When talking about freedom and what that concept means to people, it’s easy to think about the intangible stuff. But there is a freedom that involves a little bit of materialism. The freedom to look how you want. It could be colorful, eccentric haircuts, clothes, nails, piercings, jewelry and yes … tattoos. It’s expressionism, it’s art, it’s what makes you unique and sometimes causes a few people to stare.

I, like many others, have always struggled with self-confidence, especially when it comes to looking how I want. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to care less about what people think. I’ll refer to a quote from Girls, “One can go through their entire life wearing booty shorts and offend almost nobody.” Feeling comfortable to look how you want is extremely important to grow into the person you truly are, but it’s challenging when you’re met with dirty looks and rude comments from strangers.

Enter Kenny Volland — who you might recognize if you’ve ever been tattooed at Florida Velvet in Jacksonville Beach. Void’s marketing agency, Bold Brands, has also used his image in a recent advertising campaign. Some might think his appearance is intimidating, but have a conversation with him, and it’s like you’ve known him forever.

IMG_9299

Kenny’s a local, born and raised in Jacksonville Beach, who is a friend to many in the community. Having been tattooed by Kenny before and meeting his lovely soon-to-be wife, Ash, I was immediately interested in hearing their perspective on the topic.

Kenny knows a thing or two about having some ink — he stopped counting how many tattoos he had a few years ago. At that time, his number was 52. Ash also has a sleeve, other scattered tattoos and five piercings.

“I started getting tattooed when I was 18, almost as a way to not interact with people. Now that’s all backfired. With all the shows and popularity of tattooing now, there are all kinds of people who are either really interested in my tattoos or judge us for them. I have little old ladies in the supermarket who come up to me and ask about them and others.”

As we were talking, Ash was following around their youngest who was rigorously opening cabinets and bouncing around. She swooped up the sweet little girl.

“People can be really rude. The dirty looks, especially when we’re with the kids. Tattoos have a stigma attached to them like somehow having tattoos would make you an unfit parent,” Ash said.

IMG_9399

Kenny and Ash met when she went to get tattooed. They now have a beautiful family with two young children who have given them a new perspective and purpose. When it comes to handling criticism, they laugh it off and focus on just setting a good example for their kids.

“What did someone say to us the other day at Bono’s?” Kenny asked.

“Disgusting!” she said. “They prayed before their meal, and we go to Eleven 22. We love going to church. It was just shocking they can say something so rude and they pray before eating.”

“Or we’ll go to T-ball, and half the people don’t look at us. I don’t let it bother me,” Kenny said.

Ash, who also has snake bite piercings and a septum piercing, mentioned one instance where she interviewed for a job and was told she got the position, later to receive an email saying they were actually looking for someone with a “cleaner” look. This isn’t a rare occurrence for people who have eccentric looks. That’s when you should ask yourself, “Do I really want to work at a place who doesn’t accept the way I look?”

When it comes to tattooing, Kenny finds the older generation doesn’t quite understand. But it’s changing. He’s tattooing mothers and daughters, even grandmothers. It’s becoming more accepted every year. With millennials being the generation with the highest number of tattoos (40 percent), that says something about what’s important to young people these days. It’s almost like the person who doesn’t have a tattoo is the odd man out.

IMG_9320

Every tattoo is important to Kenny in its own way. The permanence weighs heavy on him, and he finds it really rewarding to be able to give someone what they want and have them carry it for the rest of their lives.

“I wish I could say I was addressing an issue. What I do is more like improving people’s mental health. Everyone has issues and wants to express themselves to their peers through their tattoos. I’d like to think I’m making people happier about themselves or tough situations their going through with their tattoos.”

Kenny has plans to open up more tattoo shops, branching out into clothing and even digital media. I ask if they plan on letting their kids get tattoos.

“She says yes, but me, I feel like they won’t want to because we are covered in them. But as long as they have some meaning to them, I don’t care as long as it looks cool.”

It is evident that having the freedom to look the way you want is extremely important to Kenny and Ash. Everyone is so unique and special and to make someone feel insecure or unwanted simply for the way they look is unfortunate. Next time you judge someone for the way they look, perhaps think twice about it. How much does that really affect you? What do you get out of making fun of people? Then, be on your way, free to dress and look however you want. The world is a more beautiful place when we let people express themselves without persecution or judgement.