Symbol of Thyself: Think Before You Ink

Photo courtesy of Wardy at Transformations is spearheading an outreach effort called Symbol of Thyself, in which Eric Dean Spruth and the team go into schools chatting up teens and pre-adolescents about the dangers of using dirty tools and the long-term social ramifications of marking themselves with permanent tattoos. “Kids start early using markers to draw on their skin, lockers and notebooks,” said Sara Spruth. “They’re talking about what tattoos they’re going to get and they try to emulate their sports heroes or their favorite musicians.” Eric Spruth, said the talk with students is neither judgmental nor preachy.

“We come in there with our hair down and it’s like rock ‘n’ roll,” he said. “We give a passionate presentation and we say, ‘You have a right to get a tattoo if it’s what you want, but in the appropriate environment and when you’re the appropriate age.'” It’s illegal in Illinois to give anyone under 18 a tattoo. The talks are an opportunity for young people to celebrate their right to make a choice that’s based on solid information. Sara Spruth said too many of them are putting their health at risk by allowing their peers, called “scratchers,” to give them tattoos using homemade implements whose ink sometimes comes from regular ballpoint pens, and whose “needles” are often not sufficiently sterilized.

“Our biggest concern was that they could be exposed to communicable diseases such as HIV and the different forms of hepatitis,” she said. “They could unknowingly be spreading pathogens to others.” Symbol of Thyself reaches kids who already have tattoos as well as those who don’t. For some kids, their tattoo was a choice. But others may have been pressured, either by their friends or as a result of a gang affiliation.