Army’s tattoo regulations suppress individuality

Credit: Braden Kelner/Forum Editor Credit: Braden Kelner/Forum Editor
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The tattoo, seen as exotic, painful, and rebellious, is a part of everyday expression: 23 percent of Americans have at least one tattoo, and 38 percent of 18-29 year olds have some sort of inking, according to a Pew Research poll conducted in 2010. David Beckham, once England’s golden soccer boy, has sleeves filled with ink. Angelina Jolie also has skin modifications over much of her body, all of which drew the press’s speculation as to what they mean.

A spokesman for the U.S. Army officially stated that the army “is a uniformed service where the public judges a soldier’s discipline in part by the manner in which he or she wears the uniform, as well as by the individual’s personal appearance,” according to The Wall Street Journal. Newly proposed regulations under final review by the army will not allow soldiers to have tattoos below the knee or elbow. This new restriction has led to a spike in parlor visits from servicemen and women. Until now, tattoos were allowed everywhere except the face and neck. The army administration is not only trying to combat this rising trend, but is also unnecessarily opposing its subculture of tattooed soldiers.

In our current society, where people share personal information through Facebook posts and tweets, the popularity of tattoos makes sense. Walking around with a quotation on the arm, a bald eagle on the shoulder, or a kanji symbol on the ankle all serves to tell random bystanders who a person is and what they stand for. Tattoos are projections of things people like on Facebook, the tweets they retweet, and everything in their life they hold dear, blended together and permanently etched into their skin.

Let’s be honest: Tattoos add a sense of rebellion, danger, and excitement to men and women. A poll conducted by Harris Interactive in 2012 showed that 30 percent of tattooed people feel more sexy with their tattoos, while 25 percent say they make them feel more rebellious. 21 percent of tattooed people say that tattoos make them feel sexy or strong.

Where does this image of tattoos come from? For one, the hippie culture in the 1960s created much of the association of counterculture with tattoos, according to the National Post. That’s where the rebellious nature of tattoos comes in. PBS says that during World War II — the golden age of tattoos — U.S. soldiers and U.S. Navy sailors often felt lost in the large number of uniforms, and were the first large subculture to have some sort of inking. Sailors would often have engravings of scantily clad women on their arms, furthering the rebellious and risqué subculture of tattoos in the Armed Forces. Now, the army’s administration, countering the popular stereotype, wants the Armed Forces to be presented as clean cut, according to The Wall Street Journal.

These new restrictions sever soldiers’ rights to express themselves. “Every tattoo I have on my body says something about who I am, where I’m from, or the things I’ve been through,” said First Sergeant Aki Paylor in an article published by the official website of the United States Army, specifically mentioning his “warrior ethos” tattoo. Military personnel go through intensive training, get thrown under remarkable pressure, and are often lost in a mass of shaved heads and uniformity. It seems normal for them to have a need to illustrate their identity among the sea of camouflage uniforms. Not only could tattoos help others recognize who someone is behind the uniform and haircut, it could help soldiers themselves to realize who they were, are, and want to be.

Being in the military — not even on the front lines — can be an immensely stressful experience, and a solid surface for military personnel to hold onto could be incredibly comforting. That solid surface is their body inking.