ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Stretch marks are no longer the only physical reminder of a child's birth for some moms. While most mothers have pictures of their kids proudly displayed on a shelf, increasingly, portraits of children are turning up tattooed into the skin of moms (and dads, too) who want a permanent remembrance of their offspring.
The long-held bastion of anchors, skulls and snakes is being invaded by teddy bears, baby footprints and Disney princesses as more parents are having symbols of their children immortalized in ink on their skin.
We're talking kids' footprints.
Even kids' own artwork.
"It's super big right now," says Steve Lemak, owner of The Quillian tattoo shop in Allentown, Pa., and one of the tattoo artists who say parents getting tattoos is a growing trend.
Heather "Hezz" Findlay, a tattoo artist at Mind's Eye Tattoo in Emmaus, say the shop does mom or dad tattoos three to four times a week, and many are first-timers.
A 2006 survey by the American Academy of Dermatology found that 36 percent of Americans between the ages 18 and 29 have at least one tattoo; Findlay says reality shows including A&E's "Inked" and TLC's "Miami Ink" have made tattoos more mainstream.
"Now, everyone wants to get a tattoo, and people always want a tattoo with meaning," she says.
"You'll never find a more meaningful tattoo than one for your kids," agrees fellow Mind's Eye tattoo artist Kiel Ferrari.
"I think all tattoos have meaning and provide identity to the person who chooses to get one," says Lou Romano of Allentown, who has the names of his three children surrounding a Celtic tree of life printed on his back. "I identify myself first as a father, and nothing means more to me than my family."
Celebrity parents have helped fuel the trend by displaying tattoos honoring their kids.
Angelina Jolie has the latitude and longitude coordinates for the birthplaces of Maddox, Zahara, Shiloh and Pax, on her upper arm.
Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham has stars for each of her sons — Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz — on her lower back.
Rap artist Eminen had a portrait of his daughter, Hailie Jade, on his arm.
Johnny Depp has the names of his children, Lily-Rose and Jack, tattooed on his arm and chest.
Recent "Project Runway" winner designer Jeffrey Sebelia put parental tattoos front and center every week on the reality fashion show with a large tattoo of 2-year-old son Harrison Detroit's name in script across the front of his neck.
Having tattoos celebrating children also are less likely to be regretted, says Findlay. "We prefer to do tattoos for children rather than boyfriends or girlfriends," she says.
The most common tattoo is a child's name, artists say, but baby footprints are a close second.
"Everyone gets kid's names tattooed," says Allyn Mason of Al's Gotham City Tattoos in Allentown, Pa., as he finishes up a tattoo of two little Teddy bears and hearts for a mom with twins. "I recently did five kids' names right down a woman's leg."
Mason says he does a lot of footprint tattoos, which he copies right from the baby's birth certificate so they are unique. "You can't go wrong with a kid tattoo," he says.
Devon Marks of Palm, Pa.., had a portrait of her 2-year-old daughter Tahlia inked on her bicep. Although portraits are frequently done on the back, Marks says she wanted to be able to look at the tattoo. She says getting the portrait tattoo is like freezing a moment in time.
"I wanted to immortalize her as she was at 2," Marks says. "I always will remember her at this age. She has so much character, and this picture really reflects her personality. Kids grow up so fast, and this is something timeless."
Findlay agrees that part of the attraction is people wanting to remember their children when they are "innocent and wonderful."
Tonya Barr of Allentown, Pa., recently got life-size handprints of Rylie, 3, and Jaden, 4, tattooed on her back.
"They're everything to me, and they're only little once," Barr says.
Barr was inspired when she saw Rylie playing with fingerpaints, so she had the children make their handprints in ink and took them to The Quillian. Two hours later, she had the tattoo.
"I love it," she says. "Everyone who sees it thinks it's neat."
Other parents have brought in artwork done by their preschoolers and asked to have it tattooed on their skin.
"At first I thought it was crazy," Mason says of a dad who had his son's drawing tattooed on his ankle. "But when I was done, it was pretty cool."
At Mind's Eye, a dad brought in his 5-year-old daughter to scrawl her name with a Sharpie on his arm and then Ferrari inked in the childish letters.
"Since people have been getting tattooed, they've been getting them for their kids," Marks says. "Parents love their kids, and this is a way to immortalize them."
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