Pfannenstiel shared her thoughts on the subject, as well.

“They’re increasingly becoming a form of self-expression or fashion statement. They’ve gone from taboo to mainstream, and I think it’s due a lot to celebrities and social media portrayal,” she said.

“I’m not sure if it’s truly a mainstream practice or just a fad, or a result of more liberal and expressive views among millennials. Maybe it’s a combination.”

“Tattoos do not bother me at all. I can’t really judge someone about a tattoo. Some of the most tatted-up, mean-looking folks can be the nicest people,” said Arkansas City native Kevin Scruggs.

Job limitations

As tattoos become more mainstream, more companies’ dress codes have changed to allow visible tattoos.

However, some choose a different approach, such as making it acceptable to have tattoos, but only if they are not visible during work hours.

South Central Kansas Medical Center has a policy that states “jewelry and body art must be appropriate for a professional environment. Offensive or hostile (content) must be covered.”

The City of Arkansas City has no policy that pertains directly to tattoos, but the Arkansas City Police Department does have a recent policy.

The policy states “applicants with tattoos, brands and piercings that are visible will be approved or denied upon inspection by the Police Chief.”

Professional views

“Being in the Bible Belt, I think it’s still a concern for the elderly — they still kind of look down on it a bit,” Shea said.

Shea has owned the Skinsations tattoo parlor for 23 years. When it opened, business was so slow he lived out of his van and only commuted home once a week.

In other societies, tattoos have different meanings, such as in the native Hawaiian culture.

“In Hawaii, you can look at tattoos and see who’s wealthy,” Shea said. “It’s become more and more of an expression.”

Shea said he can understand if some places of business choose not to hire people with visible tattoos.

But he said the overall perception of tattoos has changed.

“Even since I’ve been in (the industry), it’s changed,” he said. “It’s become more about the artwork.”