Photo Essay: Studies of permanence

Tattoo_2main_Jessica Gleason
Jessica Gleason/Staff

A series of choices brought each student to UC Berkeley. We each made the conscious decision to apply to this school, to move away from home to live here, and to select a major (or two) to dictate our future career opportunities. These are choices that we were forced to make, ready or not, at quite an early stage of our potentially long lives.

Society has entrusted us with the duty of knowing what we want to do with our lives and expects us to take action to reach these goals as soon as we can. In turn, we are constantly making significant decisions that will stick with us into the not-so-distant future — this is a student’s burden. Some students find that getting a tattoo fits into the natural progression of change that our lives undergo as young adults. It’s a decision that shows off its permanence rather than fearing it. Here are some of these individuals.

Tattoo_1_Jessica Gleason

“Ever since my friend got a lip tattoo on her birthday, I had been obsessed and wanted one for myself. I had a list on my phone, but I couldn’t figure out what exactly to get. I finally got my tattoo the weekend of my birthday when I was visiting a friend in LA. We were walking to our Uber when we saw the tattoo parlor and immediately looked at each other and knew that I was going to get my tattoo. When we walked in and asked for ‘kutti’, the tattoo artist was extremely surprised to see two Indian girls asking for a lip tattoo. … He said he never really saw people of our race getting tattoos and thought it was really cool that I was. Lip tattoos are unique because they go away after a while, which is why I was ok with getting something that I may potentially want gone later. I’m 20 years old right now, which means I’m already making major life decisions that I’m not 100 percent sure about. But this tattoo is something that I wanted for a while and haven’t regretted for even a minute yet.

Having a lip tattoo makes me feel almost powerful in a sense because it’s something very personal that I never need to show another person unless I want to. At a time when every decision I make seems to have far reaching consequences, getting my kutti tattoo was a way of taking back control and doing something spontaneous but 100% me. My tattoo means bitch, which I love because I’ve never been quiet, sweet or docile. I’ve been strong, loud and questioning ever since I can remember and my tattoo is simply an extension of my personality… In your face and unapologetic.”

Tattoo_2main_Jessica Gleason

“I had the idea of my ‘loyal tea’ tattoo for over a year before I got it. I wanted to make sure I really liked it and would not get sick of it being on me forever since it was going to be my first tattoo. After this tattoo I realized that all that planning was not really necessary because I liked the idea of having a tattoo that represented a certain time in my life so even if I ended up hating it in 20 years I can look back and remember the time when I was 18 and I really wanted that tattoo. My Spaceballs tattoo was thought of maybe 2 days in advance and I have yet to feel any regret. My ‘loyal tea’ tattoo has some meaning behind it as I really value loyalty and I have always wanted it to be tattooed on me, but I thought that the word “loyalty” would not be as fun as a tea cup so I put a spin on it, but the message remains the same. Most people think I just really like tea and I’m “loyal” to that drink, but no, that is not the case; it’s just a pun. As far as my Spaceballs tattoo, either no one gets what it’s from or they think it is the funniest thing ever. That tattoo has no meaning other than I love that movie and it was a big part of my childhood.

I think I was definitely experienced enough by the time I started getting tattoos…I wanted these tattoos so I got them and I am not going to allow myself to feel bad about it later because at one moment in time, I really wanted these pieces of art on me, and if no one can appreciate that then that’s on them. So far, none of my tattoos are visible unless I am wearing minimal clothing so it hasn’t gotten to affect my career. However, I do plan on getting at least one sleeve and many other noticeable tattoos and I do not really know how that is going to pan out in the workplace, but I think by the time that it really matters the stigma of tattoos will have greatly decreased and it won’t be too big of an issue for me.”


“I didn’t plan ahead long at all for any specific design for most of my tattoos I just always knew I wanted to have lots of art on my body. Each of my tattoos has meaning to me, while some deeper than others, I mostly focus on the artwork. Tattoos aren’t as serious of a commitment as plastic surgery or other extreme body modifications, so I don’t stress too heavily on pre-planning designs. One of my tattoos I got in downtown Miami late at night, randomly after passing a tattoo shop that happened to be open. A lot of people that I have encountered question the fact that I’ll still enjoy my tattoos when I’m older, but I doubt that will be an issue. Especially since tattoos are becoming more commonplace and accepted, its not as much of a worry as it used to be when applying for jobs. “


“I had planned on getting a tattoo since pre-teen years. After I turned 18, I realized everything I wanted was too insignificant to me or too hard to obtain (price and artist location). About 6 month before this tattoo, I was looking at tattoo artists and their work almost every day on social media and studio websites. One day my friend was going into the shop and I decided I was tired of waiting and scrutinizing. The cross is a symbol that’s been with me my whole life. I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic school until high school. Once out of that school, I saw the world and my friends as very secular. I found myself keeping my religious affiliation quiet to avoid persecution and judgments. This tattoo reminds me not to be ashamed of what others think because my faith is as much a part of me, spiritually, as this tattoo is part of me, physically. It reaffirms my faith as a Christian and my belief that God has always, and will always, be with me.When I showed my mom my tattoo, she laughed and said it was fake. I tried to reassure her it was real, but she didn’t believe me. It wasn’t until she saw me a week or two later that she realized I wasn’t kidding. She liked it, nonetheless.

A big part of why I was okay with getting this tattoo impromptu was I felt I was mature enough to make this decision. I wasn’t 18 year old getting something because it was cute or hip. I was 22 years old and getting a symbol of something I felt would be with me for the rest of my life. I haven’t worked anywhere with this tattoo, but could hide it easily in the workplace. That why I chose that location. The biggest problem with this tattoo is that people assume that I am a perfect Christian and adhere to all the rules and guidelines of organized religion. Going to church, I feel like conservative and traditional Christians would find me undeserving of this tattoo for my opinion on political issues, such as gay rights.”


“I planned ahead for my tattoo for 2 years. While on a trip with my best friend, I had gotten a similar design tattooed in jagua (a temporary ink similar to henna but black). I really loved it, so I decided to get it tattooed for real.To me, having a sea turtle tattoo is a reminder of how gentle and precious our oceans are. Having an animal tattooed on my body is my sign of respect to mother nature, and helps remind me what really matters. I usually keep it concealed in class since it’s on my shoulder blade and I rarely wear shirts that reveal that, but one day I did and my classmates were so shocked. One freshman seemed especially scandalized and kept talking to me about my tattoo the whole class.

I think since I waited so long to get tattooed after picking my design, I had a lot of time to mull it over. This, more than age, seems like an important factor in avoiding tattoos that one will regret later. I also picked a spot that’s easy to cover up and had the tattoo placed specifically to be easily hidden in a variety of clothing styles, so I can choose who sees my tattoo and when.”

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