Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

April 15-21, 2004

cover story

Fresh Ink

Photo By: Michael T. Regan

Difficult if not impossible to remove, tattoos are perhaps the ultimate accessory. And like all things stylish, tat preferences reflect the ephemeral trends and cultural cues that drive the fashion industry.

"The big thing for women right now is tribal scroll work on the lower back," says tattoo artist Jackie Brown, of what's been popular at Fourth and Kater's No Ka Oi Tiki Tattoo and Piercing. Polynesian-style tribal suns, like those inked prominently into The Rock's upper left arm, are currently very popular with young men.

The barbed-wire bicep bracelet, big five to ten years ago, is infrequently requested. Ditto the once ubiquitous ankle tattoos. When they are, it's usually, says Brown, "by people in their 40s who might have been thinking about getting a tattoo for 15 years or so."

Yet one more reason to avoid tattoo parlors during midlife crises. Japanese and Chinese symbols are big, says Brown. Evergreen icons include Elvis, Jesus, Marilyn Monroe and cartoon characters like Betty Boop (who can kick those Powerpuffs' asses any day of the week).

Tattooing is a rite of passage for 18-year-olds, whose selections reveal distinct gender differences. Girls prefer smaller images like stars, fairies and flowers, and boys want to be like The Rock, or at least his upper left arm. Brown reports of one trend that has been gaining more steam within the younger age group: inking up to seven letters on the inner portion of the lower lip.

"It's different. You have to kind of peel your lip down to show it. Over the past few months I've done several, and the number of people asking about it is really growing," she says.

When it comes to making a statement, there are tattoos, and then there are tattoos.

"Three thousand bucks and the most intense pain I've ever felt in my life," is how conservative pundit Tom Adkins (pictured), who sports a full-color portrait of Ronald Reagan on his instep, ankle and calf , describes the experience.

Adkins, 46, took the ink plunge last year. Though tattoo artists including Brown strongly caution against tattooing the instep, citing the lack of body fat and sometimes lengthy healing process, when the client should forego shoes and socks, Adkins is nothing if not committed.

"The difference between wearing it on your T-shirt or on your skin is commitment. I'm content with the knowledge that I will be wearing a portrait of Ronald Reagan on my skin for the rest of my life," he comments with pride.

So far, Reagan's not talking.

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