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The Deeper Meaning of Tattoos

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Andrew McCarthy had seen his share of tattoos, from the “drunken sailor” images to “Friday the 13th specials,” where the tattoo artist chooses the design for a mere 13 dollars. But the assistant professor of humanities couldn’t hide his fascination with the body art he witnessed at Anna Maria College in central Massachusetts. What he saw were elaborate family portraits, traditional quotations, and religious symbols, and so he launched a study to try to understand what it all meant.Prior to the start of the study, McCarthy assumed that cultural tendencies accounted for the body art, but after conducting some 30 interviews, he changed his viewpoint. “My first thought was that this might be a predominantly Latino expression of spiritual connectedness, but I quickly concluded that I am working across a generational border — the Millennials — and not any form of racial, ethnic, or cultural border,” he says.In spite of the diversity in spiritual principles, responses to a series of questions — significance of each design, its permanency, and if, over time, that significance had changed in any way — revealed a …

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