According to a recent Gallup poll, approximately one in four young people today is getting inked.

Matthew Crigger, apprentice at local tattoo studio Synergy Tattoo, said tattoos may be losing their negative stigma, but American culture still has a ways to go.

“Media and television shows have helped to make tattoos less controversial, but for the most part, in this country, it’s still very taboo,” Crigger said. “In most other cultures and countries, it’s widely accepted to have even full face tattoos.”

It may be 2012, Crigger said, but, “we do still live in the South.”

“Due to the more conservative population here, the impression that tattoos are favored by mostly outlawed bikers and sailors does still exist,” Crigger said. “However, having been in and around tattoos for the last decade, one can definitely see them moving in a more mainstream direction.”

This view is largely evidenced by the substantial number of college students flocking to establishments like Synergy. Tattoo artist Cari Clarke, who has been working in Knoxville area tattoo establishments for the last seven years, said a significant percentage of Synergy’s business comes from UT students alone.

“I feel like the majority of our customers go to UT, another university, or are at least college-aged,” Clarke noted. “The greater amount are female, too, between the ages of 19 and 25. This is a college town, so that’s where most of the tattoo parlors get their business from anyway.”

Crigger supports Clarke’s numbers, saying that approximately “one out of three” Synergy customers are UT students.

“Prior to here, I worked at this one shop off Central, even closer to campus, and the numbers were even greater,” Crigger said. “UT students or alumni were pretty much every other customer there.”

Although so much of their business stems from young people, Crigger doesn’t foresee the majority of his customers regretting their decision later in life.

“At any point in time, an image can be important to you, whether it be long- or short-term importance,” Crigger said. “Some of my tattoos I’ve had for almost 10 years. I can look down at and say, this is where I was at that age in my life. They serve as a timeline of your personal history.”

Danyelle Johnson, a senior in special education, is one UT student who certainly didn’t rush into her getting her tattoo, a peace sign on her inner wrist.

“I was 20 when I got it, but I first thought of the idea at 17 or 18,” Johnson said. “If I was going to be putting it on my body and seeing it on a regular basis, then I wanted it to be something important to me.”

Johnson opted for a peace sign due to the message it promotes and daily reminder it brings her.

“Seeing it on my wrist every day reminds me to live my life in the way I want to,” Johnson said. “It makes me think, are my actions positive? Am I helping people?”

Crigger is an avid believer in getting tattoos of images to express an idea, like Johnson did, rather than of script.

“Images are more profound,” he explained. “Words you can look at and immediately go, OK, this is exactly what this person means. But if you get an image to support the words you were trying to say, then you have a story to tell.”

Crigger also advocates the need to be cautious and thoughtful about the visibility of one’s tattoos.

“Regardless of how mainstream tattoos may eventually become, you’re still faced with the day-to-day realities of the present,” Crigger said. “You still have to get out there and find a job. As someone who’s been met with job discrimination over my tattoos before, I highly discourage people from getting inked on unconcealed places like the hands and neck. Unless you’re in an artistic profession, a lot of the time visible tattoos are job killers.”

In the end, however, the decision is left up to the customer.

“Good decisions are relative,” Crigger said. “The important thing that we try to stress is quality. Getting it done right and in a quality, clean environment — i.e. not in someone’s garage in exchange for $20 and a six pack of Budweiser — is the number one thing.”

If done safely and with consideration, getting a tattoo can be a meaningful decision.

“My tattoo holds a message that will always stick with me,” Johnson said. “I’ll never regret it. It’s a part of who I am.”