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Your life in color

Ink: An anthology of tattoos

Black ink. Minimalist. Small-scale. This is the new tattoo aesthetic.

Millennials are approaching tattoos with fresh designs and a new mindset. More young people are open to ink — according to a 2010 Pew research poll, about 40 percent of millennials have a tattoo and around 70 percent of those tattoos are hidden under clothing. While the intensely personal spirit of tattoos is as old as the artform itself, millennial tattoo culture appears to be trending further towards introspective expression.

As Generation Z turns 18 and can legally get a tattoo in most states, Gen Zers seem to be right in step with their older peers by quietly refining a new, more modest tattoo culture. Some USC students shared their journey to tattoos and philosophy on getting inked.

Photos and text by Jordan Winters

Nick and Madison Benson

Hometown: Redondo Beach, California

Date of first tattoo: April 1, 2017, age 18

“Obviously, she’s my sister, and we’re twins, and nothing will ever change that. We’ll be twins forever, in our lives and past death. I value our relationship so much that we were both like, ‘hey we should do this, it would be cool to have on us forever, kinda like a constant reminder that we’re always going to be connected as twins,’” Nick said.

Tom Hovanec

Hometown: Dracut, Massachusetts

Date of first tattoo:  Spring 2014, age 17

Tom has always wanted to fly — his grandfather was in the Air Force, his mother is a flight attendant for Delta, and now he studies aerospace engineering. It was only natural that he get his own wings his junior year of high school.

“Personally, I like blackwork. Color is hard to do as an artist, so it’s hard to find good quality color work that’s not a million dollars,” Tom said.

Krupa Naik

Hometown: Toms River, New Jersey

Date of first tattoo: June 23, 2017, age 18

“This has always been a thing on my bucket list: be responsible for a rule somewhere. And now there’s a specific rule: don’t get tattoos on school field trips,” Krupa said.

In Krupa’s mind, marking “40,000 ft.” permanently on her wrist was innocent enough. That is if you ignore the fact that she ditched her graduation in New Jersey, flew off to Nebraska for a theater festival, and then ditched that festival to go to a tattoo parlor.

However, when Naik launches into the story about her tattoo, you can see that her collection of numbers, letters and punctuation are less about rebellion, and instead are an embrace of life’s ebb and flow.


“I really love the band OneRepublic. Their lyrics mean so much to me, and their music always makes me so happy. For the past four or five years, I’ve always listened to this one song called if ‘If I Lose Myself.’ There’s a part where [the lead singer] goes ‘take us down and we keep trying, 40,000 feet keep flying’ and it sticks with me all the time. I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot but every time I think about how far I’ve come, it seems like I’ve got a ways to go. And so it’s a constant reminder that you can be happy with how far you’ve come but you still got more to do and more to accomplish,” Naik said.

Elaine Gonzalez

Hometown: Gaithersburg, Maryland

Date of first tattoo: July 14, 2017, age 18

“People always get confused on what ethnicity I am, so I have this little piece [that confirms] yes, I am Hawaiian,” Elaine said.

Austin Dalgleish

Hometown: Mission Hills, Kansas

Date of first tattoo: Feb. 2, 2015, age 18

The hardest decision for Austin wasn’t whether to get a tattoo or what design to pick, but which way to face them. Ultimately, he decided that his tattoos were personal statements and thus, they’re oriented towards him.

Deepa Banapur and Juhee Shah

Hometown: Cerritos, California

Date of joint tattoo: July 5, 2017, both age 20

Best friends Deepa and Juhee have known each other since age 8. To celebrate their college graduation last spring, they got matching ink on their ankle — two delta signs overlapping, signifying how they changed together, and how nobody ever grows alone.

Deepa has two other tattoos. The one on her back says “perspective” backward so she can read it in the mirror.

Rachel Atherly

Hometown: Corte Madera, California

Date of tattoo: Nov. 2015, age 19


Growing up in wooded Marin County, California, Rachel was always comforted by the redwood trees that loom larger than life. Now a piece of home comes with her wherever she goes.

Terrance Davis

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Date of first tattoo: 2013


Terrance would be more than happy to tell you about his adoption date tattooed on the inner fold of his arm. However, he believes some of his art should be kept private. That’s why he only lets certain people see some of the other ink he’s got under his shirt.

Aslan Dalgic

Hometown: Istanbul, Turkey

Date of first tattoo: April 23, 2017, age 17

“I like to go to studios. The first tattoo was made by a friend of mine. And this was made by an artist in a studio who I became friends with later. It’s an experience you share with somebody,”  Aslan said.

Jordan Winters is co-editor of Neon. She is a junior studying journalism and political science. She has been a multimedia journalist for USC Annenberg Media since her sophomore year covering campus issues and politics. She co-hosted Truth Squad podcast and covered the presidential inauguration live from D.C. She hails from San Francisco where she dabbles in sailing, rock climbing, and paddleboard-yoga.