Patriotic Tattoos On The Rise


Flush with a freshly invigorated sense of patriotism, millions of Americans are marching into tattoo parlors, plunking down anywhere from $75 to $150, and having their bodies emblazoned with star-spangled banners, eagles, patriotic slogans and other permanent reminders of the events of Sept. 11.

And then, still flush with patriotism, many of those same folks are lining up to donate blood and getting turned down flat.

Blood centers follow federal rules that say anyone who gets a tattoo or piercing (other than in the ear) can't donate blood for a year in order to keep supplies free of infections.

"If you want to do both, you'd be better off donating the blood first, and then getting the tattoo," advises Sue Thew, public information officer for United Blood Services. "You've got to do it backwards."

The deferral period exists for a pair of reasons, Thew said the first being that "the FDA does not regulate tattoo parlors closely enough to ensure that they are using proper sterilization techniques on the needles.

"Secondly, we don't know whether or not they're (re-using) ink. If you take a needle, dip it into ink, put it in someone's skin, then dip it into the ink again, you're contaminating that ink.

Wes Norman, co-owner and resident certified tattoo artist at Valhalla Modifications in Payson, said he does not re-use ink, and that his shop is as sterile as a medical facility. Still, he said, "We try to inform all of our clients of (the year-long delay). Donating blood is one thing I can't do, and that's actually something that's bothered me over the last couple of weeks."

In the two-and-a-half weeks since the terrorist attacks, Norman's wife and business partner, Visa Graves-Norman, said, "We've had a lot of interest in patriotic tattoos. We've been getting maybe two or three calls a day, mostly from men who want a flag tattoo."

Such requests hardly represent a dramatic resurgence for the tattoo, Graves-Norman said. She estimates that 40 percent of her own body surface has been permanently inked. Once associated with sailors, prisoners and bikers, tattoos are now so much a part of the youth culture that there is a bona-fide "tattoo industry" and that industry is so big it holds annual conventions.

"A lot of the social stigmas have been lifted from tattooing, and a lot of the people who used to find tattoos offensive have reached the age where they feel it just doesn't matter what other people think of them," Graves-Norman said. "Also, tattoo parlors were kind of scary as recently as the 1970s. But they're just not like that anymore. The sterility knowledge that's been passed on to the industry is amazing."

As you might expect, most of Valhalla's customers are males in the 18-to-25 age range.

"But then again we get a lot of people over the age of 55 coming in for their first tattoo," she said.

Valhalla Modifications is located at 610 South Beeline Highway, or can be reached by calling 472-4704.

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