OK, so I know I might be about to offend a lot of people, but here goes: I’ve never been a big fan of tattoos, not from when I was a kid and saw them mostly on sailors who hung around my Bronx neighborhood. On the one hand, they seemed cartoon-like, very Popeye the Sailor Man. On the other hand, they seemed threatening, very “in your face,” like this person with the meaty arms could be up and swinging at you in a mini-second.
Tattoos weren’t considered hip back then, the way they are now, and so they weren’t nearly as common a sight. Nowadays, when I see them, mostly on non-sailors, I struggle to see them as forms of artistic expression. Instead, I imagine the pain that the person must have endured to have so many tattoos carved into her skin. I can’t help myself—I love the sight of clear, untouched skin. Removing tattoos is also painful, I gather, but it’s definitely something you might want to do when the name Roxanne is prominently tattooed on your arm, and the real Roxanne has taken to the hills.
I’m friendly with a very kind, handsome young man who’s covered, neck-to-toe, in tattoos. When he wears a short-sleeved shirt, and I see his arms completely covered in ink, my first instinct is always to think he’s wearing an intricately patterned long sleeve shirt, because I find it hard to imagine him enduring so much pain to have these images permanently affixed to his skin.
And then there’s the problem of outgrowing your tattoos. I once had a boyfriend (who was 25 at the time) who had a tattoo on his shoulder of a cute, very childlike devil. He’d gotten it when he was quite young (his parents were very permissive), and at 25, the adorable little devil was no longer age-appropriate and he was embarrassed by it. I suggested he have it removed, but he said no to the money, pain and possible scarring involved.
I’ve heard similar stories, such as the teenage rebel who sports a lot of tattoos but grows up to be a conservative young man who wants to go into banking or some other very traditional field. What to do then? And then there’s the problem of your changing body: How will the tattoos look if you gain or lose a significant amount of weight?
My childhood best friend had a ring of flowers tattooed around her finger. It was so subtle that it was barely visible, and I wondered why she’d bothered to have it done. She informed me that it was very meaningful to her, a symbol of being a late bloomer. Other friends have told me the same thing—the flower near their collarbone asserts their love for the natural world; the bald eagle represents their fierce sense of independence and strength. Although many things and people in the world possess deep meaning for me, I’ve never felt inclined to wear them on my skin.
Of course, there are times that I can recognize a specific tattoo, on its own, as beautifully rendered, and I acknowledge the talent of the tattoo artist. But I wonder why he or she didn’t go into another field in the visual arts, like graphic art or perhaps fine art. Then again, I’ve heard that tattoo artists can earn a lot of money and lead very glamorous lives, and find their work very lucrative and exciting. They have all the emotional and financial rewards they need, way more than many people in the fine arts, in fact.
And what of the people who get tattooed in private places on their bodies, places that sexual partners will see and no one else (except the people changing next to them in the gym, doctors, etc.). I suppose that the hidden quality makes the tattoo even more special and meaningful to them.
These days I feel very outside the mainstream, with my distaste for tattoos. I recently read a statistic (I’m not sure if it’s accurate) that 25 percent of the U.S. population has been tattooed. That sure sounds like a lot of people.
Not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings, I’ve never told anyone to their face that I’m not a fan of their tattoos (although this essay is certainly a big reveal!). And so that’s that, I guess—my secret is out, and I will have to live with the consequences. (But, please don’t hate me! After all, I absolutely love that tattoo on your shoulder.)