Identity

Body Art and Young Men

As young boys, we recall parties and carnivals where we had our faces painted. Perhaps as our favorite animal or cartoon character. I remember wanting to look like Spiderman or a tiger. My boyhood longed to be a greater and stronger version than what I was. Usually, by bedtime, my day of imagination was washed off. 

Fast Forward

Life moves on. Boys grow up and something of that desire to be more significant than one feels pushes him to express his uniqueness through not just attitude but in his swag; his distinct persona. I recall hitting middle school and suddenly being done with those grade school shirts and jeans. Even my hair had to change lengths, and those black glasses had to go! Some of the guys at school wore chains and a few got earrings. “Rebels,” I thought. “Edgy,” What was my look? How could I make a statement of the new me? 

What I didn’t realize at the time

What middle schooler truly understands his identity? Beyond the pubescent changes into a man, was this gnawing question of who I was becoming. Was I going to be like those edgy guys I was drawn to? Or would I stay this geeky kid with a grade-school-esque look?

Body Art Comes of Age

By the time a guy enters his late teens and early twenties, he often displays a swag that is far different than his past. Body art becomes one way he expresses the new self. Body art is anything from permanent tattoos, to neck chains, piercings, rings, or bracelets that say “Look at me. Look at who I am.”

Even Guys Who Love Jesus…

wrestle through such identity choices. Frankly, it’s part of the journey to manhood. That’s not to say every guy will end up with a tattoo or some piercing, but somewhere along the line, he needs to figure out if those body art expressions best communicate his flavor of manhood to the world.

Let’s Get One Thing Clear

When I use the phrase “Guys who love Jesus”, it means that at some point in their spiritual journey, they have come to understand and accept Jesus for who he claims to be: God incarnate, Savior of the World, and Lord of one’s life. Coming face to face with one’s sin and realizing that Jesus is the only way for complete forgiveness is core to becoming a guy who loves Jesus. If you haven’t, then you can’t say you love Jesus. But, you can get there. We are saved by faith.

My True Identity

When I trusted Christ at age 12, I was given a new life in him. What I didn’t figure out till decades later is what my identity in Christ looked like. As a result, I used many images and swag to express who I thought I was.  Not that those expressions were necessarily wrong, but amidst the gaps in my understanding of my identity in Christ, I filled in the blanks with things that perhaps focused more on my sensuality instead of my emerging godly character.

Body Art Tells a Story

Over the past 10-20 years, culture has pushed body art expressions. The percentage of young men who have a tattoo or piercing has increased significantly.  Whereas around 10% of the young male population may have had one a decade or two ago, today, that percentage is between 25-40%; and a lot of that percentage increase is among guys who say they love Jesus.

Survey Says

Mentoring Warriors took a survey of young men between the ages of 15-30. The question was straightforward. 

If you had a choice, which would you get; a tattoo or a piercing and if so, where on your body?

Here’s how the results came in:

Tattoo OnlyPiercing Only Both None
74%23%10%13%

Survey results were from 4 countries: USA, Canada, Australia, and India. 

Tattoo Only: 3 out of 4 guys surveyed who said they’d get body art said they would get only a tattoo.

Piercing Only: 1 out of 4 guys surveyed who said they’d get body art said they would get a piercing only.

Both: 1 out of 10 of those surveyed who said they’d get body art said they’d get both.

None: Just over 1 out of 10 surveyed said they would get neither.

Where on the Body?

As for tattoos, the overwhelming location was on the chest or shoulder, or forearm. Several said they would opt for the leg.

Ears took the top location for piercings, although there were some interested in noses and even private parts of the body. 

Why?

What’s the underlying drive to get body art? In another Mentoring Warriors article entitled “To Tat or Not to Tat” https://mentoring-warriors.com/2021/08/to-tat-or-not-to-tat/  we explore the underlying reasons for getting a tattoo, in particular. We are taking the premise in this article that because of one’s freedom in Christ, body art expressions are within the purview of a believer in Christ. They are free to get one or not. 

Two Primary Motives

In examining the motivations for getting body art, there seem to be two veins of motives:  Self-expression and Glorification.

Self-expression

Every guy wants to be part of something larger than himself. Body art can give him an identity that goes beyond just him. A pro athletic team, one’s family, or faith. My heart surgery was a significant, life-altering event. It shook me to the core of my manhood. As part of my story, I got an abstract heart tattoo and added a portion of my life’s verse (Galatians 2:20) to it, in Greek. It’s now part of who I am and I have no regrets about getting it.

Glorification

This can go two ways for a guy. Your glorification or God’s? Some guys get tattoos or piercings to express an aura of sensuality. They want to appeal to women as sexy and desirable. It’s all for show.

The other way body art can be worn is for God’s glory. That’s not to say every tattoo or piercing is to have some religious symbolism, but that the image is to point others to Him and not yourself.

You decide

No one is forcing you to don body art. Romans 14 talks about choices we make and doing so for the Lord. 1 Corinthians 6 speaks of our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit. Whether you are a tattoo guy or a body piercing dude or none of the above, do so not to raise your body to some attention-grabbing sensuality, but to express a life lived for God.

Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at your heart.

It all comes down to motive.

Can’t Decide?

Here’s a piece of advice.  If you are contemplating a form of body art get a temporary tattoo or magnetic earrings and try them out.  That may help you decide if it’s for you or a passing trend.  Of the various guys I’ve mentored who find themselves working through this issue of body art expression, going the temporary route usually settles things either to proceed with it or not.

Warrior On!

David Riffel is the Founder and Executive Director of www.Mentoring-Warriors.com. Having gone through his warrior years (18-30) essentially without a mentor, God has placed in him a heart for warriors, to come alongside them in various ways as they figure out life. David’s newly released book, Mentoring Warriors: Coming Alongside Young Men 18-30, outlines principles for mentoring and gives advice for warriors in six key areas of life: self-management, life skills, education/career, relationships, faith, and identity.

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