Once thought of as the markings of illicit gang members and derelicts, tattoos have become increasingly popular all across the board. But now it’s become even more popular amongst seniors. Even at Skin Design, we’ve seen clientele coming in that are well into their 70’s and the energy and spirit they possess is one which is contagious.


Even on the news, we’ve see older folks with tattoos getting featured more and more and the latest to hit the airwaves is 74 year old, Bette Hileman. Back in 2012 she was diagnosed with lymphoma and that day changed her life in more ways than one.

“When I was lying in the hospital, I got a bucket list going and asked my doctor if I could get my nose pierced,” said Hileman, 74, who always admired her 30-year-old granddaughter Trina Tanner’s piercing and copied the body modification when her doctor signed off.


Hileman shattered another age-related stereotype that summer when she and her granddaughter had matching green lymphoma ribbons tattooed just above their right ankles. She got a second tattoo less than six months later, and convinced her late husband Phil to do the same.

And while a pair of recent surveys have found tattoos and body piercings rare among older Americans, local tattoo artists say stories like Hileman’s are becoming more common thanks to new advances in body art technology and a slow breakdown of some long-held taboos against this type of self expression by millennials and the youngest members of Generation X.

But Hileman didn’t get her first real tattoo until she was 71. Her cancer went into remission, and Trina came by with a little surprise.

“My granddaughter came down and said we’re going to do something fun,” Hileman said, explaining that after a drive through Eugene — where she lived before moving to Bend this spring — she ended up at a tattoo studio and had the ribbon put on her ankle.

Less than a year after she got the ribbon, Hileman convinced her husband Phil to get an eagle’s head/American flag design tattooed on his upper arm. Hileman said he always talked about this design because he served in the U.S. Navy and was very patriotic, but, like her, never pulled the trigger until she gave him the little push he needed to move forward.

Changing patterns

Body art of any kind is a rarity among older Americans, according to a 2010 report published by the Pew Research Center that found only 6 percent of the Silent generation’s members (people born before 1945) and 15 percent of baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) had a tattoo that year.


That survey found that only 1 percent of people 45 or older have a piercing someplace besides their earlobe — a statistic that puts Hileman in an even bigger minority than seniors who have a tattoo — compared to 9 percent of Generation X (people born between 1965 and 1980) and 23 percent of millennial adults (people born between 1981 and 1992.)

These findings were echoed in a Harris Interactive poll that found only 11 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds and 5 percent of those who were 65 or older had a tattoo in 2012. Both surveys found more than a fifth of the population — 23 percent in the Pew survey, and 21 percent in the Harris poll — has at least one tattoo, and people in their 20s and 30s are twice, if not three times more likely, to get work done than members of their parent’s generations.

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