Musing Upon Tattoos

January 20, 2010 at 8:01 am | Posted in Writing and Life | 3 Comments
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In my youth (1950s and 1960s Australia) and before, tattoos in western society were mostly associated with sailors. The obligatory anchor and/or capstan on the muscular forearm indicated they had spent their working years on the high seas. The name of a favourite port might be emblazoned on a shoulder. Occasionally, you would see the figure of a woman and sometimes, a name.

Later on, tattoos became a way, along with clothing, of stating a person’s allegiance to a motorbike or other kind of club or gang. The organisation’s emblem, or a derivative of it, was inscribed on the arms and shoulders of many members.

Some people wanted others to see them as both tough and gentle – depending upon the situation I suppose. Words like L-O-V-E and H-A-T-E appeared on the back of hands, one letter for each finger. Some of these were obviously home-made jobs. Not everyone could afford to go to a real tattooist.

However, over the last couple of years, tattoos seem to have spread like a plague, covering arms and legs, torsos and necks all over this country. From what I see on television, it is the same overseas – a veritable pandemic of blue. Male, female, young or old – it seems that no age group is immune. Many teens, and even pre-teens, sport some sort of body decoration. Size doesn’t matter either. Tattoos draw attention to many a fat shoulder, arm or leg as well as to slim and muscular ones.

It was rare for a woman to sport a tattoo until quite recently. If she did, it was usually a discreet butterfly or heart on a shoulder or ankle. It is much more common to see them these days, and on more parts of the body. Tattoos have become just one of a young woman’s fashion accessories – though they can’t change into another one if it doesn’t suit their outfit or the occasion.

Many of those who are using their bodies as an artscape do it whole-heartedly – or should I say, whole-bodily? Often, arms, legs and shoulders have not a centimetre of bare skin left. There is so much ink that the actual design has been lost and it looks like they are wearing a tight-fitting shirt. The tattoo parlours must be raking it in!

It is just another fad, I know. But what starts it off? Why do so many people think that turning their skin blue is attractive? They don’t need to scare off their enemies as the Maoris did, or pass some sort of ritual to belong to a certain caste in society. Or do they see it as something like that?

I wonder what they will think, as their body ages. Will those whose arms and legs have more pigment on them than the Sistine Chapel one day look at their sagging skin and flesh and wish they had exercised a little more forethought?

© Linda Visman 2010


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  1. The same is a trend here, and it’s not unusual to see an attractive middle-aged woman sporting an entire “sleeve.” The decision to get a tattoo or “body art” is a very personal one. Besides the long-term physical repercussions that you mentioned, one also has to consider health risks such as hepatitis or necrotizing fasciitis. Depending on where you reside, some blood centers will not accept donations from people who have tattoos.

    That being said, I’m not completely opposed to others wearing tattoos and at one point, even considered getting a very small and discreet oak leaf on my left shoulder blade. After pondering the potential risks and speaking with my sister who had had a tattoo removed (very painful with sparks flying off of her ankle), I decided against it.

    Whether or not to get a tattoo is a decision that should never be made in haste. As in all things, one must weigh the benefits against the risks and make that choice for themselves.

    A very thought provoking entry today. This should be submitted to a public forum.

    • Many thanks for your thoughtful comments, Mandy. You are right, the health risks are clear, though I didn’t mention them.
      Even though I dislike the more flamboyant examples of body art, I am not completely against them. Some small tattoos, and even some larger ones are real pieces of art. When tastefully placed and not too extravagant, they can look quite attractive. One of my sons, born on St Patrick’s Day, has a small shamrock on his chest. If people have carefully considered the options and decided to go ahead, that is their choice.
      As with many luxuries though, there are always some who take them to extremes, thinking more is better.

  2. Do you think aspects of our celebrity-mad culture are to blame? One looks at people like David and Victoria Beckham, both passionate tattoo fans… and then there’s Angelina Jolie who, like the Beckhams, has a number of tattoos inked into her skin.

    Consider the mantra “less is more”, so relevant in the fashion world – I believe the same thing applies to body art. One or two small tattoos can look great. There’s also a line of thinking that those who persist in covering themselves with tattoos have a low body image – subconsciously of course. Perhaps mankind’s obsession with perfection leads some of us to think that a tattoo is a way of drawing attention from our weight, a scar, wrinkles etc? Which is sad, because tattoos were originally a cultural practice with special significance.

    Another fine article, and yes – this should be more mainstream!

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