Christian Valentine, head piercer at Tiger Rose Tattoo, works in his piercing studio surrounded by pieces of artwork he’s created throughout his career. Credit: Cameron Harber | Mustang News

When liberal studies freshman Aly Arkin facetimed her mom during her second week away from home, she started the call with a warning.

“Mom, I am going to show you something and you can’t be mad,” Arkin said.

Then she showed her mom her brand new nipple piercings. 

The body modification was Arkin’s way of marking her transition to adulthood after being confined by COVID-19 restrictions during her last year of high school, she said. 

“I needed something that was going to excite me and I was like, I am out of the house, I am 18, I am an adult, I am gonna do it,” Arkin said. “It was just all of that combined that totally built it up for me.”

She said her parents took the news pretty well.

Cal Poly has welcomed back first and second-year students this fall who have had a compromised social life due to the pandemic. Many of these incoming students have spent most of the pandemic under the same roofs as their parents for months when they could have been experiencing their first tastes of freedom. So as soon as they say their goodbyes to their parents, some students are cashing in their first-time freedom cards. For some, that means getting body modifications.

That trend has been welcomed news to local tattoo and piercing artists.

“[Students] are used to being managed by their parents and they do not have that, so they are looking around wild-eyed like they are in a candy store,” Christian Valentine, head piercer at Tiger Rose Tattoo said.

Tiger Rose Tattoo moved from Pismo Beach to their current shop on Taft Street, near Cal Poly’s campus, about a month before the pandemic began. 

“I have been piercing for a really long time in many towns and this is still a better, more chill vibe,”Valentine said. “Everybody is just happy here and everyone comes in knowing what they want and then they leave happy and it is a very easy day.”

Cameron Harber | Mustang News – Tiger Rose Tattoo’s “Get What you Get,” machine where customers can use their spare change to get a surprise design for the artist to tattoo.

After interviewing people who had gotten their first tattoos, Professor Katherine Irwin in the Sociology Department at the University of Colorado wrote the scholarly journal, “Legitimating the First Tattoo: Moral Passage through Informal Interaction.”

“Many respondents suggested that becoming tattooed symbolized liberation, independence, and freedom. This was especially true for individuals who felt inhibited by the conventional social opportunities available to them,” Irwin said in the article. “[Students] began to see getting tattoos as a way to step outside of the dominant peer politics surrounding them.”

Another way to practice self-expression is through hair. Since changing one’s hair is less permanent than a tattoo, some find it a good alternative for college students who come in looking for a change.

Salon 62 in downtown San Luis Obispo is a hair salon that saw an influx of college students during the beginning of the school year.

“A lot of first or second years coming in are wanting a change for the first time,” stylist Brianna Archer said. “Either their parents did not necessarily let them or they finally have their own money, and it is really cool to be part of that. You know, it is my form of art and they get to express themselves through their hair so it is pretty rewarding.”

Archer recently gave one student green hair and another a halo-shaped headband of bright red that goes around the entire hairline, from front to back. 

Psychology freshman Tristan Linder took a more drastic approach: he shaved his hair off completely. In an attempt to “reinvent himself,” he took away what he felt was his best feature.

“It allowed me to focus less on my appearance and more on what makes me happy. It’s eliminated a lot of stress from my life,” Linder said. “Personally I had never shaved my head as I was nervous about what everyone at my small high school would think, but at college people tend to mind their own business. No one is concerned how you look or what you wear, they just care about you as an individual.”

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