Q+A: Carleton students on the meaning behind their tattoos

Despite the backlash many people with tattoos face, young people are still choosing to get inked.

The Charlatan spoke to three Carleton students about their tattoos, the meaning behind them, and whether beauty really is skin deep.

Christy Canning, first-year psychology student


The Charlatan (TC): What made you decide to get a tattoo?

Christy Canning (CC): I decided to get tattoos after always idolizing people who had them. I thought it was so cool to use your body as a canvas for art and I wanted to use my body for that. After going through some rough times and losing a cousin to suicide I wanted to get something to memorialize her.

TC: Do your tattoos represent anything?

CC: My bird represents my cousin I lost because she had black birds all up her arm. I wanted a black bird like her, as if one of hers had landed on me because she had such an impact on my life. I got my cross and rose with my father. He has a matching one. It represents our relationship and struggles through some hard times. It means a lot to me. My ship portrait was fully designed by me after a poem my dad always used to read to me called “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” It represents to keep sailing on through hard times and that today is the only day we must worry about . . . My sun and moon was done for my mom because she’s the sun in my sky and the moon that watches over. And lastly, I have my ship wheel because I scuba dive in shipwrecks a lot, actually. I was also on my first trip alone in Nova Scotia and I got it as a memorial kind of thing as well.

TC: Have you ever experienced negative reactions from people because of your tattoos?

CC: I’ve only really ever had an issue with negativity about my tattoos from a friend’s dad. I had recently gotten my cross with a rose and posted it to Facebook. I received a comment on it from this guy simply saying “no thanks.” It didn’t really bother me though. I understand tattoos aren’t for everyone. I’ve also seen people point or stare. I’m not sure if it was really negative or them just admiring my tattoos.










Zophia Brobio, second-year public affairs and policy management student











TC: What does your tattoo mean?

Zophia Brobio (ZB): My tattoo is the date, in roman numerals, that I came to Canada. Because of timezones and the 24-hour time difference, June 25, 2011 ended up being the same date I left the Philippines in Filipino time and the same date I landed in Canada in Canadian time. My experience as a 14-year-old migrating to Canada shaped a lot of who I am today. The person that I am, how I perceive things, my political views, and even what I chose to study in university and what I plan to pursue career-wise has been largely influenced by this experience.

TC: How do you see tattoos as a form of self-expression?

ZB: In my opinion, tattoos can mean anything to people. Whether it has some sentimental background as in my case, or are gotten for aesthetic reasons, people get them because they want them for themselves. They want the tattoo to always be a part of their physical body. It definitely does more than what clothes do for self-expression, because the tattoo is a part of your physical form forever.

TC: What are your future tattoo plans?

ZB: Definitely more. I am the type of person to find sentimentality in everything, so I have many ideas. For example, my favourite childhood books/book series, or more about my identity and where I am from. If I wasn’t so broke I would’ve gotten them already!

CC Smith, public policy and administration master’s student

TC: What do your tattoos represent?

CC Smith (CS): People you don’t know will ask you on the street, like “Oh! What’s it mean?” and sometimes you don’t really want to share that. But they all did represent something at the point in my life when I did get them. Over some time, the meanings might not necessarily be the same, and sometimes I’m like “Why did I do that?” but I haven’t regretted any of them. For example, the one on my shoulder, is both a compass and a dreamcatcher, and I’m a mature student so it represents how I have come through life so far, and how I am back in school trying to do a master’s to get a job. And on my forearm, I have one that says “feminist” that I got recently, just in case people have forgotten or need a reminder. I also have some cats on my inner arm, and that’s because my one cat snuggles in that arm.

TC: How do you see tattoos as a form of self expression?

CS: It’s definitely a way to tell a story, and that story can be anything. And you do it on your own terms, which I think is a really big thing. So even when people say a tattoo doesn’t mean anything, I think it’s still representing an expression of autonomy, so that that was your choice.

TC: Have you ever experienced any negative reactions because of your tattoos?

CS: Yes, my dad included. He’s a bit older, so he’s from a much different generation than I am. He just kind of associates them with people who don’t work hard, or people who don’t care, what he would probably call “hoodlums.” But even in my professional life, I haven’t always been in school, but now that I am more of an academic it’s really interesting to meet someone who might have more conservative values, and you just see it in their face when they are trying to reconcile that you are an intelligent person and someone with body art . . . Some people don’t say things, but their face says a lot without them having to say words. Then other people do say things like “Oh, you better be careful where you get it because it could affect your future career!”











These Q+As have been edited for length and clarity.

– Photos by Cameron Jette