I don’t have any tattoos. But I respect their meaning to people who do, and don’t support writing crap articles like the one Simon Doonan wrote for Slate, HERE.
The headline is wrong: it should be, “Why Do YOU Get Tattoos,” since the premise is that Doonan would never condescend to such an act. The article only uses facts to support the statistics convenient to support the recent spike in tattoos, but he found them unnecessary when presenting his case that, ya know, they’re icky:
“In the past there was one reason, and one reason only, to ink up: A tattoo confirmed your status as a scary outsider rebel carny outlaw sociopath. “Don’t mess with me because I am insane,” was the intended message. And it worked. Remember Robert Mitchum in Night of The Hunter? When he cuts Shelley Winters’ throat we are hardly surprised: We knew trouble was on the horizon as soon as we saw the words LOVE and HATE inked across his knuckles. Tattoos meant mayhem.
Cut to today: Having a tattoo has lost its original meaning. Having a tattoo now has no meaning. Having a tattoo means that you have a tattoo.”
This was an intriguing premise for a story, and could have been done well. He could have found some actual facts to support his arguments. But instead, the tenets of basic journalism evaporated as soon as he made his opening statement– the tattooed freaks are EVERYWHERE!– and the rest consisted of Doonan’s ribald contempt for not just extreme tattoos, but ANY tattoo.
Probably the only enjoyable aspect of this vapid tripe is the cropped mug shot on the second page, of Doonan wearing an ED HARDY t-shirt. In a flabbergasting lack of irony, he chooses to wear this brand to accompany a story in which he berates the tattooed masses for becoming cliche.
Tell me Doonan, what does wearing Ed Hardy t-shirts MEAN to you? Especially when you used cost as argument against tattooing– because everyone knows that Ed Hardy apparel has nothing to do with fashion. The Ed Hardy brand is worn to indicate STATUS. I once worked with a guy who wore matching Ed Hardy shirts and baseball caps with rhinestones, constantly. He was regarded as a d-bag, and acted like one.
Yes, there are some badly done tattoos out there. There are some that were gotten on impulse, or because they were trendy. So what?
Many more tattoos are rich with symbolism, meticulously designed and planned. They may be simple, grand, grotesque or striking.
People save up to get them, and enjoy the investment. They bond with the tattoo artist, and often do a lot of research about the studio’s reputation or get the referral from someone who will vouch for the skill and sanitation standards of the artist and studio. If it really goes well, the individual and artist begin an on-going collaborative relationship– which can last for years and become a full-fledged friendship.
Is that superficial?
Since I tend to befriend creative types, many of my friends have tattoos. They consider their ink to be an integral aspect of their identity, and I love hearing their explanations. Sometimes getting inked is a ritual to mark a milestone of triumph or loss, and a person who never planned on getting a tattoo is compelled to get one by said milestone. It could be a bonding experience with a friend– either getting the same tattoo, or just going together to the same shop on the same day to share the experience while getting different individual ones.
I remember my junior year of college. I had sworn I’d never get a piercing. But a girl on my floor wanted to get one, and asked me to go with her. It was only $40 to get an eyebrow piercing, and I thought it would look hot on me– I have good eyebrows. So I got my right eyebrow done, and she had some part of her ear cartilidge done that was very painful for her and bled profusely.
“We got a bleeder!” the piercer said. My friend laughed. Her ear stopped bleeding and the piercing healed fine–she probably still has it. I did take my piercing out a year later, when I got an internship. I was dismayed to find that it was considered such a minor piercing that no one would have cared.
But the point is, I don’t talk to that friend anymore, but I’ll never forget that memory with her. I still laugh, remembering us so young. We gave each other nicknames from the incident, and the joke never got old!
I’ve become friends with three siblings, and they all have tattoos– as do their parents. I remember being told about a day where, as a family, they all went and got tattoos on the same day. Getting inked can be a family activity! I thought that was beautiful. This family is educated, affectionate, opinionated, fun-loving, gregarious and successful. I wish Doonan could meet them, because maybe he would have a chance at understanding that being inked is just another aspect of a complex identity, rather than a marker of conformity.
Another friend likes to stride around in his Dad’s vintage motorcycle jacket, builds his own bikes, and is tough when needed. He’s tall, big, and looks intimidating–especially with the ink on his on his forearms. But at work, he covers them up and banks because of it. He’s a devoted family man, who worked his ass off to buy a home. He loves to read, and plans his tattoos to reflect his ideals. He drove two hours to go to a poetry slam with me on my birthday a few years ago, because that’s what friends do. And he would have a thing or two to tell Doonan about this article! Ha.
I don’t have any ink myself, not for lack of desire. For me, it’s a lack of decision. I haven’t decided on a graphic yet, or location. I’ve asked a couple gifted artist friends to design one for me, but they felt too much pressure and declined. If I ever do get one, it will most likely symbolize writing, or be a quote dear to me– since I’m a woman of words. Probably something discreet, to empower me.
Others want something on display, to spark conversation. They want these symbols and images to be visible, as an expression of some aspect of their beliefs, personal history, or as tribute to a person, cause, or something which enlivens them.
Every tattoo has a personal meaning ascribed to it, and marks a specific time period of that individual’s life.
Stop judging, and just ask.
What’s your tattoo story?