Tattoos and Timing: Through the Eyes of Inked Students and Faculty

Tattoos: the thought of permanent ink on one’s body terrifies some and excites others. We all have some sort of stance on tattoos and perhaps we want one.  Perhaps we hate them. Whether you’re covered in ink or not, a common question arises when tattoos become the subject of conversation: What is the right age for someone to get one?

In each country and state, the laws vary on the legal age to get inked. Here in Singapore, there is no minimum age to get a tattoo, whereas in America the legal age in most states is 18 (with parental consent). Needless to say, just because there is a minimum age doesn’t mean that all tattoo parlors and artists will abide by the law. If you want a tattoo, even if you cannot legally get one, you can probably find a way to get one.

This is something you’re putting on your body for the rest of your life and you want to think about it really carefully     – Ursula Pong

A very large part of the process of getting a tattoo, especially at a younger age, is parental approval. Even though Singapore does not have a minimum age to get a tattoo, if someone’s parent is extremely against tattoos, it is probably not a wise choice to run out and get one. But, if a parent is supportive of the concept of permanent body art, then the child’s challenge becomes a question of “should I,” — not “can I?

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Shelby Spinks pictured. Courtesy of Shelby Spinks.

Shelby Spinks, a senior at SAS, got her first tattoo at the age of 17 right here in Singapore, so she did not need to worry about any age restrictions.  She noted: “my mom helped me make the appointment and was there with me when I got it done.” On the other hand, her dad did not know about either of her two tattoos, and we think he does not to this day.  (Does he read The Eye?)  Shelby has no regrets about her tattoos or the process, and she is planning on getting more in the future.

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Sean Garvey getting his first tattoo. Photo courtesy of Sean Garvey.

Sean Garvey is another example of a student at SAS who has his parents in full support of his inking. A sophomore this year, Sean got his tattoo at the age of 15 when he was a freshman. His parents were “really involved in the process” and “there for the entire thing”. To this day, Sean has no regrets about his tattoo of a large cross on his ribs.

Teacher John Gaskell got his first tattoo at the age of 18. He believes that the right age to get a tattoo is in your 20’s or 30’s, because “there’s so much growth that occurs from now until you graduate high school… who you are as a person, what you stand for, and what’s important to you.” Gaskell himself went through the struggle of not liking his first tattoo, and since then, has covered it up with a piece that flows better.  He admits that when he was younger, he didn’t think so much about how his tattoos would look as a whole, and now he likes the look of things that “thematically look nice… like sleeves or half sleeves”.

Ms. Pong, a PE teacher at SAS, got her first and only tattoo only a few short years ago. She got the word “Ohana” in small print on her forearm at the age of 55.  She wanted to wait until she knew there would be no issues with wrinkling. Ms. Pong confirmed that today she knows “many friends who regret tattoos they got when they were younger” and advises people to “wait until they are at least 18; this is something you’re putting on your body for the rest of your life and you want to think about it really carefully”.

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Ms. Pong’s Ohana tattoo on her wrist. Photo courtesy of Ms. Pong.

Though the opinions of students and faculty who have tattoos at SAS vary, it’s important to take many views into consideration, accept your own stance as a deeply personal decision, and carefully consider both the best time and most adequate design before you jump into the chair at the tattoo parlor.  Getting a tattoo is a big decision and, though reversals are possible, wearing body art is generally considered a long-term process.  Make sure you have considered all of the variables.  

Do you have personal stories, interests, or regrets regarding tattoos?  If so, we would love to hear about them in the comments section below.

Author: Hannah Terrile

Hannah Terrile is a senior and first year reporter for the eye. Born and raised in Singapore, she has attended SAS since preschool, but is originally from Boston. In her free time, Hannah can be found browsing online boutiques, at pilates class, and eating acai. She can be contacted at

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