BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Tattoos have exploded in popularity across the country in the last few years, including in Alabama. One in three Americans now has at least one tattoo, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center.
From celebrities to athletes to Popeye, the movers and shakers of society have long sported tattoos. But as more Americans than ever are getting inked up, Birmingham is abuzz with the growing tattoo trend.
“About 70 percent [of my body is] covered,” said Bryan Haynes, owner of Classic 13 Tattoo near downtown Birmingham. “I’ve tattooed literally from construction workers to doctors, lawyers, every profession you can think of.”
For the ones slinging the ink, tattooing is an art form — just with skin as their canvas. Haynes said more people across Alabama are trying them out for the first time.
“[The Birmingham tattoo community] is a very big community. You have multiple colleges with a new influx of kids coming in. Our adult clientele, which are the 40-year-old, 50-year-old parents, are getting their first tattoos finally,” Haynes said.
Per the Pew survey, tattoos are still most popular among ages 30 to 49-year-olds.
Haynes revealed clients come in for everything from the meaningful, such as faith-based tattoos or signatures of loved ones who’ve passed, to things that make you wonder, like a picture of Patrick Bateman’s bloody, maniacal grin from “American Psycho.”
An image can take hours, weeks or months to finish, depending on the complexity, and everyone admits: yes, it hurts.
“Once you get that first one, it gets a little easier,” said Lana Ashlyn, tattoo artist at Classic 13.
“Tattoos are a lot less painful than I thought they would be,” said Michelle Wolford, who got a tattoo of a lemon branch from Ashlyn.
“Oh, it hurts. It never stops,” said Danny Fugate, organizer of the Birmingham Tattoo Convention and a tattoo artist who tattoos himself and has 80 percent of his body covered.
October’s third annual Birmingham Tattoo Convention brought in hundreds of ink masters and enthusiasts from around the country and the world, including Cat Flanigan, an artist from Ink Rush Tattoo in Carrolltown, GA.
“It’s definitely impressive the amount of people who just love tattoos [here],” Flanigan said while getting a tattoo of vampire fangs.
For many, the process is a cathartic form of self-expression.
“You only feel the pain of it once, and then you get to live with that tattoo and admire that tattoo for the rest of your life,” Flanigan said.
“You’re sitting here talking about, ‘Oh man, dude, I had a bad day. This one is for my mom, this one is for my dad,'” said Frank Rubalcava with Grand Avenue Tattoo in Phoenix, AZ.
But is this self-expression safe? Dr. Evans Bailey, the medical director of Naaman Clinic Dermatology, weighed in.
“Tattoo delivery is an invasive procedure, so just like any other invasive procedure, it needs to have some safeguards. If done correctly, tattoos can be safe,” Bailey said.
A tattoo done by a non-professional could lead to an allergic reaction or severe infection. Plus if you do want it removed, it can be painful, even with an anesthetic, and expensive.
Some colors like green, yellow or white are harder to remove.
“I tell folks, a licensed parlor, making sure you have a professional who does this, as well as maybe your first tattoo, start off with something simple without a lot of colors,” Bailey said.
Some parlors, like Classic 13, are working on getting their own tattoo removal equipment one day.
As for this most recent push in popularity, tattoo artists said it’s because the “antiquated” stigma and stereotypes surrounding their work are fading away.
“We’re all pretty much married or got kids or in long-term relationships … I used to be a pee wee football coach,” Haynes joked.
“This beautiful ancient art form used to be viewed as something for sailors and degenerates, and now, it’s more welcoming, more inclusive and more for everyone,” said Damien Lasseter, tattoo artist at Ink Rush Tattoo.
Lasseter also offered one final thought if you’re still on the fence.
“I’m way cheaper than therapy, and I’m way healthier than pills,” Lasseter shrugged.