Religious body art

Brittany Moseley

Students show faith through

Freshman zoology major Michael Stahlman intends on building upon his collection of tattoos. Stahlman received his tattoos from friend Eric Starr at Pulse. KATIE ROUPE | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Steve Schirra

When freshman zoology major Michael Stahlman’s best friend, J.R., died in a car accident five years ago, there was no place to put any flowers. There was nowhere to go to pay respect to his friend. Instead, Stahlman paid tribute the only way he knew how — by getting a tattoo.

“They cremated the body. No stone, no place to visit, just memories,” said Stahlman. “The tattoo on my neck is for J.R., who lived an extraordinary life and died too young.”

The tattoo Stahlman is talking about is a cross with rays of color coming out and his friend’s initials on each side. Stahlman said the tattoo is much brighter than his other ones.

“It symbolizes coming out of the clouds,” Stahlman said. He has 17 tattoos total and a sleeve up his arm.

Stahlman isn’t the only college student who’s been “inked.” According to a survey published by the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 36 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 have at least one tattoo.

Jeremy Cales, owner of Smokin’ Tattooz, said people ask for a tattoo relating to some type of culture at least once a week.

Cales said tattoo trends come in waves. Recently he has tattooed a lot of crosses, but the religious references don’t end there.

“Last month we did a David and Goliath on a guy’s chest,” Cales said.

Sophomore pre-med major Sam Scott has two religious tattoos. He has 13:5 on his left wrist, standing for a verse from the Book of Hebrews in the Bible, and he also has an icthus drawn out of thorns on his right shoulder blade.

“I decided to get them because they are both things I don’t want to forget,” Scott said.

Tattoos were once seen as taboo, but the public image has changed after tattoos became popular in the ’90s.

“Tattoos are something that you want on you for the rest of your life,” Scott said. “They are designed for you and usually by you.”

It was once believed that criminals and drug addicts were the only people with tattoos. Now college students like Stahlman and Scott are wearing their faith on their bodies.

“Tattooing has evolved,” Stahlman said. “Tattooing is an art, it’s remembering who you are deep down and where you come from.”

Cales said people have just gotten used to tattoos.

“The more you see it, the more accustomed you become,” he said. “It’s not as abnormal now.”

Although some may have trouble seeing past a person’s tattoos, Stahlman hopes people will realize there’s more to him than his ink. He got his tattoo to keep the memories of his friend alive and to show his faith.

“My neck isn’t mine, it’s J.R.’s,” Stahlman said. “He decided the colors, not me. He designed everything from the next world. I just listened.”

Contact features correspondent Brittany Moseley at [email protected].