Editorial: Are stick ‘n poke tattoos good or bad?

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Senior Hailey Elson's stick 'n poke tattoos. "They're over a year old," she added. Photo by Hailey Elson

Juliana Jacobson

Results of The Cougar Press’ Instagram poll, featuring stick ‘n pokes on the hand of a student. Photo by: Juliana Jacobson

Stick ‘n pokes are an easy access opportunity for teens to get tattoos before they’re legally allowed to walk into a small dark shop and make some bad decisions. At Ventura High School, these cheap, self-made tattoos are becoming increasingly popular.

A poll determined that 35 percent of VHS students who voted feel that stick ‘n pokes are a “bad idea,” while 65 percent of students who voted consider them “cool.” People see them as bad for a number of reasons: they’re semi-permanent–but no one really can tell how long they’ll last, they can easily become infected, and as junior Bailey Welch said, “Sometimes people pick really stupid designs.”

While some might see this as an utterly irresponsible way to mark up the body, junior Mia Collins, who dubbed this method “the original way,” asked that they consider the historic origins of tattoos: “It’s something that’s been done for thousands of years, and lots of cultures use it as intricate, meaningful methods of self-expression, and I don’t think it really needs to be any different now than it was back then.”

What makes stick ‘n pokes similar to tattoos from the old days is mainly method. Self-made tattoos today are crafted with a needle, India ink, and sometimes a pen and some thread…and hours of tedious stabbing, while an article in Smithsonian noted, “small bronze implements identified as tattooing tools were discovered at the town site of Gurob in northern Egypt and dated to c. 1450 B.C.”

Junior Mia Collins’ self-made tattoo. “I got it last summer at Brown [University] with my friends.” Photo: by Mia Collins
Senior Hailey Elson, upon displaying her tattoos, said, “I saw other people doing it and I was too antsy to wait ‘till I was 18…I think it’s fun to do, and I’m glad that I’m 18 now and can actually get a real tattoo.”

A big difference in the old versus new self-made tattoos is the fact that children in those days received tattoos “at the age of about 5 or 6 years,” and today, such actions would border on child abuse. Most teens interested ask for, or even give themselves the tattoo, around 15 or 16, and few live with regrets.