Student tattoos: more than skin-deep

By , Senior Photographer  |  Monday, February 25, 2013 12:06 PM

On Feb. 20, the one-year anniversary of the car accident that took the lives of four North Dakota State University students, freshman Cassidy Barber got her first tattoo commemorating her friend and victim of the crash, Megan Sample.

“For me, it’s a reminder that my friend is always going to be there, even if I can’t see her,” Barber said.

According to a 2008 Harris Poll, Barber joins the 14 percent of Americans that have one or more tattoos.

Cathy Ostrom Peters, art history adjunct professor, teaches a unit on the human body as art in her introductory art history course.

“In the west, it is very often a death of a loved one that prompts people to cross the threshold of a tattoo parlor for the first time,” Peters said. “They want to memorialize the person.”

Ostrom Peters said tattooing is something “our ancient ancestors did,” but the growing tradition of the Western tattoo in the last century, especially in celebrities, is actually the opposite of the tradition in places like Africa and the Polynesian islands. Here, body marking is used to bond the community as a whole.

“(Celebrities) comment that they feel a loss of identity, a loss of personal ownership, so their marking helps them feel more individual,” Ostrom Peters said. “They really have a strong need … to have that feeling of ownership of their own self.”

Ostrom Peter’s son worked as a tattoo artist and “noticed that people like to mark for particular moments in life, sort of like as catalog where they’ve been and perhaps where they hope to go in the future.”

“We’re a canvas,” Ostrom Peters said, explaining that tattooing can allow the human body to become a unique way of expressing one’s self and it can sometimes be hard to stop, as “it triggers something.”

“It’s really hard to explain, but I actually really like doing tattoos and piercings,” junior Payton Burger said. “You don’t get high off of it, but it’s exciting, like adrenaline.”

Junior Josh Pella couldn’t stop getting tattoos and has 13-17 on his body.

“My addiction to tattoos is really bad,” Pella said. “When I’m bored all I do is just think about, research (and) draw tattoos.”

Ostrom Peters said tattoos are no longer just a fad among bikers and a “level of society people consider outcasts,” but they are now a trend that is much more accepted.

“Most people are conscious of the fact that it might hinder them … depending on the business they’re going into,” Ostrom Peters said. “(But) today, it’s much more accepted as an art form.”

Rita Kovtun can be reached at

This item was posted in Diversions, Media Commons, News, Photos and has 2 comments so far.


  1. Bryce Werkmeister
    Feb. 25, 2013 11:53 AM

    Phenomenal slideshow Rita. Your story augments the photos very well, and I enjoyed reading a different perspective on a subject I know nothing about.

  2. Nick Burgmeier
    Feb. 25, 2013 11:38 PM

    Awesome story idea guys. Keep it going! TM for life.

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