TEENS WITH TATTOOS

TEENS WITH TATTOOS

What Indonesian Teens Have To Say About Their Ink

MIRANDA PRANOTO

Over the last couple of years, I’ve started to see tattoos becoming ever more accepted and popular in society. I grew up being told that tattoos are a sign of ‘disobedience’ and ‘naughtiness:’ two particularly bad traits for Asian girls and boys. I remember my parents telling me not to get tattoos because I’d have the same image as a certain family member (we all have one of *those*). I remember seeing the inked scorpion and tiger on their body and thinking, “I shall never be like this. I would never be accepted in society.” 

I grew up being told that tattoos are a sign of ‘disobedience’ and ‘naughtiness:’ two particularly bad traits for Asian girls and boys.

Personally, as a young Asian woman, I feel pressured to be perceived by others a certain way. I’ve always been told that if I got tattoos, I’d lose others’ respect, whether it be my grandma or professors’ in university. Perhaps this is due to the history of how we’ve been taught to behave and look: submissive, docile and (hate to say it) weak. But do tattoos really give you the opposite effect? And are they still highly unaccepted in today’s modern society? Here are answers and stories from teens with tattoos living in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Yohanes I Made Handandi Hadiprojo (20 years old)

IMAGE CREDIT: BOBBLEHAUS / MIRANDA PRANOTO

“I feel like tattoos are more accepted in Bali, where I’m from. I don’t worry about how others perceive my tattoos.”


IMAGE CREDIT: BOBBLEHAUS / MIRANDA PRANOTO

A business major, the 20-year-old from Bali shared with me stories behind his three tattoos, although our conversation covered much more. When asked whether any of his family and friends are against him having tattoos, he explained, “No Balinese give me crap about it. It’s very accepted in my culture because it’s considered art. Not a lot of Balinese are skeptical about it. Although I still worry about those who aren’t so accepting of my tattoos, I know I just have to be ready to face others who are judgmental.” He has plans for his next tattoo: the words, ‘We all die trying to get it right.’ It’s a line from a song by Vance Joy.

“Everything I want in my life, I have to try hard to achieve it. Either it’s happiness or a place to fit in, I have to put in hard work to get what I want.” 


IMAGE CREDIT: BOBBLEHAUS / MIRANDA PRANOTO

Wilsen Setiawan (21 years old)

IMAGE CREDIT: BOBBLEHAUS / MIRANDA PRANOTO

I can see a glimpse of his tattoos on his right arm. “My four tattoos are located very closely to one another. I want to do a full sleeve one day. I just got the biggest one in June and now short sleeves can’t cover them.” He gladly rolls up his right sleeve to show me his first tattoo he got when he’d just entered university. “The rose and cards represent my relationship with my father. The numbers on the cards are his birthdate. We’re very close and I wanted my first tattoo to honor him.”


IMAGE CREDIT: BOBBLEHAUS / MIRANDA PRANOTO
I asked Wilsen if anyone’s ever treated or viewed him differently because of his tattoos. He shared with me a story when he went on the train once. “The seat next to me was empty and this female high school student was eyeing it. She glanced at me and kept standing up, though. She was too scared to sit next to me because she saw my tattoos. An older lady sitting across from me told her to sit because I won’t do anything to hurt her. The fact that someone is so scared of me because of my tattoos really shocked me. I think one of the reasons I got tattoos is to challenge people’s perceptions. Having tattoos doesn’t make you a bad person.”

IMAGE CREDIT: BOBBLEHAUS / MIRANDA PRANOTO

"I think one of the reasons I got tattoos is to challenge people’s perceptions. Having tattoos doesn’t make you a bad person."

Jelita Clough (20 years old) 

Born to an interracial family (she is Australian-Indonesian), Jelita was dealt two very different families. “My mother’s family is still very conservative Moslem, so I cover up when it’s Eid Adha because I don’t want to face all the criticism. My dad, on the other hand, is very liberal. So are my brothers. They haven’t said anything about my tattoos.” 

IMAGE CREDIT: BOBBLEHAUS / MIRANDA PRANOTO

Jelita (pronounced juh-lee-ta), means ‘beautiful’ in Indonesian. And she is as vibrant and radiant as her name. The 20-year-old patiently went through every single story behind her tattoos with me. Speaking of one of the ones with a deeper meaning, she pointed to one behind her left calf.
IMAGE CREDIT: BOBBLEHAUS / MIRANDA PRANOTO

“One of my best friends was in the mosque where the Christchurch shooting happened. One day, I opened the news to see what had happened and just thinking, ‘I know he must have been inside this particular mosque.’ I couldn’t contact him, so for a good moment I thought he was dead. Turns out he’s alive but the whole tragedy left him understandably traumatized. ‘Lonely rivers sigh’ is a lyric from our song. I got this one done for him.”

IMAGE CREDIT: BOBBLEHAUS / MIRANDA PRANOTO

Joshua Lie and Mabel Primana (20 & 21 years old) 

Joshua and Mabel met in uni. They share a love for fashion and were instantly joined at the hip. Both of them got their first tattoos done in 2019. “The tattoo that I have doesn’t really have a specific meaning to it. The main reason is its aesthetic,” expressed Joshua. However Mabel’s tattoo has a deeper meaning to it.

IMAGE CREDIT: BOBBLEHAUS / MIRANDA PRANOTO

“I have one tattoo, it represents my family members; my mom, 2 sisters and my brother. It’s the first tat of a collective because I want to get one for my grandma, grandpa and my dad. The flower I picked is from my garden, which is a really big part of my childhood, something I definitely do not want to forget.”

IMAGE CREDIT: BOBBLEHAUS / MIRANDA PRANOTO

IMAGE CREDIT: BOBBLEHAUS / MIRANDA PRANOTO

IMAGE CREDIT: BOBBLEHAUS / MIRANDA PRANOTO

I spoke to both of them about Indonesians’ negative perception of tattoos. “They’re are a form of art, just like dancing and drawing. I think everyone is entitled to their own body, so think twice before you judge someone.” Building on Joshua’s argument, Mabel stated, “Tattoos shouldn’t have the negative connotation society brings it up to be. Your body belongs to you and it’s fine what you choose to do with it.

“They’re are a form of art, just like dancing and drawing. I think everyone is entitled to their own body, so think twice before you judge someone.” 


IMAGE CREDIT: BOBBLEHAUS / MIRANDA PRANOTO

Nathashia Bertha and Jeslyn Anggi Winata (22 years old) 

Similar to Joshua and Mabel, Natashia and Jeslyne are best friends as well. “Our bond started in pre-kindy. I go everywhere she goes,” according to Natashia, fondly known as Chia. Chia is a tattoo artist located in Tangerang, in the province of Banten. She shared with me the struggles of gaining her customer’s respect, specifically being a tattoo artist in a country that still holds a negative stigma around the art.
“People in Indo don’t treat tattoo artists that well. If I meet a disrespectful customer, it affects my mood while tattooing them. Sometimes, they’re even disrespectful by chat. They make fun and tease you. The difficulty of the job is in the energy of the person, not the tattooing itself.”
Natashia has four tattoos, while her best friend, Jes, has five. Jes shares, “Don’t underestimate tattoos or take them for granted. You only see the surface, its visual. But it will stick with you for a long time. Right now, tattoos are a trend. But it’s deeper, it’s art. Why would you put up with all that pain in that long period of time to get the tattoo done, if it doesn’t mean something to you?”

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