South students, staff express individuality through tattoos, piercings

Illustration by Jini John

Illustration by Jini John

Brigid Murphy, staff reporter

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Little music notes curl along the arms and a bright red rose’s petals gently caress the top of the shoulder. Tattoos and piercings adorn many members of the South community. Whether it be a student or teacher, many of those with these symbols of self expression believe they mean something uniquely different.  

According to senior Kate Hegay, she is inked with two tattoos. One of her tattoos is an equal sign on her left ring finger to symbolize her belief that everyone should have the right to love who they choose.

“I got [the tattoo] because I felt that for me it symbolizes that people should be able to get married regardless of who they are,” Hegay said. “Since I’m straight, [it] will one day be covered with an engagement ring. I always want it to be underneath that, so I remember that love is love.”

Hegay also has a tattoo on her hip of a triangle with a line crossing through it.  She said the symbol means “explore.” According to Hegay, she decided to get this tattoo after returning from a trip to Alaska; it serves as a reminder that even when she grows old she should seek adventure.

“The triangle was a spur of the moment thing,” Hegay said. “The reason I got ‘explore’ was because I felt that when I’m older, if I even try to regret having tattoos, that tattoo will just remind me of being young and carefree. I had just gotten back from Alaska at that point, and so I was exploring the world and I loved it so I thought when I’m old I’ll need this reminder.”

According to junior Josie Teresi, she also has a tattoo, but in contrast to Hegay, the tattoo does not have any specific meaning. Teresi has the planet Saturn tattooed on the inside of her ankle, which she chose to get because she wanted to try to do something unique that she would love.    

“I just got it because I was trying to do something cool,” Teresi said.  “[People] ask does it have meaning, and when they find out it doesn’t really have meaning, I think people are kind of weirded out.”  

Teresi faces differentiating attitudes from her parents regarding her tattoo of Saturn.  While her mother was not keen on her daughter’s tattoo at first, her father seemed indifferent.

“My dad didn’t care at all, but I tried to hide it from my mom, and I told her it was Sharpie,” Teresi said.  “When she found out, she got really mad at me; she was pissed.  [Now] she’s over it; if I wear shorts and she sees it, she’ll frown or say something salty about it.”

Julia Teresi, Josie’s mom, believes that self expression through tattoos or through any other method is an important step to self discovery, but one should always be sure of their decision when deciding on something so permanent.  

“I believe that self expression is a very important aspect of self discovery, and I actually encourage it, [but] teenagers can be very impulsive,” Julia said. “A lot of thought and self reflection should be given to such changes to one’s appearance. What is really cool at 15 or 16 might not be so cool 10 [to] 20 years later. I am concerned that she will later regret her decision.”

In addition to many students, South teachers also have tattoos with personal meanings. According to math teacher Lauren Sutherlin, she has two tattoos with very significant meanings.  

“One of them has my happy places, so it has the zip code for Twin Lakes, Wisconsin where [my family and I] spend our summers,” Sutherlin said. “And it has the symbol for a place that we used to go to in Hawaii that has since been destroyed by the tsunami in Japan, but they are rebuilding. The other one is my maiden name and the date that I was adopted.”

According to Sutherlin she has never regretted her tattoos, and no one in her life has been unsupportive of her decision to get them.  She expressed that no one’s opinion really mattered to her because she chose something so significant to her.  She also said that anyone who may of had an opinion was accepting because she was so sure and happy with her decisions.  

“I think people get tattoos at important times in their life,” Sutherlin said.  “I think there are life events that occur, and then it marks [that] time in your life. That’s what happened for me both times.”   

According to psychology teacher Sejal Schullo, her tattoos convey a special cultural and religious meaning. She expressed that in traditional Indian culture getting a tattoo often has religious motivations, and the tattoos are very different than what is normally seen in the American pop culture.  

“Tattooing is a cultural behavior that is pretty normal in the Indian culture for people in the past, of course not so much in modern India, but not like the American pop culture ones,” Shullo said. “The tattoos in India were really more like designs, more tribal if you will, and not so much pictures of things and people or objects.”

The Om symbol can be found tattooed on Schullo’s wrist.  She expressed that it is another symbol that ties Schullo especially to her Hindu religious beliefs and values.    

“The Om symbol is the Sanskrit letter Om; [The Om] represents the cycle of life, death, and reincarnation in Hinduism that people struggle with, and human life is connected to that cycle,” Schullo said. “The concept of karma and doing the best you can each day in order to make sure that you’ve lived a good life so that you’ve fulfilled your duties so you can escape the cycle of reincarnation is important to me.”

Along with the Om, Shullo is inked with a lotus flower. According to Schullo this flower is yet another symbol depicted in the Hindu faith, and it is therefore another strong tie to her religion.

“Lotus flowers grow in swamps; they grow on the surface;,” Schullo said. “All the water is murky and dark and the murky darkness represents human life and human consciousness, and that at the surface is where you reach enlightenment. […] And so lotus flowers are symbolic of the concept of enlightenment which is the goal of Hinduism.”

According to Schullo she has never regretted her tattooes.  In accordance with Hinduism, she believes that her stay in this body is not eternal, and while she has this body, it is important to make it unique.

“In Hinduism, bodies are cremated because they are not necessary for the spirit to move from one life to another life, or even off the cycle of reincarnation,” Schullo said.  “Bodies are things that in the Indian culture particularly are meant to be adorned and meant to be aesthetically pleasing.”

Alongside beautification markings engraved into the skin, many South students have body piercings as well.  According to senior Alexandra Hristakos, she got her nose pierced in September 2015.  Hristakos said she had been wanting her nose pierced for awhile, and her aunt had promised to take her; when she turned eighteen they decided to go for it.

“My aunt kept that saying for one of my birthdays that she was going to take me to get my cartilage pierced which never ended up happening,” Hristakos said. “So then for my 18th birthday, she said, ‘I’ll pay for it’ and then she came with me.”

According to senior Taylor Raschillo she has a tragus piercing. The tragus is a small flap of cartilage jutting over the opening to the ear drum.  Raschillo said social media was the biggest influence on her decision to get the piercing.    

“I saw a lot of people on […] Instagram and Tumblr and Weheartit and […], and they had it, and it was something that I’ve seen a lot of other people have so I thought it was somewhat unique,” Raschillo said.

Raschillo divulged that this piercing reminds her of her relationship with her mom.  Her mom lives in Arizona, so whenever Raschillo sees the earring, she thinks of her mom and the memory of when she got it.

“I got it the day before I went to France my first time, so that’s kind of cool for me,”  Raschillo said.  “My mom lives in Arizona so she came in to visit Chicago, and then her and I left from Chicago to France and we got it when she was in town, so I think of my mom because she took me to get it.”

Although tattoos and piercings can be drastic changes to the body, many of South’s students and staff who have chosen this form of adornment have found its personal meanings and benefits to be extremely important to them.