Being a bit narcissistic I was just admiring a photo of me taken on my recent holiday in Greece in which some of my tattoos are clearly visible. I am quite pleased with the way my ink-work is developing. Surprisingly I don’t think I have written a post about tattoos before. It’s a surprise because in some ways my tattoos are a fairly fundamental aspect of my identity. I’m supposed to note them down on my passport applications; they are part of how I am recognised. In fact by this stage I am not just a woman who has a few tattoos, I think I qualify as a heavily inked woman. I passed the stage where all my inkwork could be hidden quite some time ago.
Why do I have tattoos? Why does anybody? And why do some people hate the very idea of them?
Some of it is down to personal taste. Inked skin and or individual tattoo designs will appeal to some people and not others. Some people will always find pure, unblemished skin to be more attractive. In some ways getting a tattoo is not much different than buying a new dress, it is a way of highlighting aspects of your body, expressing your mood, altering your appearance and how you are perceived. In other ways however tattoos are very different, they are in essence permanent and their impact and significance can affect how you feel and how you are seen for all time. They are much more than skin deep. You can always take a dress off, but a tattoo becomes part of who you are.
I think I always liked tattoos and always wanted to have some. I found men and women who had tattoos attractive, perhaps more attractive than those who didn’t. Just taste? Well maybe, but I also think there is a certain artistic leaning and sense of rebellion that is common to many of us who are inked. Also I have often found that inked people have strong but unconventional spiritual or philosophical values. To a degree there is a tribal aspect, our tattoos are like badges which give some of us a common reference point while perhaps separating us from others. Tattoos are certainly a form of self expression worn by people for whom individuality and self expression are important values.
Tattoos have a long history, and perhaps for some their own tattoos are a way of buying into or identifying with that history. It also has to be said that in recent years tattoos have become very trendy and fashionable. It is almost normal for young people to have at least one tattoo these days. I have to admit I am a bit snobbish about my tattoos and I slightly look down on those who have tattoos just to be in with fashion. I suspect a lot of them will be lasered off later in life. Mine won’t be.
The process of getting inked can have addictive qualities for many of us. It is a collaborative and very intimate process in which you expose your personality and interests as well as your naked skin to the artist who will permanently change your appearance. It can also involve significant pain over a significant period of time. While some would be completely put off by that, some of us find a perverse pleasure in it, or at least in the natural endorphins that kick in and give us a natural high while the work is being done.
Then there is the satisfaction of seeing designs which have been in your imagination or on paper become a living and breathing part of your skin, your body, your self. Personally I also get pleasure and satisfaction from the knowledge that once those designs are part of me they will age as I do, along with my teeth and my bones, my hair and my heart. They may not always look beautiful in a pristine way but they will acquire a deeper beauty that comes from age and experience.
There will be some who think things are always more beautiful in their purest form and that our bodies should not be altered from what nature intended. I have never had that mentality. There is a beauty in the innocence that children are born with, but in my view it’s beauty lies in the very fact of it’s transience. We are supposed to live. A new toy is not supposed to be kept in it’s wrapper so that collectors can pay millions for it some time in the future; a new toy is supposed to be played with. If I am old when I die, my skin will be marked by ink that has darkened as my my skin has withered. My liver will show the effects of all the wine I consumed, my lungs will betray the fact that I smoked and all my organs will show signs of the life I soaked up. If I have an autopsy the medics will be in no doubt that I was a woman who lived a lot!
Moreover we are always changed by life anyway. We grow older. We acquire scars, lines and wrinkles. I think it is nice to have some input into the way our bodies are modified by life, to have a personal element of design and control over how we appear. And I love art, so having art etched into my skin is a natural extension of my interests and passions. I concede it may not be so important to people for whom art is less important.
I am however glad I waited until I was really sure I wanted tattoos. While I may be heavily inked myself, I wouldn’t want any child of mine to start getting tattooed until they were at least 18 (as I was). Once they are mature enough though, I will certainly respect their choices.
My first tattoo was a small ying-yang symbol. It had and still has a lot of significance for my outlook on life; and it was also small and discrete enough to be a good experimental tattoo. If I hadn’t liked it much, or if I had disliked the whole process it would have been easy to stop there. I did like it though…
So my inkwork has become like a personal diary, a mosaic of symbols and designs that show the story of my life and the things that have been important to me at various times. The meanings of some of the motifs are probably obvious, while others will remain enigmatic to everyone but me and those with whom I share the stories.
The picture story began with one or two smallish tattoos every year for about three years and then stopped. I had to consider how other people viewed people with tattoos and how that might affect my work prospects. Even now I’d strongly advise young people to think a lot about that before having more tattoos.
Then a few years ago I felt I had gained enough respect and security in my work life that having more ink would not affect me negatively. I also had enough money to pay for some more extensive work by good artists. And the fact that tattoos seem to be becoming more socially acceptable helped as well. Since then I have been having some more substantial work done on myself. I’d say I am about two thirds of the way through at this stage, but I am already happy with the way it is going…
Happy in my own inked skin.