To Ink or Not to Ink

When did everyone and their mom start getting tattoos?! I think I recall it was some time during the 1990s.

Last winter, I read an excellent novel by Jennifer Egan called A Visit From the Goon Squad. The narrative jumps back and forth within a chunk of time starting in the 1970s and into the near future (sounds gimmicky but it works). In the future bits, the young adults do not have any piercings or tattoos; they completely reject their parents’ and grandparents’ symbols of rebellion. I thought this detail was super smart because, really, who would want to be tattooed after seeing faded saggy tats on their aunties and school teachers?

Dancer Ariellah, like many tribal fusion bellydancers, has tattoos. Hers are in the Art Nouveau style: beautiful. (PixieVisionProductions)

Once upon a time, having a tattoo meant you were part of a subculture; either you were a criminal, an anarchist, a side-show freak, or, at the very least, you’d been in the military. Now, I would argue, tattooing has almost done a 180. On my recent trip to the Caribbean, I’d say probably a third of all the scantily clad folks I saw on the beach displayed some kind of body art. With the exception of face tattoos, getting ink has become completely common place for people aged 20 to 50.

Personally, I’m on the fence regarding tats. I’ve seen some pretty amazing ones; the right design well executed on the right person can look extremely cool. And the level of creativity and self-knowledge required to etch something on your body that represents something important to you and will be awesome forever (forever!) is very much to be admired.

Red looks new and cool. I wonder if it will become common.

Red looks new and cool. I wonder if it will become common.

On the other hand, most tattoos are just blah, not worthy of a second glance, and many are truly hideous. I apologise if you have any of the following because these make me cringe a little: a sun around your navel or any other circular body part; writing in a language you do not read; something REALLY BIG AND DARK all over your back; a tattoo on or near your breasts or genitals. I’m going with the premise that your body is beautiful and that whatever you put on it should enhance it, tell me something about you, and not obstruct any part that I might like to gaze upon with appreciation.

As you may have deduced, I don’t have ink. Though I love decoration, the impermanence of makeup is much more suited to my commitment-phobic personality than is inserting drops of ink into my broken skin and trapping them there. Also, I am extremely aware of how bodies change over time and would not want to end up with a distorted tattoo in my old age (although many old people will have old tattoos so I wouldn’t be alone).

I googled to find out what the most common tattoo designs were (as reported by tattoo parlours) and number 1 was the tribal tattoo. This is not surprising and I wonder if there is a clue there regarding the reason tats are so popular. We may be sick of seeing Celtic arm bands now, but tribal tattoos have stood the test of time. I haven’t researched this, but I’m guessing that, in most ancient cultures, getting tattooed was part of a coming of age ritual, or marked a person’s belonging to a specific group. If you’ve ever watched shows like Miami Ink, you know that people will often get a tattoo to commemorate something or someone important to them.

So, I wonder if perhaps the popularity of tattoos says something about our collective desire for rituals. I can imagine how the process of choosing a design, making the appointment, and enduring the pain of getting inked would stand in for a right of passage in a culture where we have largely left those rituals behind. It could also mark a turning point in someone’s life: before and after having acquired this permanent mark.

Tattoo with a purpose? Never be bored on a train again.

Tattoo with a purpose? Never be bored on a train again.

As for me, though I often ponder it, I am unlikely to ever get any ink done. I do pin to Pinterest cool tats I come across on the internet, but that just means I like to look at them, not that I would actually want one. I am drawn to classic nautical design but have no personal connection to anchors and ships other than having grown up near the sea and just really liking water. And that doesn’t seem like a sufficient reason for branding my body forever with an image!

If I ever do get one, I’ll let you know! How about you — what’s your inky story?


  1. I love my ink. I got my first tattoo ay 21 and have been addicted ever since. (Im 33 now) Each of my pieces has very special meaning to me and the only ones that are normally visible are on my wrists, ankles and foot. I highly doubt I will ever regret them. I will always be able to look at each one and know the special meaning behind it. Kat

  2. I am jealous of other people’s ink. I am unable to get a tattoo because of a blood issue (not a phobia, a real medical situation where tattoo artists basically slam the door and say “no”). So ink is a dream for me. I have my designs picked out, if ever I am given the chance… 🙂

    • Is scarrification an option? I always wonder if this will become mainstream as well, but it seems a bit more hardcore to me.

    • You could always buy the supplies online and do one yourself or have a friend/ significant other you trust. Some of the guns/ink are very inexpensive and even come with synthetic “skin” to practice on!

      • Wow! This is the first I hear of do-it-yourself tattoo kits. I love hearing about stuff like that, thank you. And Linds should definitely let us know if she tries it!

        • I think I saw them on
          I actually thought about getting a kit but I shake too much 😦

          • brainleakage says:

            If you don’t know what you’re doing or have any training in tattooing or are not an artist, please, for the love of god, do NOT buy a tattoo kit and DIY. First of all, the reason why some of these products are so cheap is because they ARE cheap. You will regret tattooing yourself and any money you might have ‘saved’ on a cheap kit will be spent on getting a cover-up by a professional or jumping on the tattoo removal laser train. If there is a design that you really want to have on your body for the rest of your life, wouldn’t you want to take the time to find the perfect artist that will do your design justice in a clean, safe, and beautiful way?

            Bargain shopping and ‘sales’ on tattoos always makes me cringe, because more often than not, the results will reflect exactly what you paid for.

  3. Too much pain, but I admire people who will go through it if the art is really worth it. I’m a hypochondriac, so chances are I will worry about getting some kind of blood disease or illness (even though these things are usually rare).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: