I know that body tattoos have been around for hundreds or perhaps even thousands of years and that they are part of what we in the modern world like haughtily to call “primitive” decoration.
When I was growing up in Northwest Indiana in the 1950’s, the only guys who had tattoos were the ones who had served in the United States Navy or were members of motor cycle gangs. Our next-door neighbor, Mr. M, had a tattoo on his left arm that was an elaborate depiction of the girl with whom he had fallen in love during the late 1930’s but with whom he never ultimately even had a date. In those days, there was no such thing as laser removal of tattoos the messages of which turned out to be temporary. The images remained, for better or worse.
Now tattoos are quite common. Many, perhaps most, are small insignias placed tastefully in areas that are not always on display but intended to be shared only with intimates. Less common are the very large and obvious tattoos that cover foreheads, faces, necks, hands, backs, legs, and everything in between that make me think the circus is in town. These are the people, who want or need to advertise that they are in love with someone, hate someone, hate the world in general, or simply crave attention. In the same category, at least in my thinking, are the steel inserts, not just in ears, but also in tongues, lips, eyebrows, noses, and anywhere else that might make an electrical storm more exciting.
Steel inserts can be removed or relocated without too much trouble, but tattoos require expensive laser treatments, when removal is even possible. It’s supposedly a free country when it comes to such things, but I continue to wonder why such dramatic gestures are chosen in such relatively permanent ways. The more bizarre or arresting the tattoos, the more likely it seems the wearers would tire of them. It’s like buying a suit of clothes in one’s twenties so that the same outfit can be worn into old age. Maybe the tastes of some people remain static, as though their identities are incapable of development over the years. It’s probably true that what we wear and how we cut our hair say something about who we are, at least at the moment. I like the idea that I don’t have to wear swim trunks all the time, or a suit all the time either. I appreciate change and the choice I have to blend in different ways according to where I am. I wouldn’t dream of wearing now the outfits I wore in the 1970’s. How static that would be! I’d feel trapped…but isn’t that what someone does with a permanent tattoo, especially one that screams out its message?
I’m guessing that someone in his or her twenties, who chooses a huge and extreme tattoo is unlikely to see it the same way in his or her fifties, sixties, or seventies, when skin wrinkles and sags to alter the effects of images previously thought to have been “cool.” Here’s a young lady whose neck tattoo looks more like a cancer skin graft.
There are many ways to say who we are through our appearance, but often those ways develop and change as we mature. It’s regrettable that what we wanted to be permanent at age twenty might become a liability and sideshow joke at age sixty when it comes to tattoos or metal hardware that make us believe that we may be loved, admired, or just noticed more than if we didn’t use neon light methods, methods that may prove sadly to be very short lived. I wonder how many elaborately tattooed people wake up one morning, look into the mirror, and say, “Oh, my God! What was I thinking?” Here is a man with more than the usual number of decorations from tattoos and metal inserts.
This, to me, represents much too great a commitment, especially one devoted to no more than personal vanity. JB