The Possible Legacy of Body Tattoos…


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

About John

About John John Bolinger was born and raised in Northwest Indiana, where he attended Ball State University and Purdue University, receiving his BS and MA from those schools. Then he taught English and French for thirty-five years at Morton High School in Hammond, Indiana before moving to Colorado, where he resided for ten years before moving to Florida. Besides COME SEPTEMBER, Journey of a High School Teacher, John's other books are ALL MY LAZY RIVERS, an Indiana Childhood, and COME ON, FLUFFY, THIS AIN'T NO BALLET, a Novel on Coming of Age, all available on as paperbacks and Kindle books. Alternately funny and touching, COME SEPTEMBER, conveys the story of every high school teacher’s struggle to enlighten both himself and his pupils, encountering along the way, battles with colleagues, administrators, and parents through a parade of characters that include a freshman boy for whom the faculty code name is “Spawn of Satan,” to a senior girl whose water breaks during a pop-quiz over THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Through social change and the relentless march of technology, the human element remains constant in the book’s personal, entertaining, and sympathetic portraits of faculty, students, parents, and others. The audience for this book will certainly include school teachers everywhere, teenagers, parents of teens, as well as anyone who appreciates that blend of humor and pathos with which the world of public education is drenched. The drive of the story is the narrator's struggle to become the best teacher he can be. The book is filled with advice for young teachers based upon experience of the writer, advice that will never be found in college methods classes. Another of John's recent books is Mum's the Word: Secrets of a Family. It is the story of his alcoholic father and the family's efforts to deal with or hide the fact. Though a serious treatment of the horrors of alcoholism, the book also entertains in its descriptions of the father during his best times and the humor of the family's attempts to create a façade for the outside world. All John's books are available as paperbacks and Kindle readers on Amazon, and also as paperbacks at Barnes & Noble. John's sixth book is, Growing Old in America: Notes from a Codger was released on June 15, 2014. John’s most recent book is a novel titled Resisting Gravity, A Ghost Story, published the summer of 2018 View all posts by John →
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